What Language Is Spoken In Puerto Rico (2023)

Puerto Rico is mostly a Spanish-speaking island.

Due to its small size, Puerto Rico has very few dialects and even fewer differences between them. 

Being born and raised in Puerto Rico, I can tell you that we use unique words like “algarete” (crazy or disaster), “guasa” (liar or poser), and “esmalláu” (hungry), which not all Spanish-speaking countries use. 

In this article, I will cover everything that you need to know about language and communicating in Puerto Rico:

What is the official language of Puerto Rico?
What language does Puerto Rico mostly speak?
Is Puerto Rican Spanish different?
Puerto Rican Spanish vs Mexican Spanish
Do Puerto Ricans speak English?

 

What is the official language of Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico has two official languages.

image of hello-hola sign
Spanish and English are spoken across Puerto Rico, with Spanish being the dominant language.

Spanish and English are the official languages of Puerto Rico, with Spanish being the dominant one.

Spanish has been the official language of Puerto Rico since the 15th century when Spanish settlers took over the island. 

Centuries later, after the Spanish-American war, the United States initially established English as the official language in Puerto Rico, but after heavy resistance from the islanders, the Spanish language could not be eliminated.  

It was not until 1902 that English was declared the second official language of Puerto Rico.

If you want to know more about Puerto Rico and United States’ relationship be sure to read our article Is Puerto Rico Part of the US?

 

What language does Puerto Rico mostly speak?

The majority of the residents speak Spanish first.

English is a required subject in schools starting in kindergarten and is often a requirement for employment in many companies.

As a result, most of Puerto Rico’s residents are bilingual.

image of bilingual sign
Spanglish is a blend of Spanish and English, often used by people who are bilingual or who have a partial understanding of both languages.

Puerto Ricans are also known for being very fluent in Spanglish. 

“Spanglish” or “Espanglish” is the term used to combine or mix the Spanish and English languages conversationally.

Spanglish is not an official language but it is widely known and used by many hispanic communities. 

Below is a video of NY Mets’ Fransico Lindor commenting on the Spanglish:

This hybrid “language” combines words and phrases from both Spanish and English in a distinctive way. 

For example, the Spanish word for “to check” is verificar, but Puerto Ricans use the word chequear which is a mix of both words (check and verificar).

Also, there are some words that do not have a Spanish translation like “Blogger” or “TikToker”. By using Spanglish, Puerto Ricans have transformed those words into Bloguero and TikTokero.

Others word generally used by Puerto Ricans is “Googolealo” which means Google it, and “chateando” which means chatting.

Here is a video of how to speak Spanglish:

 

Is Puerto Rican Spanish different?

Yes, it definitely is!

The Spanish of Puerto Rico is quite unique. 

This is due to a blend of cultural systems and the island’s history.

image showing Spanish words
There are many words and phrases that are unique to Puerto Rico that you will not hear in other Spanish speaking countries.

Despite forced attempts, the Spanish settlers failed to completely eradicate the native Taíno language from the island during their 400-year Spanish rule.

In addition, the customs and languages enslaved Africans brought over were combined with the already mixed language in Puerto Rico. 

To this day Puerto Rico retains many words of Taíno and African origins. This linguistic fusion integrates African and Taíno words, idioms, and sounds into the language spoken on the island. 

That combination then merges with the English language and ends up creating a singular Spanish.

Check out this video about Puerto Rican Spanish words and phrases:

You should check our article La Cara del Indio for some more historical context. It covers the story of Cacique Mabodamaca, a legendary Taíno Chief of Puerto Rico. 

 

Puerto Rican Spanish vs Mexican Spanish

Puerto Rican Spanish is different from Mexican Spanish.

image of puerto-rico-mexico sign
One reason that you can sense a variance in the dialects of Mexico and Puerto Rico is the difference in the Indigenous ancestors of these two places.

This is because Mexico is 30 times bigger than Puerto Rico, and its population is almost 45 times larger, giving Mexicans a wider variety of dialects.

Also, there’s a difference between our indigenous ancestors. Puerto Rico’s ancestors were Taíno, while Mexican ancestors were Aztecs. The words and idioms inherited from these different cultures are what makes each of our Spanish unique.  

However, Mexico and Puerto Rico share some words like Huracán (Hurricane), tomate (tomato), and hamaca (hammock).

Check out this video about some differences between Puerto Rican and Mexican Spanish:

Another country with similarities to Puerto Rico is Costa Rica, if you want to know more about it be sure to read our article about Puerto Rico vs Costa Rica.

 

Do Puerto Ricans speak English?

Yes!

Both English and Spanish are official languages on the island. 

image showing English and Spanish words
While a large majority of Puerto Ricans speak English, it is a good idea to brush up on commonly used words before your trip so you can have a more local experience.

Although Spanish is the dominant language in Puerto Rico, more than 50% of the residents can (at least on a basic level) speak, read, and understand English.

Also, the entertainment field such as movies, television, and social media has a big influence on the language of Puerto Ricans. 

The English language is also very important in tourism and business areas.

 

 

FAQ section

Do you need to speak Spanish to visit Puerto Rico?

Not really, at least if your first language is English. Even though the majority of Puerto Ricans speak Spanish there are plenty of bilingual residents on the island, especially in the tourism field and business settings.

Is Puerto Rican Spanish hard to understand?

Puerto Rican Spanish is no more difficult to understand than any other Spanish. Although some phrases and idioms can be somewhat complicated for someone who is not used to the dialect.

 

Final thoughts

Spanish is the primary language in Puerto Rico, but more than 50% of the population can speak at least basic English.

Puerto Rico’s language is the direct result of the island’s complicated history.

The language in Puerto Rico not only shapes Puerto Ricans’ identity but also represents the success of our cultural resistance.

It is important to mention that before the Spanish invaded the island and named it Puerto Rico, the native Taíno called it Borikén which means “Land of the Valiant Lord”.

To this day, Puerto Ricans still call the island Boriken, and we proudly call ourselves Boricuas. 

Only Puerto Ricans say “wepa!” and “que hay” when they greet others. Only Puerto Ricans say “Ay bendito!” to express emotion.

In no other Spanish-speaking country those words are used. That’s one of the reasons why Puerto Ricans’ Spanish is quite unique.

Learn more about Puerto Rican culture in our article 30 Travel Tips & Things To Know Before Visiting Puerto Rico.

You may also enjoy our article Is Puerto Rico Safe? – All You Need To Know.

Article by

Dimary Hernández Soto

Writer at PuertoRico.com. I have lived in Puerto Rico my entire life. When I’m not writing, I work in the healthcare industry as a Quality Control Specialist. After Hurricane Maria, my teammates and I were responsible for ensuring that life support equipment reached patients in need around the island. 

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