Languages in Costa Rica

Learn more about the languages spoken in Costa Rica and discover its different, amazing idiomatic expressions

Languages in Costa Rica

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The Spanish language is the official and the most spoken language in Costa Rica, although English is also heard. This language is very common in the country’s most touristic areas so you can speak English at hotels and restaurants as well as hire tour guides who speak in a perfect English. Moreover, in some certain touristic areas, you can even find information leaflets and restaurant menus in English. Furthermore, in certain Caribbean areas, mainly in the province of Limón, it is spoken an English pidgin called Creole English or Creole Limonese, an English variant that was brought in the 19th Century by Jamaican immigrants. The French language is the second most spoken one and it is taught in schools, thus some people understand it.   

On the other hand, the Spanish spoken in Costa Rica has archaisms and is full of characteristic expressions and idioms.

You must take into account that they use the demonym tico, which is a caring name and not a scornful one, for referring to the country’s inhabitants. The word started to be used in the war against William Walker’s Filibusters that occurred in Central America in the mid 19th Century when foreign soldiers in allied areas noticed that Costa Rican soldiers used -ico/-ica in replacement of -ito/-ita (the common Spanish diminutive). So you have to accustom yourself to words such as “ahorica” or “chiquirritico”.

These peculiar words mixed up with its common lisp shows the musicality of the Spanish language spoken in Costa Rica. A local expression you can hear during your visit to Costa Rica is “pura vida” (pure life); it can be given as a positive response to the question “how are you?” or it can be used as a greeting or farewell. This idiom is an expression of Tico’s particular way of life, linked up with its spontaneity, optimism and culture’s joy. It can be surprising that if you want to try some local food, you must go to a soda, a little family restaurant, while if you want to buy some food you have to go to a pulpería. Likewise, if you are looking for tickets to attend a special event, you must go to the nearest boletería.   

Therefore, there is a wide range of expressions and idioms to discover. In the table below you can find some examples of the local vocabulary, so you can get to know their rich variety.  

Chancho: Pig

Lagarto: Aligator

La plata: The money

Quepis: Cap

Monchar: To eat

Mae: A close friend

Carro: Car

Rulear: To sleep

Bomba: Petrol Station

Carajillo: Girl/Boy

Although the most spoken language is Spanish, Costa Rica is a multicultural country, and despite its small size, we can find five autochthonous languages on its territory: maleku, cabécar, bribri, guaymí and bocotá. This languages are used by indigenous people in tiny areas, but they show an important cultural tradition.

Find out more information you need to know before your trip to Costa Rica:


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