The Language of Puerto Rico


Puerto Rico's main language is Spanish.  English is taught in schools as a foreign language, tourism industry employees are required to have English as a second language since 80% of tourists come from the US . Spanish is the language that is spoken by approximately 98% of the island (2000 Census) and the English is mainly spoken by expats from the North, by students that study it in school, (English is a very commonly taught language) and by people returning to the island from New York or Miami (many Puerto Ricans work in the U.S. in Miami or New York City for business and oftentimes people on the island have relatives there.) 


 The pace of the Spanish spoken here is usually very fast for non-native speakers, even those familiar with another dialect: don't be discouraged if you feel you are having a hard time keeping up!!  A characteristic of Caribbean Spanish is that it is spoken quickly at a clip so no, you are not imagining things. (Remember,  this used to be an area focused on trade and the swift guy usually won at auction.) Just listen very carefully and eventually you WILL get it (listening to  the local music before your trip helps.) 


Below are some common phrases to help you get through if you get lost.  Good Luck!



 Hola - Hello éúáíó

Gracias -- Thank you (although colloquailly pronouced "gracia")

¿Cómo está Ud?  - How are you?

¿Cuánto es? / Cuánto   cuesta? -- How much is it?/How much does it cost?

Habla inglés?  -- Do you speak English?

¿..... frances? -Do you speak French?

¿.....alemán? Do you speak German?

Por favor -- please 

No comprendo, no se entiendo --1) I don't understand (this thing, fact) 2) I don't understand (you)

Hable lento, por favor -- Please speak more slowly

Lo siento -- I'm sorry

No lo sé-- I don't know

Aqui está -- Here it is

Sí -- yes

No -- no

esta mañana -- this morning

esta tarde -- this afternoon

esta noche -- tonight

¿Qué calle es esta?  What street is this?

Cuán lejos queda? -- How far is...

Aeropuerto -- airport

¿Qué hora es? -- What time is it?

baños (pron. BAN-yoes)  /toilet -- toilet,bathroom

¡Ayuda! /¡ Auxilio!  -- Help!

¡.... Ladrón!--Help! Thief! (normally you will be safe, but this helps in the rare event somebody steals something from you)

¡Llame a la policia! -- call the police

¡Llame a un médico! -- call a doctor

barato -- cheap

caro -- expensive




 En el restaurante/At  the restaurant:

Quiero pedir / Quiero ordenar -- I'd like to order: 

 Mi amigo quisiera ordenar---my friend would like to order:


carne -- meat;                                                platanos  maduros--sweet plantains

pescado--fish;                                                      mangos--mangoes

cerdo -- pork;                                                    coco--coconut

filete, bistec -- steak;                                       guayabas--guavas

jamon -- ham;                                                    plátanos--bananas, plantains (context important)

tocineta--bacon;                                                    arroz--rice

salchicha--sausage                                          mofongo-native dish made of mashed plantain, broth, garlic and olive oil and then combined                                                                                   with meat or seafood.

calamares--squid                                             queso--cheese 

cangrejo or juey--crab                                                     mantequilla--butter

lechon asado -- roast pork;                                 tenedor--fork

bacalao-salt cod                                                       cuchara, cucharita--spoon, teaspoon


a la brasa/a la parilla -- charcoal grilled;              cuchilla--knife

bien cocido -- well done;                                         platos--plates

poco concido -- rare;                                                   la cena--dinner

termino medio -- medium;                                       almuerzo--lunch

pollo -- chicken;                                                          desayuno--breakfast

camarones -- shrimp;

langosta -- lobster;

verduras -- vegetables;

fruta -- fruit; flan -- caramel custard; postre -- dessert;

azucar -- sugar;

pimienta -- black pepper;

huevos -- eggs;


pan -- bread.


Deme la cuenta, por favor -- give me the check please 

calle -- street

plaza -- square

mapa de carreteras -- road map  (Necessito un mapa de carreteras -- I need a road map!)

¿Dónde esta? -- where is it?

pare -- stop

puedo usar su telefono? -- may I use your telephone?

Estoy perdido -- I'm lost

La playa--the beach

el mar--the sea, ocean

de ida y vuelta--roundtrip

casa de cambio--exchange house (for currency.)



uno -- one                         trece--thirteen                                      setenta--seventy

dos -- two                         catorce--fourteen                                ochenta--eighty

tres -- three                     quince--fifteen                                      noventa--ninety

cuatro -- four                  diesiseis--sixteen                                cien(to)-one hundred

cinco -- five                    diesisiete--seventeen 

seis -- six                       diesiocho--eighteen

siete -- seven                diesinueve--nineteen

ocho -- eight                  veinte--twenty

nueve -- nine                 treinta-thirty

diez -- ten                      cuarenta--forty

once--eleven                cinquenta-fifty

doce--twelve                 sesenta--sixty


Gracias -- thank you

Buenos Dias - Good Morning

Buen Dia --  Good Morning (is more colloquial)

Buenos Tardes - Good Night

Como se dice? - How do you say...


  • Cómo se dice right en espanol? How do you say right in spanish ?
  • Cómo se dice bonita en engles ? How do you say pretty in english?

izquierda -- left

la derecha -- right


Estoy buscando solamente, gracias -- I am only looking, thank you                                                                                                                             

(if you happen to be wandering through a street market or by a cafe/restaurant)

(If you have a Blackberry, consider downloading the Navita Translator)


Puerto Rican Street Spanish

Puerto Rican Spanish is a subdialect of Caribbean Spanish: it has a few unique features found nowhere else and derives most of its vocabulary from Taino, African, and Spanish dialects from various parts of Spain (read: there never has been an "official" version handed down from some authority as in France or Spain and everything that could go in, did, including some recent additions from US English over the last hundred years.)  Unlike most dialects of Spanish, it has contractions (more in line with influences from English). For Europeans with some familiarity with Castillian Spanish from Spain, let it be known that the vosotros form of the verb is almost NEVER used: like most of North America,  such formalities died out a long time ago, right alongside English "thee" and "thou-"   People will mostly use Usted when they first meet you and then let their guard down as they get to know you and are less formal as a whole than in Spain. It should also be mentioned that /s/ is never pronounced /th/ like it is in Spain, but occasionally is dropped if it ends a word. 

Here follow a few words  or phrases you will only hear on the island. Some do not posess the same meaning they do in standard Spanish or in other dialects and others will not be translated directly owing to their foul meaning and to keep them out of the mouths of certain uncautious people. 



La guagua--bus

el coco--the head

un bobo--idiot, moron

Cabrón--closest translation is jacka-- or a--hole. If directed at you, you have angered somebody mightily.  Directing this word at somebody else is another story: use it at your own risk because in Puerto Rico, (unlike neighboring Mexico) it has an unfriendly meaning where your spouse might be cheating on you and you are a lesser person for it.(You can say it, but you might be missing teeth later as you have wounded someone's pride and honor.)

Pa' lla--contraction of para alla ( meaning: over there)

Pa'ca--contraction of para aca (meaning: over here.)

¡Carajo! -Swear world roughly on par with the f-word in vulgarity, avoid unless a brick falls on your foot or the equivalent.

 Babilla--bravery, machismo.

 Iguaca--A rare parrot usually found in El Yunque, the Puerto Rican Amazon. Endangered. Be quiet in its presence as it is very easily frightened.Never attempt to pet, feed, or photograph this bird with a flash as it is very sensitive and a symbol of the island that the government is trying to save from endangerment.

Mariposa--literally means "butterfly,"   slang means an offensive term for a gay man.

Borinquen--Puerto Rican. 

Coquí-- 1) A  very small frog that often hides in the foliage in Puerto Rico noted for its ability to sing co-KEE, co-KEE in large choruses expecially after a rainstorm 2) Slang term for a Puerto Rican.

Franfura--Hot dog



Un lambon--a toady.

¡Uepa!-- Cool!

limber--a treat made of frozen juice or coconut milk. (Corruption of the name Charles LINDBERGH.) 

'Mano-roughly means "dude" if used to address someone.

Echar un polvo--Normally used by men. If you are a lady and the drunk guy in the pub is saying he wants to do this to you to his friend SLAP HIM. He is up to no good and is not interested in being un caballero (a gentleman.)

Me cago en tu mai (pai)--This is a vulgarism usually said during traffic by taxi drivers or sometimes average citizens. Though its exact meaning will not be translated here, it does involve defecating on someone's parent.   If this is directed at you, you might be going too slowly in your car: double check your speed and that you have obeyed traffic signs.

Zafaito--Out of place.Usually said when somebody has been disrespectful.