Spoken by 11 million native speakers, Cuban Spanish , sometimes referred to as Cubano, is the lingua franca of Cuba. Despite its isolation, the Cuban language has been influenced by the vibrant diversity of the population. The Spanish spoken by Cubans is a variation of Castilian Spanish, brought over by immigrants from the Canary Islands in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, Cuban Spanish and Haitian Creole are the two most widely spoken languages of this vibrant island nation.
While it is considered a close cousin, Cubano does differ in some respects from the Castilian Spanish spoken in Spain. Some vocabulary inherited from communism, Creole slang, and a nasal accent and rhythmic intonation make the Cuban language sound unique compared to other Latin American variants of Spanish.
As travel restrictions to Cuba have eased in recent years, the island has become a bustling business and tourist destination in the Carribean. In addition to learning Spanish , a familiarity with Cubano language, culture, and history will help visitors get beyond the tourist resorts and into the heart of this charming country, nicknamed by the French The Pearl of the Antilles.
Want to learn more about visiting Cuba? Watch Peter as he says Hola to Havana.
Due to colonization by Spain, the Spanish spoken in Cuba most closely resembles Spanish spoken in the Canary Islands and Andalusia, an autonomous community in Southern Spain. Cubano is most similar to the accent of native speakers in La Palma, one of Spain’s Canary Island located off the northwest coast of Africa. This influence is primarily due to large waves of immigrants from the Canary Islands in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The eclectic Cubano vocabulary is an example of the various cultural and historical influences on the island. While many Cuban words come from the Canary Islands, you’ll also find terms from West African, French, and even Andalusian or Galician. Despite decades of strained tensions between the two countries, the Cuban language also has words from American English including pulóver (“t-shirt”) and chor for “shorts.”
Since the Cuban revolution began in 1959, large groups of migrants and refugees escaping Cuba had a profound influence on the United States, specifically Florida and Miami. Much of the culture, cuisine, and even the language in Miami reflects strong ties to Cuba since more than half of the citys residents identify as Cuban-Americans .
Pronunciation can be one of the trickier aspects of Cuban Spanish. Cubano often assimilates the r and l sounds into the consonants that follow or uses the two sounds interchangeably. The sounds at the beginning of a word can disappear entirely and s sounds may be omitted or aspirated. In general, you’ll hear a lot of slurred consonants in Cuban speech.
It may also help to know a few frequently used Cuban slang words such as yuma (a word for foreigners, usually from the United States) and ay que rico the Cuban equivalent of the exclamation “ay caramba.”
If you’re traveling to Cuba soon and worried about speaking the language, brushing up on Spanish is the best way to interact confidently with locals. While there are some differences between standardized Spanish spoken in Spain or Latin America and Cubano, you’ll have the tools you need to understand and be understood by most Cuban speakers.
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