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Spanish or Spanglish - the language of Puerto Rico

Spanglish: The Language of Puerto Rico

What the heck is “Spanglish”?

Tim and I were walking down the sidewalk looking for a quick, inexpensive place to eat. We really wanted breakfast that wasn’t going to cost $30.00 (again). We heard that a local shopping plaza had just the place – local, cheap, and tasty.

All of a sudden, I stopped and stared above the businesses. Tim also looked up puzzled, trying to figure out what in the world I was looking at. It was a large bulletin sign that said:

"Estas Open Para Probar Cosas Nuevas? - AT&T"

Wondering where we were? The place was Isla Verde, Puerto Rico.

I do not consider myself very good in Spanish but I get by – unless someone starts jabbering at me directly, at which point I freeze and panic – Ha Ha. But I stood there trying to figure what the heck the word “open” meant; I had no trouble with the rest of the sentence. Then it dawned on me – what I was looking at was Spanglish! I laughed and explained to Tim what caught my attention.

The translation of the sign was “Are You Open to Try New Things? – AT&T”. HA!

That was our first exposure to Spanglish in Puerto Rico. During the rest of our visit, we found it everywhere. In fact, on one occasion, we witnessed two tour guides conversing, one of them was asking things in Spanish, while the other was answering him in English – crazy!

In case you’re curious, Spanglish is a real term. It was coined by a Puerto Rican linguist, Salvador Tió, to describe Spanish spoken with some English words thrown in. That bulletin board we saw, was certainly a great example of Spanglish.

You probably already know that the official languages of Puerto Rico are both Spanish and English and you may even know that Spanish is used to teach in schools and is much more prevalent than English. But did you know that Puerto Ricans don’t speak true Spanish? Instead, they speak Spanglish and in fact, someone speaking pure Latinate Spanish is considered “stuck up” or unapproachable.

Puerto Rico is considered by many to be a poor place to learn Spanish – too bad – because many, many English words are thrown in. The funny thing was that often, I didn’t even recognize them as English words because they were pronounced with a local Spanish accent – bizarre!

Another thing that we noticed about Spanish in Puerto Rico was that many Puerto Ricans, when they hear an English-speaker trying to say something in Spanish, instantly switch to English. This makes it kind of difficult to practice Spanish.

And if you think that Spanglish is just slag, think again. Many politicians and even educators use Spanglish and no one even gives it a second thought.

Check out this video for example. You may not realize it but there are many English words thrown in by the speakers.

So, in some ways, it will probably be easier to learn Spanglish for us because we obviously already know the English words, but if we were to go to another Spanish-speaking country, we’d be in trouble – we would not know may of the proper Spanish words.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, there actually are Spanish Language schools in Puerto Rico but don’t ask me if they teach pure Spanish or Spanglish – I just don’t know.

You may also like our posts on Pimsleur Spanish Program Review and Learn Spanish for Retirement Abroad.



About Joanna

is a Polish American living in Arizona with her husband Tim. She is a founding partner of JTR Tech and she is proud to be a professional geek. She had dreamt of living abroad for many years. So, she and Tim created AbroadDreams.com to document the process of making their dream of moving abroad come true. They spent 2 years in Puerto Rico and several months in Spain and Poland. Now they are exploring the American Southwest.

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  1. Hello again, really enjoying your blog, good PR ones are hard to find! I am having a hard time myself with the language here. Just learning a new language is difficult enough w/o the challenge of various dialects. My husband, who was born here, said he often had to “switch” from correct Spanish to a more “rural version” depending on who he was talking to, especially in business. I liken it to the southern states, if you go to any small rural town you might add a little twang to fit in. But then, I have never been much for fitting in so I’ll stick with Pimsleur’s Spanish and leave the Spanglish for someone else. Oh and the S’s! Why are they dropped so much?! Have you noticed that yet?

    • Hi Karen,

      Glad you enjoyed the post. Where in PR are you located and what do you think of it where you are?

      We’re always looking for new people to meet and new places to see when we visit.

      Thanks for reading

  2. Watching the video I recognized no English words! ¡Jaja!