So Is Puerto Rico a Spanish-speaking country?
The answer is absolutely, yes! But does this mean you’ll have a hard time communicating in English? No.
Of the close to four million (4,000,000) Puerto Ricans, residing on the islands, latest statistics say 95% speak Spanish and only 20% speak proficient English.
Unless Puerto Ricans find themselves with no other choice, English is seldom used in general conversation. Most schools, colleges, and universities teach both languages, but the focus is on Spanish. In just about all situations, expect to be spoken to in Spanish first.
For someone who doesn’t speak Spanish, being greeted in Spanish can be a little scary. No worries, though. You will find it quite easy to get by with a few words and some minimal understanding. The first thing you will encounter on the island is Puerto Rico’s own version of Spanish. You will often be greeting not with a “hello” (hola), but with a shortened version of “good morning” or “good afternoon.” A simple buenos or even buenas is the most popular way to say hello in Puerto Rico. Simply reply with the same.
In the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan and the big cities and most of the places close to the tourist hubs, people who work and reside there are bilingual. Even in the suburbs or outskirts of the cities, most Puerto Ricans may not be able to talk back and respond, but they’d understand English and be able to help you with anything you may be looking for or asking about.
So … do I need to speak Spanish in Puerto Rico? Yes and No.
No, if you have neither the time, inclination nor the resources to pursue learning Spanish as a 2nd or a 3rd language. On the other hand, if you knew how to speak Spanish, you’d be able to negotiate and haggle prices on items for sale. In a Spanish restaurant, you’d be able to experience more of the authentic Spanish cuisine, because you’d be better able to describe and read about the food that interest you. And should you get lost in some unfamiliar, out-of-the-way place, you’d find your way back easier, asking around, if you knew how to speak Spanish.
Spanish is a beautiful language. Learning it while living and traveling in Puerto Rico can only enhance your stay and make it more pleasant and exciting. It’ll also make immersion into some Puerto Rican culture a lot easier.
If you don’t know Spanish and you plan to live here, you will need someone to help negotiate, make general appointments, phone calls and speak to contractors (cable installers, home repair people, gardeners, etc.) on your behalf. Most general administration staff in medical offices are Spanish speaking as are blue collar workers in general.
Common Spanish sayings to know in Puerto Rico:
Hello — Hola
Please — Por Favor
Thank you — Gracias (more often pronounced Gracia)
Yes – Sí
No — No
How much is it? — ¿Cuánto es? / Cuánto cuesta?
Do you speak English? — Habla inglés?
I don’t understand — No comprendo
Please speak more slowly — Hable lento, por favor
I’m sorry — Lo siento
I don’t know — No lo sé
Airport — Aeropuerto
What time is it? — ¿Qué hora es?
Bathroom — Baños
Street — Calle
The Beach — La playa
Good Morning — Buenos Dias/Buen Dia (or simply Buenos)
Buenas Tardes – Good Afternoon (or simply Buenas)
Good Night – Buenas Noches
How do you say — Como se dice?
Some terms native to Puerto Rico:
Gringo — white foreigner
Borinqua — term for native Puerto Ricans
Rican — Short for Puerto Rican
Reggaeton — A type of music that originated in the Caribbean islands characterized by rough monotonous rapping in Spanish over a reggae beat. Daddy Yankee is one of the most well-known Reggaeton artists.
I hope this guide helps you getting around Puerto Rico! Do you have something to add? Join the discussion below!