The languages of Jamaica

The languages of Jamaica

Generally, Jamaicans speak two languages - English and Jamaican Patois, otherwise known by linguists as Jamaican Creole.

Depending on where you are in Jamaica, one may be used more predominantly than the other.

English is said to be the official language of the island, however, you'll find that Jamaican Patois offers more opportunities for authentic self-expression.

Being that Jamaicans are expressive people, you may hear Jamaican Patois being spoken more among Jamaicans in social settings.

If you've entered a business place, school, bank, or hospital, "Queen's English" is the main language for discourse.

You may also notice that people from different parts of the island carry different speaking accents. 

Jamaica Patois is an English-based Creole language with West African influences. 

The dialect is peppered with words that reflect Jamaica's colonial history, including Portuguese, Spanish, Hindi, and African tribal languages with the largest portion contributed to the Akan language of Twi (pronounced: 'chwee'), and with elements from Scottish and Irish dialects.

Visitors to the island often enjoy a lesson in Jamaican Patois especially to add a bit of swag to their speech as they interact with locals. 

If you're new to the language, you should understand some of its nuisances.

Not all Patois words can be translated into English. The English translation may not accurately record what is being said. 


A few words in the Jamaican lexicon are derived from the island's first inhabitants, the Tainos.

The name of the island itself is derived from an Arawak word, Xaymaca, from the language spoken by the original inhabitants of the island, the Tainos, meaning 'land of wood and water'.

British English

Jamaicans are taught to write and speak the language of their former colonial ruler, Britain. 

Although it is not the most widely spoken language in Jamaica, children are taught and most formal business is conducted in standard (British) English. 

Watch "How To Speak Patois with Jeneil Williams"


Click here for Patois lessons and useful Jamaican phrases.