By Ray Auxillou, Nov. 2008
Western Belize has a multitude of languages. About 75% of the Western Belize population, around 125,000 people are fairly new immigrants over the past 30 to 50 years.
The main language for school and government is ENGLISH. This enables everybody to talk together and communicate with the outside world. SPANISH is the next dominant language. There are many lesser languages. Of the 22 Mayan languages in Central America, both Yucatec and Mopan Maya are spoken in some of the older peoples homes here in Belize. Most people speak two languages and often three. Many are versatile in four or five languages.
Languages spoken in Western Belize are German, found in a small way in the commercial sector and among the Mennonites where it is widely spoken. About 35,000 people speak German in the industrial and agricultural HEARTLAND of Belize, either as a home language, or a second language. All of these people in turn usually can communicate in Creole, a version of bastardized English favored in the port town and along the coastal villages and towns to the East. These German speakers also speak good English as well as Creole and often Spanish. Our Creole has more to do with the Jamaican dialect, but has widespread uses among the lower class of clerks in the civil service. At one time, Creole was the main language of Belize during the Colonial times. It is a Caribbean hangover from 50 years ago. Since the media are concentrated in the port town, a bastion of Creole speaking coastal citizens, you will find Creole dominates in the civil service and unfortunately all over the country in the primary schools, on radio and television stations. Creole speakers from the coastal communities often take jobs as teachers, nurses, civil servants and policemen. This is really confusing to children in rural primary school. Often people in Western Belize cannot understand broad thick Creole speakers from the coast, who have a heavy Caribbean dialect. Pretty much like a city person from London, England trying to understand a fellow Englishman farmer from York. Or a high German speaker in Germany trying to understand a low German speaker from Austria. Or somebody from Rome, Italy trying to understand a villager from the mountainous interior of the Southern part of Italy.
Common also are the languages of Arabic, Hindu, French, Romanian, and Italian. These are usually restaurant owners and business people from the merchant class. Very common these days are both Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese, which while having the same writing, have different languages is my understanding. Cantonese speakers come from the industrial areas of mainland China and the Mandarin speakers usually come from Taiwan, an island off the coast of mainland China. There are a couple thousand Chinese speakers.
To get along in Western Belize, you need both English and Spanish. You will find also a need sometimes to interpret Creole into English. Nearly all Spanish speakers in Western Belize can switch to English easily mid conversation. This is not always true for English speakers trying to switch to Spanish. All the other language speakers can switch easily to English and sometimes fairly into poor Spanish.http://westernbelizehappenings.blogspot.com/