In 2019, 82 percent of visitors to the Bahamas came from the United States, making it quite influential in Bahamian tourism (Source: IDB). That said, most people take for granted that spoken English is common in the Bahamas. But let’s look at this closer, answering the question of ‘how common is spoken English in the Bahamas?’ and what all this entails.
Spoken English is common in the Bahamas, as British English is the official language of the island and used in government, media, education, entertainment, and most business transactions. However, locals commonly use versions of creole in daily activities, so tourists might encounter this, too.
So in some ways Americans can feel confident that spoken English is very common in the Bahamas, and that they’ll have few language barriers. But in other ways, they just might be surprised when vacationing there and hear variants of English and French being spoken.
- 1 English In The Bahamas Compared To Other Countries
- 2 Getting Around With Only English In The Bahamas?
- 3 How Many People Speak English In The Bahamas?
- 4 Where in the Bahamas is English commonly spoken?
- 5 English As A Second Language At School In The Bahamas?
- 6 Final Talking Point of Spoken English in the Bahamas
English In The Bahamas Compared To Other Countries
Due to its history with the British Commonwealth from being colonized in the mid-1600s, it’s actually British English that’s prevalent in the Bahamas. And though the Bahamas gained independence in 1973, British English is a mainstay there.
This also means that in comparison to many other countries, English is much more common here. And in reality, English is the official language of the Bahamas.
NOTE: British and American English are mostly interchangeable, which is why Americans can feel assured there would be little problems understanding British English of the Bahamians when conversing over restaurant options or negotiating prices for trinkets.
The main variations between British and American English are spelling differences and slang. There are also some differences in what some words are called, too.
You can learn more about the tug-of-war between British and American English via the Prodigal Tongue, written by American linguist, Lynne Murphy, available at Amazon. It’s a book that juxtaposes British and American English, as well as details the author’s experiences as an American living/teaching in England and navigating those differences.
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English In The Bahamas Vs. Other Islands
So is English more common in the Bahamas than other island countries of the world?
English is certainly common on the island of the Bahamas with 95 percent of the population knowing English. This high percentage is aligned with the official status of English the language of the Bahamas.
With 85 percent of the population considered British descendants, it’s no wonder so many speak English, either. The remaining native population is Haitian descended, and influenced linguistically by France. (We’ll address this connection in a subsequent section.)
How does this stack up to other islands? Let’s compare English in the Bahamas to English in a few other island countries below.
Cuba: South of the Bahamas is the island nation of Cuba. Cuba ranks 43rd overall, and 3rd out of Latin countries, on the EF EP index, making it “moderately high” for English proficiency.
Now keep in mind, this doesn’t necessarily mean proficient in speaking English, but rather testing in English, for this ranking. It does lend to the assumption that Americans and other English speakers would feel quite confident conversing in English in Cuba. But that would be false.
In fact, less than 10 percent of the Cuban native population actually speak English. Most speak ‘Cuban’ Spanish. (Cuban Spanish refers to the cultural impact of Cuba on the language. In situations like this, usually it means there are some geographical variations in the language, but in general, it’s still Spanish.)
Places Most Likely to Hear English in Cuba: Popular cities like Havana; High Schools and Universities
Madagascar: The island country of Madagascar, located in the Indian Ocean, ranks on the EF English Proficiency Index at number 77 (out of 112 countries-non-native English speaking, to be clear). This ranking puts Madagascar in the ‘low proficiency’ category.
To illustrate it another way, only about 8 percent of the Malagasy peoples speak English. Instead the people of Madagascar mostly speak Malagasy and French.
Where are you likely to hear English in Madagascar? Tourist driven businesses like hotels are your greatest chance to be able to use English.
Japan: Now Japan, although technically an island country, differs from the aforementioned examples in that it is truly a first world nation, and a techno/economic super power. It’s somewhat ironic then that it ranks lower than the others in English proficiency.
Japan is number 78 on the EPI, putting it in the low proficiency category. Though English is widely taught in Japanese schools, less than 10 percent of the Japanese people are actually fluent in English and only about 30 percent are able to speak a bit of English. Rather most Japanese speak just that, Japanese.
Despite this, Japanese businesses are quite successful in conducting deals and transactions with limited English speaking skills.
Since all Japanese students learn English that is the best bet on where to hear it spoken. Other places with the greatest chance to hear/use English are corporate offices/international commerce areas and big/metropolitan cities like Tokyo.
So how does the Bahamas stack up to these other island nations in regards to English proficiency? What does the Bahamas rank on the EF EP index? The Bahamas doesn’t rank at all, in fact; this is because countries with English as the official language aren’t included on the list.
Other native English speaking countries not included on the EF English Proficiency Index list: the United States; the United Kingdom; Australia; Barbados; Belize; and Canada (though Canada is an example of a country with two official languages, English and French).
Similar articles on spoken English around the world include:
- How Common Is Spoken English In Mexico? (Detailed)
- How Common Is Spoken English In Chile?
- How Common Is Spoken English In Norway?
English In The Bahamas Vs. The World
Now that we’ve looked at English in the Bahamas as it compares to some other well (Japan) and lesser known (Madagascar) islands, what about how the Bahamas compares to some non-island countries of the world in regards to speaking English?
Considering English is widely spoken in the Bahamas, there are many countries similar to the Bahamas and thus, have a high proficiency for English speaking. But likewise, there are also many countries dissimilar to the Bahamas that don’t rank high on the EF EPI.
Countries Similar to the Bahamas with a high or very high English speaking population: non-native English speaking countries like the Netherlands; Singapore; and South Africa; as well as native English speaking countries like Jamaica and Grenada.
Countries Dissimilar to the Bahamas when looking at the EPI: Yemen; Thailand; and Mexico all rank low on the English Proficiency list, with Yemen in last place.
|English Proficiency Index Ranking
|1 (The Netherlands is the first ranking on the index for English proficiency.)
|112 (Yemen is the last ranking on the index for English proficiency.)
Despite English being the main language of the world, and the universal language for world business and entertainment, the big picture is that English is spoken by just about 5 percent of the world overall.
Getting Around With Only English In The Bahamas?
Is it possible for tourists to get around in the Bahamas with only English? Yes, it is quite easy to get around in the Bahamas speaking only English, and likely that this will happen for tourists, since English is widely spoken in the Bahamas.
Whether tourists are ordering dinner at a restaurant, hailing a taxi cab, or shopping for souvenirs, it is almost 100 percent assured they can use English and be understood clearly.
However, tourists are also likely to hear creole, too, since it’s a local and cultural favorite among natives. Either Bahamian creole or Haitian creole is spoken by natives, along with British English. Natives allude to their roots, using creole, with each other, and save English to be spoken to tourists and in official capacities.
Do the Bahamians speak broken English?
Bahamians speak British English and are mostly quite fluent. However, as already explained above, Bahamians also are known to speak a local language called Bahamian Creole or Haitian Creole.
Many report when encountering Bahamian Creole it registers as ‘broken English’.
What’s meant by broken English? Broken English is a name for a non-standard, non-traditionally spoken or alternatively-written version of the English language. It usually combines English with words from another language, the ‘native language’ of the speaker. Sometimes this pairing results in a new ‘language’ such as combining Spanish with English and forming ‘Spanglish’ or German (Deutche) and English and calling it ‘Danglish’.
A famous Bahamian author/poet named Dr. Susan Wallace published a book of poems called Bahamian Scene and in it, she illustrates Bahamian ‘broken English’ dialogue concretely and colorfully.
Remember, about 95 percent of the native population speak English (albeit British English) fluently and 85 percent also speak British Bahamian creole (also known as ‘broken English’). However, there is another language spoken by about 15 percent of the population and that is ‘Haitian creole.’ Haitian creole is descended from the Haitian people, who were influenced by the French, and moved to the Bahamas.
Is the Bahamas friendly to English speakers?
It is well known that the native Bahamians are very friendly and hospitable to those who visit the small island. This is why the Bahamas continues to be a popular destination for American tourists, as well as other English speakers.
It makes sense since the stereotypical Bahamian is seen as laid-back, relaxed, and hospitable to outsiders. It also makes sense that Bahamians are friendly to English speakers since they make up the predominance of tourists to the area, and the Bahamas rely on tourism for personal and community financial growth.
Does this mean that Bahamians are unfriendly to non-English speakers? No, not in the least! Again, Bahamians depend heavily on the tourism industry and for tourism to progress, it means tourists need to look at the Bahamas favorably, whether to return for future vacations or in order to recommend it to others.
So for this reason and more, Bahamians are friendly to all tourists and welcome them to return.
What non-English speakers frequent the Bahamas? Given that the bulk of tourists to the Bahamas come from the English-speaking countries of the US and Canada, the very small remainder of visitors (7.4 percent) come from European countries. However, out of Europe, the top tourists to the Bahamas are from countries of the UK. Then it’s France, Italy, and Germany respectively.
How Many People Speak English In The Bahamas?
Almost the entire population of the Bahamas speak English quite fluently. Depending on the year, this is over 400 hundred thousand people! Travelers who speak English should feel very comfortable vacationing in the Bahamas.
Speakers of other languages than English will encounter language barriers in the Bahamas, and it behooves them to learn basic conversational phrases in English, particularly those related to travel and tourism. Or to pick up creole, perhaps.
What percent of people speak English in the Bahamas?
Ninety-five percent of the Bahamas speak English fluently, though most all locals switch to British/Bahamian creole or Haitian creole when speaking to other locals
Important Language Stats of the Bahamas: 85% of Bahamians speak Bahamian/British creole while 15% of Bahamians speak Haitian creole, a French derivative.
What other languages do people speak in the Bahamas?
Besides English, local Bahamians speak one of two versions of creole. Bahamians descended from Britain are most likely to be able to speak British/Bahamian while the Bahamians of French descent probably speak French creole.
About 400,000 black and white people in the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands speak Bahamian creole, aka ‘broken English’. An example is ‘sip sip’ and means gossip. As evident by comparing both words, sip is taken from the actual word, literally, of ‘gossip.’ Another creole example, ‘Bey’, refers to any person.
An example of Haitian creole, also known as ‘broken French’, is ‘mesi’ which means thank you. Although my French is limited, I do remember that ‘merci’ is thank you in the language and that’s very close to the Haitian creole variant. Another example is ‘eskize mwen’ which means excuse me, again similar to the French ‘excusez moi’ for pardon/excuse me.
Where in the Bahamas is English commonly spoken?
Though English speakers will find it quite easy and unencumbered to speak English while in the Bahamas, there are a few places where it’s just about guaranteed.
English Is Commonly Spoken In Tourist Areas of the Bahamas
Tourists tend to stick to touristy areas when on vacation, and one reason is because it’s more likely to find those who speak your language. However, the main language that will be heard is British English. From restaurants to hotels to shops, visitors to the Bahamas will be able to speak English in touristy areas for sure.
Some popular tourist spots in the Bahamas: Atlantis Paradise Island; Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park; Diving and Fishing on Andros Island; Treasure Cay Beach; and Big Game Fishing Capital of The Bahamas
Atlantis Paradise Island: This is a popular resort for families, as well as singles and childless couples. It has several water areas, lots of shopping spots, and places for adventurous excursions.
Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park: This areas has protected vegetation and mangroves. It’s well known for swimming with the pigs, literally.
Andros Island: It’s a popular spot for those looking for outdoor fun like snorkeling as well as diving.
Treasure Cay Beach: Besides the popular beach, there are historic sites to see as well as more pigs to swim with at Treasure Cay!
Any time spent at these spots will provide an opportunity to speak English.
English Is Commonly Spoken In Larger Cities of the Bahamas
Another common area in the Bahamas where it’s almost guaranteed to speak English is at the larger cities. Larger cities need a common language to speak to connect everyone, and in this case, that common language is English.
Larger cities in the Bahamas: Nassau; George Town; Marsh Harbour (note the British English spelling); and West End.
Nassau: Capital city of the Bahamas; Popular cruise ship stop; Known for its diving and snorkeling spots; Earns over 50 percent of tourists to the Bahamas
George Town: Designed for walking; has wonderful markets and crafts shops
Marsh Harbour: third largest town in the Bahamas; fun for sailing, small boat excursions, and local shopping
West End: Known for rum history and fishing charters
Another reason for English being spoken in larger cities is because that’s likely where government buildings and hospitals are located, and English is the official language and must be used there. Larger cities is also where ex-pats relocate.
English As A Second Language At School In The Bahamas?
As far as learning English as a second language in the Bahamas, it’s actually the opposite.
English is the native, official language of the Bahamas and it’s learned and taught in schools from that perspective. Just like American students ‘learn’ English in school (i.e. they learn proper grammar, mechanics, enhanced vocabulary, and usage) year after year, Bahamians do too.
In addition, students continue to use British English in Bahamian universities, which just so happen to be free to attend!
In contrast, local dialects of creole are learned at home and through their greater community as part of their culture.
Final Talking Point of Spoken English in the Bahamas
In conclusion, tourists to the Bahamas should be aware that spoken English in the Bahamas is high and almost guaranteed. This is because most of the population in the Bahamas, 95 percent, understand English fluently.
It should also be reiterated that the English in the Bahamas is British. However, it’s very easy for Americans and British to understand each other linguistically, and despite the differences, American tourism continues to make the bulk of all tourism in the Bahamas.
Besides speaking British English, Bahamians also generally speak one of two types of creole, either British/Bahamian creole (aka ‘broken English’) or Haitian creole (‘broken French’). Which creole is spoken is aligned positively to whether one’s ancestry is British or French.
If you would like to read more about how widely spoken English is in other countries, then please enjoy some similar articles here…