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Speaking the Language

Costa Rica - Speaking the Language


A common greeting in Costa Rica is “Pura Vida” – meaning “Pure Life”. This represents the Costa Rican people’s dedication to virtuous, peaceful living and protection of their natural habitats. The Costa Ricans themselves are known as “Ticos” and they are happy for foreigners to use this term, as well as using it amongst each other.

Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica and is the most widely spoken language. There are several indigenous communities in Costa Rica based mainly in the Southern Caribbean region, including the Bribri, Kekoldi and Cabecar people. These communities have their own indigenous languages, but they make up only a little more than 1% of the population and are based in very isolated areas, therefore their languages are very sparsely used. There are some Creole dialects spoken in Costa Rica, including a Jamaican-English form called “Maketelyu” – originating from the phrase “make I tell you”.

The Latin American Spanish that is spoken in Costa Rica is different to European Spanish and has variances in word meaning and pronunciation. It can also differ from the Latin American Spanish that is spoken in other countries in Central America. This should not cause any major communication problems if you already speak another form of Spanish, although it is important to bear in mind that Costa Ricans usually address each other with the formal “usted” form rather than “tu” (both meaning “you”).

Spanish is the main language used for business and journalism in Costa Rica, therefore it is necessary to have a grasp of the language if you plan to conduct official business or trading. The level of Spanish language education in Costa Rica is generally high. Most language schools in Costa Rica are based around the San Jose area, although there are also some excellent language schools based in the Guanacaste region too. Costa Ricans speak Spanish at a slow pace and very clearly, so it is an ideal country in which to learn the language. It is possible to study Spanish in a traditional university or school environment, or you may also choose to learn Spanish through an immersive cultural programme.

According to the English Proficiency Index, Costa Ricans have a low proficiency in English. However, English is widely spoken in Costa Rica – particularly across the service industries which cater to tourists. Costa Ricans between the ages of 25 – 34 have the most proficient English skills, with abilities diminishing with increased population age. Regionally, English is spoken widely in the San Jose area and in the popular tourist destinations along both coasts, however is less widely spoken in rural and isolated areas.

Generally, on mainstream television English programmes are dubbed into Spanish. However many satellite and cable services offer English programming without dubbing or subtitling. Cable television is available extensively in the Central Valley region but may not be available in more rural regions.

There is plenty of employment available for English speakers but the positions tend to be fairly low-paid. The most common roles available for English speakers are call centre jobs, English language teaching roles and positions as real estate brokers. It may also be possible to find work as a sportsbook clerk. Additionally, many foreigners living in Costa Rica choose to work as online freelancers or telecommuters, since there is ready access to the internet in most places.


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