Belize is Caribbean country surrounded by Spanish-speaking countries but, surprisingly, English is the official language. In fact, it’s even a member of the Commonwealth. And why is that?
Spanish sailors were the first ones to explore the land of today’s Belize, but they encountered hostile resistance from tribes in the Yucatán peninsula. Therefore, when English and Scottish pirates arrived in Belize during the 17th century, there wasn’t an established Spanish colony yet. British folks created a safe port that became Belize City in exchange for stopping piracy.
In 1836, when most of Central America was free from Spanish rule, Britain made Belize a subordinate of Jamaica and began to administer the region and named it the “British Honduras”. The name would only be changed in 1973, and Belize would gain independence in 1981. However, it remains a member of the Commonwealth and Queen Elizabeth II is the head of the state.
So which languages are spoken in Belize?
As we’ve stated, English is the official language. An English-based creole language, called Belizean Creole, is used mostly for informal and social dialogue.
Spanish is popular due to the proximity of Spanish-speaking nations (Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador), and it’s currently the second most spoken language in the country. Around 30% of the population speaks Spanish as a native language, and since independence it has been the most widely taught foreign language at schools.
Multilingualism is strongly encouraged: a 2010 study found that most of the population speaks more than one language. In total, 62.9% of the population understands English, followed by Spanish (56.6%), Creole (44%) and Mayan languages. If 30% of the population speaks Spanish natively, then it means around 26.6% of the remainder studied it as a foreign language.
Moreover, these numbers are expected to grow as more and more schools start to teach Spanish. The new generations, who never lived under British colonial rule, are much more likely to speak it.
So, in short, wherever you go to in Belize, you’re very likely to find someone you can talk to.
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