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Costa Rica Language

What language do they speak in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica, located in Central America between Panama and Nicaragua, is home to a unique mix of cultures and languages that have developed over centuries. While the official language of Costa Rica is Spanish, indigenous languages like Bribri, Cabécar, Maleku, and Guaymí are also spoken.


Spanish in Costa Rica

Spanish was introduced to Costa Rica in the 1500s when Spain claimed their first colony in the area now known as Cartago. Now, nearly 98% of Costa Ricans are fluent in Spanish. Like many countries and regions, Costa Rican Spanish uses unique vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar. For example, instead of saying “tú” (you), Costa Ricans say “vos.”

Costa Rican locals are known as “ticos” and Spanish in Costa Rica is called “tico Spanish.” The language is characterized by its use of diminutives, which are added to the end of words. For example, “gato” (cat) becomes “gatito” (little cat), and “jugo” (juice) becomes “jugito” (little juice).


Costa Rican Slang

“Tiquismos” (Costa Rican-isms) is a word for Costa Rican slang. If you join an AMIGOS project in Costa Rica, you’re sure to hear some of the most common slang words and phrases:

  • Pura Vida – Literally, “pure life” or “simple life.” You will hear this all over the country, and it typically expresses a positive or relaxed attitude.
  • Mae – “Dude” or “man”
  • Tuanis – “Cool” or “good”
  • Tico – A term of endearment for someone from Costa Rica
  • Teja – “100 colones” – Costa Rican currency is the colón, and 100 colones is the smallest paper bill


Indigenous Languages

Even though Spanish is the official language, there are several indigenous languages still spoken in Costa Rica. More than 100,000 indigenous people live in Costa Rica and their languages are an important part of the country’s cultural heritage. Additionally, many Afro-Costa Ricans, who are descendants of enslaved Africans brought to the country during the colonial period, speak a creole language known as Mekatelyu.

One of the most widely spoken indigenous languages in Costa Rica is Bribri. It is spoken by the Bribri people, who live in the southern part of the country near the border with Panama. Bribri is an endangered language, and efforts are being made to preserve it by teaching it in schools and documenting its grammar and vocabulary.

Cabécar is another indigenous language spoken in Costa Rica. It is spoken by the Cabécar people, who live in the central part of the country near the Talamanca Mountains. Like Bribri, Cabécar is an endangered language.

Maleku is spoken by the Maleku people, who live in the northern part of the country near the border with Nicaragua. It is also an endangered language, with only a few hundred speakers remaining.

Guaymí is a language spoken by the Guaymí people who live in southern Costa Rica. Guaymí is also an endangered language, with only a few hundred speakers remaining.


Learning Spanish in Costa Rica

Many people travel to Costa Rica to learn Spanish. Learning a language from native Speakers in an immersive environment is the fastest way to become fluent! Here are some tips for learning Spanish in Costa Rica (or any Spanish-speaking country!):

  • Get Immersed – The number one way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it. Speak Spanish as much as possible, even if you make mistakes or struggle at first. Try to find opportunities to practice with locals, whether it’s at a restaurant, a market, or a language exchange.
  • Take a Class – Costa Rica has many language schools and programs that cater to international students. Taking a structured Spanish course can help you improve your language skills quickly and provide you with a solid foundation in grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.
  • Live with a Host FamilyLiving with a host family is a wonderful way to practice your Spanish and experience Costa Rican culture. Language schools and volunteer placements may offer homestays, so check them out first if you’re interested.
  • Travel – Costa Rica is a beautiful country with many opportunities to explore and practice your Spanish. Visit local attractions, take a hike in the rainforest, or join a cultural event or festival. Not only will you have fun, but you’ll also have the chance to use your Spanish in real-world situations.
  • Get Online – There are many online resources available to help you learn Spanish, such as Duolingo, Babbel, and FluentU. These resources can be a great supplement to your language classes and provide you with additional practice opportunities.

Learning Spanish in Costa Rica is a fun and rewarding experience. By immersing yourself in the language, taking a course, staying with a host family, exploring the country, and using online resources, you can improve your language skills and gain a deeper understanding of Costa Rican culture.


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