Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
Spanish is the main language spoken in Cuba. While in hotels and other major
tourist locations the Spanish will be spoken eloquently and clearly, in most other
settings the locals will speak a fast and dialected Cuban Spanish that may require
some getting used to, especially if you are not perfectly proficient in the language.
Cubans have a tendency to drop the “ s ” from the end of words and to speak very
rapidly. Sometimes this can lead to a bit of confusion. In most cases, if it appears
that you do not understand something, the Cuban speaker will gladly repeat it
slowly and with added emphasis.
Italian and French are very popular second languages, especially for those
Cubans living in large cities. Italy and France both have strong economic and tour-
istic relations to Cuba, and French-speaking Canadians make up one of the largest
tourist groups to visit the island, so it is no surprise that locals choose to learn
those languages. Furthermore, the country of France offers low cost French lan-
guage courses through a series of schools located in Cuba.
Russian is also spoken by many Cubans. This can be attributed to the fact that,
due to the strong ties between the two countries in the 1970's and 80's, many
Cubans attended university in the former USSR, especially those studying science
and technology.
English is taught to all Cuban students, however most do not speak it with profi-
ciency. Outside of inadequate classroom lectures, there is little opportunity for
young people to practice on a consistent basis. American television programs are
broadcast on a local station, sometimes with English subtitles, and this can be use-
ful to some Cubans interested in learning. Furthermore, American music is popular
on the island. Despite this, fluent English speakers are uncommon, outside of tour-
ist locations.
It is highly advisable to learn at least a few words of Spanish before coming to
Cuba, if you want to be free to explore every aspect of the island from a non-tourist
perspective. Knowledge of French, Italian or any other Latin language will be a ma-
jor asset. If you have no knowledge of Spanish and no time to learn before your
visit, your best bet might be to make friends with a local Cuban who speaks Eng-
lish, as this will open many doors for you to immerse yourself in the local culture.
In tourist hot spots such as resorts, popular restaurants and hotels in most large
cities, the staff will usually speak English, as well as some French, Italian, German,
and even Russian. Lack of Spanish skills is one of the main reasons foreigners are
hesitant to roam far from tourist spots. However, I have found most Cubans to be
extremely helpful and capable of communicating even complicated matters despite
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