Is Spanish Necessary in Puerto Rico?

Depending on who you ask, posing this question can land you smack in the middle of a highly contested political debate. Is English enough? Should English be spoken at all? Should Spanish be the official language of Puerto Rico? Each of these questions can be answered in different ways. With that in mind, the ensuing post should not be construed as a political statement. Rather, this post is representative of the personal and professional experiences of Global Perceptions’ President since moving to the island in 2006.

The simple answer to whether or not Spanish is necessary is “Yes!” The complicated answer is that the extent of Spanish necessary depends on where you live, what you do on a daily basis, your sense of adventure and interest in local culture. Many foreigners decide to live near other non-natives, forming an English-speaking enclave in which they can function. These English bubbles offer support and advice for newcomers and provide a sense of home away from home. Being a part of one of these groups is critical for most newcomers.

As helpful as these enclaves can be for establishing connections, they should not be the only connections that you make. Living in these spaces may be ideal in the beginning; however, you should work to branch out into the local community as well. This is where Spanish becomes increasingly important. Many people you meet have some English skills, but they much prefer to speak Spanish. To put gas in your car, answer the guards when they call your home with a delivery, make a bank deposit or get a haircut, you need to speak basic Spanish. If you have the time before your arrival to learn Spanish, do so. If not, make it a priority once you arrive. Look for an instructor or program with a positive track record that focuses on local conversation skills. You live in Puerto Rico, not Spain or Mexico. Learning to speak like Spaniards will only help you on your vacation there. It won’t help you much here.

Once you have basic skills learned in a classroom setting, put them into use. Make an effort to use your Spanish even if it’s not very good. Local people will appreciate the effort and will be more apt to help you as well. If you really want to practice, make sure you keep speaking Spanish even if they switch to English. They want to help you, but you can’t learn if you don’t practice so stick with it. If you truly have the desire to learn, you will. If you don’t make learning Spanish a priority, you will never make the leap and will miss out on a lot of the experiences you could have had.

If the idea of learning Spanish seems intimidating, consider private classes with Global Perceptions. We focus on teaching students to interact in the local community and function on a day-to-day basis whether as executives, students, military personnel, athletes, or accompanying partners. Our custom-designed materials are innovative and interactive for all ages.


FREE consultations for adult and youth Spanish tutoring sessions are being held until September 15, 2012. Contact us TODAY for your FREE appointment! Call us at 787.455.7764 or visit our webpage at


One comment

  • I agree that learning Spanish in Puerto Rico is important. It definitely makes life easier. However, as you mentioned it’s often not necessary. I have friends that have lived here for years without learning much other than a couple basics.

    One problem that people have practicing their Spanish in Puerto Rico is that many people will immediately switch to English with you. I arrived to Puerto Rico fluent in Spanish, with a bit of a South American accent, and people would switch to English. It’s not a question of whether they could understand me or not, simply they heard I was a foreigner, so English it is. I’ve now been in PR for 10 years, and just last night I started in Spanish and the person tried to respond in English. Her English was tripping her up so back to Spanish we went.

    My brother moved to PR with a bit of high school Spanish and that’s it. He eventually learned it, but after his first trip to another Spanish speaking country, he came back amazed how much his Spanish had approved. He attributed the improvement to being forced to speak Spanish. No one had switched to English in the 2 weeks he’d been there.

    Because of this automatic switching to English, it’s difficult to learn Spanish here. Of course it’s possible, it’s just going to be slower than in other countries.


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