As a former British colony, Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the official language. The vast majority of people in Belize speak standard English, but a variety of dialects and other languages are often spoken at home.
Traditionally spelled Creole, the Kriol dialect (preferred modern spelling) is not a different language than English but a distinct dialect that can be difficult for non-speakers to understand. Many Kriol speakers “code switch,” speaking the Kriol dialect with friends and family and standard English in public.
Approximately one-third of the population speaks the Kriol dialect as their first language.
Located in Central America, Belize has been strongly influenced by Spanish, including groups of self-styled Mestizos (literally “mixed race”) who emigrated in the early 19th century following a civil war in neighboring Mexico.
Today, many people in Belize speak Spanish as a native language, particularly near the Mexican and Guatemalan borders. In addition, some Belizeans speak a “kitchen Spanish,” a simplified version of the language used by people whose first language is English.
The descendants of the ancient Maya that built the impressive pyramids, palaces, and ceremonial sites that dot the Belizean landscape, the Maya in Belize speak three different dialects: Kekchi (various spellings), Mopan, and the increasingly rare Yucatec.
Maya communities tend to be located in rural areas, but most Maya speakers are bilingual in either English or Spanish.
An Afro-Caribbean tongue, Garifuna is a unique language spoken by approximately 4% of the population. The Garifuna tongue is a blend of indigenous Caribbean languages and West African languages and was recognized in 2001 by the United Nations as a valued contribution to the intangible heritage of humanity.
Different than standard high German (Hochdeutsch), the German spoken in Belize is predominantly the Plautdietsch or Mennonite Low German variety similar to the Pennsylvania Dutch spoken by Amish communities in the United States. Belize has a well-established Mennonite community consisting of several villages and towns.
Most German-speaking Mennonites in Belize are also bilingual in English.
Chinese and Arabic
Belize has a small but well-established community of Chinese communities located primarily in urban areas. Originally brought into the country as an unskilled labor force, the Chinese community of Belize soon expanded into more entrepreneurial activities.
Predominantly hailing from Lebanon, there is also a small Arabic-speaking community in Belize.
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