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Speaking the Language

Belize - Speaking the Language


By the time a group of shipwrecked English sailors arrived on Belize soil in 1638, the ruling Mayan civilisation had long since faded away, although a population of local people remained. Successive English settlers over the next 150 years found themselves frequently fending off attacks from those locals as well as nearby Spanish settlers. The territory was named the Colony of British Honduras in 1840, and a couple of decades later became a crown colony with constitutional and democratic change. Full self-governance was introduced a hundred years after that, and full independence was granted in 1981, seven years after the territory’s name was officially changed to Belize.

In the 1720s, British settlers started enslaving African people, primarily to work on timber production. Mahogany in particular was an important export, but slaves also carried out a range of other domestic and commercial production tasks. Many slaves escaped to nearby Yucatan, Guatemala and Honduras, whilst freed slaves and their descendants developed a kriol (creole) community of their own. By the time the British government abolished slavery in 1833, there were approximately 2,300 slaves living in British Honduras (now Belize), who had been kept apart from the local kriol community.

The British rulers did not treat the communities of the Kriol, Maya or recently arrived Garifuna as equals. In 1872, reservations were established for the Maya and Garifunda populations, which prevented them owning their own land. Property these people had lived and worked on had already been subject to a British lease for the previous two decades. Political inequalities led to attacks on both sides between the British and Mayan communities, although wars in nearby countries led to the arrival of new Mayan groups into the country.

By 1927, the power of the British settler class had almost evaporated following years of economic stagnation, while trade links with the US had become more important than those with the UK. Professionals and merchants from the kriol community were now permitted to take part in their country’s politics at the highest level. The next two decades saw the rise of union politics following a poor response from the British government to an economic depression, a devastating hurricane and the near-slavery of workers on mahogany plantations. In 1954, suffrage in Belize meant that all adults over the age of 21 could vote despite their gender or whether they owned property.

During the long negotiations to secure independence for the country, which included the change of name from British Honduras to Belize, all parties had to contend with claims by the Guatemalan government that the territory belonged to them. As a result, a British Army garrison still exists in Belize, despite British attempts to mothball the last facility in 2010 following the strategic defence and security review.

Languages In Belize

The history of Belize has had a profound effect on the culture and communities present there today. It is a multicultural country with a mixture of languages used and religions practiced. Those descended from the Maya are typically Roman Catholics, whilst the creole community is based around the protestant faith.

Belize is the only Central American country whose official language is English. As a result, all official documents and signage are in English, and almost all the resident population can speak this language well. Spanish is also widely spoken across Belize. This is due to a combination of Mayan communities and migrants from the nearby Spanish speaking countries including Guatemala and Honduras.

Belize kriol, or Belizean creole, is a widely spoken dialect. It is based on English, but incorporates Spanish words and intonations. This language has its own grammar and spelling rules.

The Language Of Entertainment

Access to television channels is good across the country, even in remote areas. Services are delivered by air, cable and satellite channels. The majority of programme content originates from North America, and makes up about two-thirds of the schedules available. All the major US networks have a presence in Belize. It is possible to buy standard packages which include over a hundred channels, plus speciality channels such as movies and sport.

Some channels offer programmes aired in Spanish, Mandarin and Hindu, but the overwhelming majority is in English, especially American English.

If you wish to listen to the radio in Belize, you will find approximately 36 English-speaking domestic channels to choose from. There are four stations which broadcast nationally: the politically owned Positive Vibes FM, the privately owned LOVE FM which provides information during national emergencies, KREM FM which has a colourful history, and politically owned WAVE Radio which has a wide range of DJs. In the Belize District, the wide range of stations on offer include the christian radio stations Integrity FM, Emanuel FM and Power FM. The British Forces Broadcasting Service can be picked up along the Northern Highway and the northern parts of Belize City. The Corozal and Orange Walk District, and the Stann Creek and Toledo Districts also offer a range of locally produced radio stations.

News And Education

Belize offers a number of nationally distributed English speaking domestic newspapers. The Amandala was established in 1967 and is today the most widely circulated newspaper; The Reporter has been operating almost as long and is a widely-respected publication. The Belize Times is the national newspaper of the People’s United Party (PUP) political party, and The Guardian is the United Democratic Party’s (UDP) official national newspaper.

Access to local newspapers depends on where you live. Both the Ambergris Today and the San Pedro Sun are based in Ambergris; the latter also offers an online newspaper. The Caye Culker Chronicles is a local newspaper with an online presence, whereas the Placenta Breeze is aimed at tourists. The Wabagari Post is the local paper for Dangriga Town, in southern Belize.

Whilst teachers of English are not widely in demand in Belize, English speaking teachers who can deliver a number of key subjects are. You will normally need a degree as a minimum requirement. Some starting points to find a placement or job include:
Go Overseas
The TEFL Academy

Primary school teachers earn approximately BZD22,426 which is roughly £8,537 or $11,125. Belize is not a destination from which to make a healthy savings pot before travelling home, regardless of your occupation. Despite the salary level, paid work is quite hard to find. Voluntary work, in contrast, will be eagerly accepted in many places.


Read more about this country



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