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Language in Cuba

What is the official language in Cuba?

Language in Cuba

The official language of the Republic of Cuba is Spanish, and - given the high level of literacy of Cubans - use is correct and ample with “cubanismos” or idiosyncratic words. Many people speak english, and those working in tourism tend to also speak German, French, Italian, and Russian.

In Cuba, Spanish was enriched by the language of Taíno indians, who lived in the archipelago before the arrival of the Spanish. They left words like “batea, bohío, canoa, carey, hamaca, or tabaco.” There is also a clear presence of English through the neo-colonial relations established during the 20th century that left many words and structures in the languages of Central and South America.

You should be aware that there are plenty of words that have a different meaning than the one they have in other Spanish countries, some are worth entirely avoiding. For example, the word “papaya” refers to a fruit in Spain and other countries, whereas it is used to name the genitalia of women in Cuba. The fruit is referred as “Fruta bomba” in Cuba. On the other hand, the expression “vale” that is widely used as “ok” in many countries, could be understood as extremely harsh by Cubans, since it is normally understood as “stop” or “shut up.”

Here you can find a glossary of terms you may find useful when visiting the island:

Carro: Car.

Coche: Trailer.

Máquina: American cars from the 50s

Guagua: Bus.

Chófer: any person driving.

Hacer la botella: hitchhiking.

Pomo: Bottle.

Piquera: Stop (a stop).

Entronque: crossroads.

Ochovía: highway.

Parqueo: Parking.

Gomas: car wheels.

Timón: steering wheel.

Gallegos: Spaniards

Pepes: foreigners.

Quedarse botado: be left to your own means.

Carpeta: front desk.

Vaucher: admission, ticket.

Fula: Dollar.

Tomar: to drink.

Pájaro/pajarillo: derogatory slang term for gay men.

Trusa: swimsuit.

Cholo: Long pants.

Bohío: Country house with the roof made of palm leaves.

Fajarse: Get angry, argue, fight.

Guajiro: farmer.

Jinetera: Prostitute.

Jinetero: those who harass tourists to obtain money through trickery.

Bola: Piece of gossip, rumour.

Pelota: baseball.

Pila: Grifo.

Baterías: Battery

Paladar: Home restaurants (homeowners in Cuba may be allowed to serve food in their own homes. The quality tends to be great, and the cost, low).


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