Can We Talk in Puerto Rico?

Residents of Puerto Rico embrace a variety of languages

Photo credit: © Adam Jones, Ph.D.

Languages spoken in Puerto Rico

Both English and Spanish are the official languages of Puerto Rico, but the culture is unmistakably Latin, and Spanish is without a doubt the island's dominant language.

Approximately one quarter of the population speaks English, but with limited capability. English, however, is required in all federal matters and is spoken in all major tourist areas.

Language has been a central issue to Puerto Rican culture and education since 1898. The U.S. authorities made English the language of instruction in schools until strong cultural opposition brought a change in 1930, making Spanish the language of instruction and English a second language studied by all.

In 1991, a pro-commonwealth leadership signed a legislature making Spanish the sole official language of the island. That ruling was reversed by pro-statehood governor Pedro J. Rossello, who signed legislation restoring equal status to Spanish and English.

English speakers headed to Puerto Rico on vacation will be able to get by without knowing any Spanish phrases as long as they stick to the major tourist areas.  If your goal is to explore some of the lesser known locales, however, purchasing a phrase book, or practicing a little Spanish before you head out on your trip may be a good idea.

Traveling to Puerto Rico does not mean you'll need to learn a whole new language, but it would be smart to know a few phrases and words.  Start with the easy-to-remember greetings such as "hola," and "adios," and you are on your way to making your time on the island that much more memorable. 


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