Due to the long centuries of British colonial rule, Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the official language. Taught in schools and used for all legal and judicial proceedings, English is the primary language used in English, although there are several other languages which are important.
Standard English and Belizean Creole
Spelled either as Creole or Kriol, the most common language spoken at home by people in Belize is an English-based creole tongue. More than just a dialect or regionalism, a creole is a language that is primarily based on one language (in Belize’s case, English) but has a substantial etymology based on other languages.
Approximately 44% of people in Belize speak Kriol while 63% speak standard English. Because most Creole speakers also are fluent in standard English, it is difficult to separate those who speak Kriol in some circumstances but use standard English in other circumstances.
Other European Languages
Approximately half of all people in Belize self-identify as being of Hispanic, Latino, or Mestizo (Spanish for “mixed”) heritage. Over Belize’s long history, a number of immigrants from neighboring Spanish-speaking countries including Mexico and Guatemala have become integral members of Belizean society. It is estimated that roughly 30% of people in Belize speak Spanish, and Spanish is taught in many primary schools in areas of the country where English is not spoken at home.
Many people in Belize refer to “Kitchen Spanish”, a simplified version of Spanish that has a lot of elements borrowed from Kriol, most common in towns in the north of Belize like Corozal Town.
Approximately 3.2% of the population of Belize speak German, particularly an older dialect or version known as Plattdeutsch due to the number of people of Mennonite faith who emigrated to Belize to escape religious persecution in Europe.
Approximately 3% of the people in Belize speak Garifuna, a language which has been recognized by the United Nations as being an oral and intangible heritage of humanity.
Belize was once the heartland of the ancient Maya Empire, and today in Belize there are several surviving dialects of the original Maya tongue.