Language in Colombia

Language in Colombia

Speaking Spanish in Colombia

¿Habla ingles? Language in Colombia

Colombia's official language is Spanish and partly because of the lack of real tourist areas (probably only Cartagena qualifies as such) there is often very little English spoken. With that in mind, it's worth picking up at least a few key phrases of Spanish. In written terms, Colombian Spanish is more or less identical to "Spanish" Spanish, but the pronunciation can vary hugely, with dialects on the Caribbean coast and in Antioquia in particular, sounding quite significantly different.

Colombian Spanish (pronunciation) English
A la orden (a la or-den) Happy to help
Arepa (a-ray-pa) Corn pancake
Barra (bar-ra) 1000 Pesos
Brutal! (broo-tal) Really cool!
Cafecico (caf-eh-see-coh) A small coffee
Chino (chee-no) A child
Con gusto (con guss-toh) With pleasure
Guayabo (gwai-a-boh) Hangover
Habla ingles? (ab-la een-glayz?) Do you speak English?
Parce (pah-say) Mate
Plata (pla-ta) Money
Porfa (poor-fa) Please
Que mas? (kay mass?) How are you?
Que pena! (kay penna?) Sorry!
Su Merced (soo mer-sed) Sir

All of our guides and representatives on your holiday to Colombia will speak excellent English, and hotel staff will usually speak some English as well. In restaurants, the situation can be much more mixed. We do provide all our customers with a detailed Spanish phrasebook for their holiday in Colombia, but we'd recommend taking a dictionary or downloading a dictionary app to your phone as well: it can be very useful if there's something on the menu that you're not quite sure about...

Pronunciation

On the Caribbean coast, consonants at the ends of words tend to be dropped, so "mitad" (half) becomes "mita'", for example; and "cansado" (tired) becomes an almost Portuguese-sounding "cansao". This dialect is one that many visitors to Colombia struggle with - although the good news is that people will usually understand any Spanish that you speak, even if you can't understand them!

Meanwhile, in the mountainous Paisa Region around Medellin, Pereira and Armenia, you will find people using "vos" to mean "you" instead of the standard "tu", and you will also notice that soft "s" sounds become almost a "sh" so that the word "Paisa" itself becomes almost "Paisha". Throughout Colombia, but particularly in this area, you'll find people peppering their speech with the "-ico" diminiunitive used in Colombia rather than the usual Spanish "-ito". So you might have "Manuelico" (little Manuel) offering you a beer (cerveca) or he might instead offer you a quick, little beer, which would be a cervecica.