Spanish is the official language and is the main language for the traveler. English is understood in the better hotels, airline offices, and tourist agencies as well as along much of the Caribbean coast.
Indian languages, primarily Bri Bri, Maleku (taught in Maleku-Schools, they even have an own radio-station in their language), and Cabécar are spoken in isolated areas. These languages are understood by an estimated 18,000 people living on both sides of Cordillera de Talamanka.
If you don't speak Spanish, take heart, it is an easy language to learn. Courses are available in San José as well as other towns, or you can study books, records and tapes before your trip. These study aids are often available free from many public libraries, or you might want to consider taking an evening or college course. Once you have learned the basics, you'll find it possible to travel all over Latin America because, apart from Brazil, which is Portuguese-speaking, most of the countries use Spanish.
Spanish is easy to learn for several reasons. It uses Roman script and, with few exceptions, the language is written phonetically. Imagine trying to explain to someone learning English that there are seven different ways of pronouncing 'ough'. This isn't a problem in Spanish. also many words in Spanish are similar enough to English that you can figure them out by guesswork. 'Instituto Geográfico Nacional' means the national Geographical Institute, for example.
Even if you don't have time to take a course, at least bring a phrasebook (Lonely Planet's Costa Rica Spanish phrasebook is a good choice) and dictionary. Don't dispense with the dictionary, because the phrasebook won't help you translate local newspapers.
Pictures by Jörn Malek. The team of 1-CostaRicaLink and Costa-Rica-Information-Mobile wishes you the best of times in our little paradise called Costa Rica.
Text by Lonely Planet.
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