Language in Costa Rica

Language in Costa Rica

Speaking Spanish in Costa Rica

¿Habla ingles? Language in Costa Rica

What languages are spoken in Costa Rica? Well, the official language is Spanish but you'll find that English is widely spoken in most tourist areas, and you certainly don't need to worry about being a fluent Spanish speaker, even if you're doing one of our self-drive trips in Costa Rica. That said, a bit of Spanish is always appreciated by locals, and it's not hard to pick up a few uniquely Costa Rican phrases which will put a smile on people's faces!

In written terms, Costa Rican Spanish is more or less identical to "Spanish" Spanish, but the pronunciation is slightly different (with none of the 'th th th' sounds you get in Iberian Spanish - 'c' and 'z' are both pronounced as a 's' sound) and there are a few minor grammatical differences as well. Basically though, any Spanish you have will be pretty much applicable in Costa Rica as well.

Costa Rican Spanish (pronunciation) English
Chapuzon (cha-poo-zone) A swim
Gua-gua (gwah-gwah) Dog
Mae (may) Mate
Muchach(o/a) (moo-cha-cho/a) Man/Woman
Pura Vida! Cool/Great!
Que cascara? (kay kass-kara?) What a cheek!
Que m'iche? (kay mee-chay?) What's up?!
Regalarme (reg-alar-may) Give me
Tico/a (tee-koh/ah) A Costa Rican
Usted (oo-sted) You

All of our guides and representatives on your holiday to Costa Rica 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 Costa Rica, 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

Like many other Carribean Spanish dialects, Costa Ricans tend to drop consonants at the ends of words, so "mitad" (half) becomes "mita'", for example; and "cansado" (tired) becomes an almost Portuguese-sounding "cansao".

Another curiosity is that Costa Ricans almost exclusively use 'usted' to mean 'you'. In Spain and much of Latin America this is the formal pronoun, used between strangers or as a sign of respect, but Costa Ricans use it between friends and family as well. In fact, if they're being really familiar, they still don't use 'tu' like most Spanish speakers and instead say 'vos', like in Argentina and Uruguay.