Native English speakers traveling to Belize will have no problem communicating, as the official language is English. But as the Latino population has become the main ethnic group in Belize, Spanish is gaining widespread acceptance and in some areas it is even the first language, especially in the North and West of the country. Most Belizean’s are bilingual in Spanish and English.
For the visitor who decides to venture across the borders with Mexico and Guatemala, basic fluency in a second language such as Spanish will be useful – suddenly it is Spanish all the way. It is always good to have some fluency in a foreign language when traveling and that is why some visitors to Belize are keen to look into learning a second language.
There is a Regional Language Center at the University of Belize, and students from Latin America come here for English Courses and to learn English as a second language. ESL (English as a second language), refers to the use or study of English by speakers with a different native language. The center also offers courses in Spanish.
The Regional Language Centre began with the English as a Second Language (ESL) programme in 1978 at the Belize College of Arts, Science and Technology, that later developed into the University College of Belize in 1986 and the University of Belize (UB) in the year 2000. In 2000, a $2.3 million building was sponsored by the Republic of China (ROC) Taiwan and set up in Belmopan, the central campus of the University of Belize. Today, the RLC is a well-equipped modern facility serving the region as the center for second language learning. Currently nationals of more than fifteen countries – ranging from North, Central and South America, Africa and Asia are students.
You may be interested to know that free Spanish Language courses are offered in Belize by the the governments of Mexico and Venezuela, These courses are offered at the Belize-Mexico Cultural Institute in Belize City and at the Phillip Goldson Center in Belmopan sponsored by the government of Venezuela. The Venezuelan Embassy in Belmopan also sponsors free computer education classes.
Visitors to Belize may like to know that the former capital of Guatemala, La Antigua, is a world-class center for those wishing to learn Spanish as a second language. La Antigua is an easy journey by road (one day) or air (one hour) from Belize. Current Prime Minister Dean Barrow spent a month in Guatemala taking an immersive Spanish Language course shortly before his successful run for electoral office.
Languages Spoken In Belize
As a member of the British Commonwealth, Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the official language. Many Belizeans speak standard English. Dialects, primarily pidgin English is spoken widely and Spanish is by population the most prevalent language.
Languages you will hear include:
The Creole dialect regarded by visitors as Pidgin English is a dialect that can be difficult for those that have not visited former British colonies to understand. If you have been to the Anglophone Caribbean, Belize Creole will be easy to pick up. The influence of Hip Hop rap from Jamaica actually has many Belizean DJ’s and residents imitating Jamaican Creole.
Most Creole speakers use the dialect with family and friends and automatically switch to a U.S.A. accent when dealing with tourists from North America.
Approximately one-third of the population speaks the Creole dialect as their first language.
Located in Central America, Belize has been strongly influenced by Spain, including groups of Friars, Ladinos and Mestizos that first discovered and settled in Belize, and latterly, in early 19th Yucatec Ladinos and Maya that moved to British Honduras following the Mexican Caste War. Most Belizeans do not know or appreciate that the first European settler and defender of Belize was the famed Spaniard Gonzalo Guerrero the genesis of the Mestizo race.
About 60% of Belizeans speak Spanish as a native language, particularly in Root Central Belize and the Mexican and Guatemalan borders. Some Belizeans speak a pidgin Spanish used by people whose first language is not Spanish.
Descendants of the ancient Maya that built the impressive pyramids, palaces, and ceremonial sites in Belize, speak Yucatac Maya (northern Beize), Kekchi (southern Belize), and Mopan (Root Central and Western Belize.
Most genuine Maya speak only Maya. A few speak Maya and Spanish. And an increasing segment that have migrated to the outskirts of population centres for work, speak Maya and Spanish. For students and researchers, is it Maya of Mayan?
A Carib-African dialect, Garifuna is a unique language spoken by approximately 3% of the population. The Garifuna dialect is a hybrid of the Carib people, West African and English languages and was recognized in 2001 by the United Nations as a valued contribution to the heritage of humanity.
The German spoken in Belize is predominantly the Plautdietsch or Mennonite Low German variety similar to the Pennsylvania Dutch spoken by Amish communities in the United States. Belize has a well-established Mennonite community consisting of several villages and towns.
Most German-speaking Mennonites in Belize also speak English Spanish.
Chinese, Arabic and Indians
Belize has small but well-established Chinese communities located primarily in urban areas, but now spreading to rural areas. Originally brought into the country as an unskilled labor force during colonial times, the Chinese community of Belize struggled with adaptation. But in the 1950’s waves of uncontrolled immigration soon expanded into more entrepreneurial activities. They control the restaurant, supermarket, gambling, motels, and office rental business and now moving into the fuel distribution sector. Mandarin is the most spoken language by new immigrants from the Peoples Republic of China, and the Republic of China (Taiwan).
Predominantly hailing from Palestine, Iran, Syria and Lebanon, there is also a small Arabic-Persian speaking community in Belize. Though very small in numbers this ethnic minority estimated at less than 1% has gained enormous clout in politics, business, law, and banking.
Indians, regarded here as natives of India and Pakistan tend to fly under the radar. Their arrival in Belize was promoted by the Peoples United Party after they were ejected from Uganda by Idi Amin. This ethnic minority has built impressive influence in Belize through taking over dry goods distribution, office rental space, casinos, banking and free zone import activities.