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Brits are famed for their expectation of speaking their native tongue while on holiday – pigeon French, Spanish and Italian may cut it with patient waiters on the continent, but if you’re looking to spend a holiday in the Caribbean, you may need more than one phrasebook.
The region’s diverse culture and history – a mixture of disparate colonial invasion and seafaring trade – has resulted in there being no one language spoken throughout the Caribbean, although recent attempts at a unified culture have tried. Instead, there are four main languages with a few indigenous languages which are becoming more infrequently spoken.
The good news is that these four languages may well be familiar as they are all of European origin. Central Caribbean, comprising Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica sees Spanish, French and English spoken. In the Nederland Antilles, the two island groups of the Leeward Antilles off the Venezuelan Coast and the Windward Islands, east of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, Dutch is spoken. The western part of the Caribbean, which is made up of many of the smaller islands such as St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, Barbados and Antigua speak Spanish, French and English while the east sees a mixture of English and French.
So a trip to the Caribbean offers the best of both worlds in terms of language. Whether you want the ease of being able to communicate with the locals in terms you are familiar with, or want to make your holiday a little adventurous with trying a new language, you can choose which is best for you.
There are, however, some hints and tips to make sure you get the best out of your trip, language-wise. English is generally regarded as the language of tourism and will most often be the first or second language of most of the locals. However, if you really want to experience the spirit of the Caribbean resort in which you choose to stay, try and pick up the local language.
If you’re in Cuba or the Dominican Republic speaking Spanish is a good idea. Holidays to Haiti, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Bart’s and St. Martin will be improved with a little French vocabulary up your sleeve and Dutch-speakers will get along with the locals in St. Maarten, Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire, Saba, St. Eustatius.
But otherwise, try to pick some local custom and enjoy!