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To Take A Holiday In Jamaica You Must Speak English!

Updated on March 16, 2012

Only Joking you don't have to speak English to take a vacation in Jamaica, but it would help. Nevertheless, if you decide to visit Jamaica there is one thing that you will soon experience; that Jamaicans can be very hard to understand despite the fact that they speak English.

In fact in Jamaican schools the Queen's English is taught. However, whilst many Jamaicans speak grammatically correct with a light lilt and rhythm to their spoken word, the English you will come across is the local slang called patois (patwa) a lively, fast paced broken English.

Jamaica is an English-speaking island with a rich heritage from a melting pot of foreign cultures blended together. The unique language is called Jamaican Creole by the linguists, an English-lexified creole language with West African influences spoken primarily in Jamaica.

To trace the origins of the language you have to look back to the days of slavery, when slaves were brought to the island from West and Central Africa to work on the sugar plantations. These captives learned to speak English from their British, Scottish or Irish slaves masters. The mixture of the native African tongue and English resulted in what is known as patois; a French term that does not have a precise linguistic definition.


A Lesson In Patois

There is no standard or official way of writing Jamaican patois. Just as English can have two words that sound the same but have different meanings, patois follows suit.

For example. The English word 'there' and their' sound the same but have different meanings, similarly the word for three in Jamaican can be spelled 'tree,' 'tri' or 'trii' to distinguish it from the noun tree. Also the word for there can be written as 'de', 'deh' or dere.'

You may be familiar with expressions like 'yeah man' or 'irie man' which are used when giving a high five, but here are a few more non essential patois phrases. Even if you feel a bit awkward speaking them and not sounding authentic they will help you understand what Jamaicans are saying when you're on holiday.


  • "Me nuh no"                                     I don't know
  • "Is weh you did go?"                        Where did you go?
  • "You waaan sup'n fe eat(nyam)      Do you want something to eat?
  • "what time dinna?"                          What time is dinner?
  • "Gimme a beer tanks"                    Can I have a beer? Thank you
  • "Go fall me dung a maaket"           Come to the market with me
  • "Is fareign yu cum fram?"               Are you from a foreign country?
  • "Ow me fine dis plaace"                 How do I find this place
  • "Ow much fe dat?"                         How much does that cost?
  • "Whappen"                                    What's happening or 'hello'
  • "tanks"                                           Thank you
  • "layta"                                            See you later or Bye
  • "Wha a gawn"                                What's going on
  • "iight?"                                           Are you ok


Funnily enough the most essential patois expression you must know is the phrase "soon come". As you will quickly realise, this term, practically used by everyone in Jamaica bears no reference to its meaning of swiftness, speed, or haste. In fact, like most things in Jamaica, even the word 'soon' has its own meaning.

You would think that when someone says to you "soon come" they will return in a short space of time. No, this is Jamaica we are talking about, so when you hear the term "soon come" you can expect the person saying it to return hours or even days later. A more accurate term would be "You see me wen you see me!"

In Jamaica things are very laid back so quickness, speed or haste does not feature in daily living. It's the best place to unwind, relax, and chill out.


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    • jagandelight profile image

      jagandelight 6 years ago from Florida


    • editorsupremo profile image

      editorsupremo 6 years ago from London, England

      'Yes me dere mi did tink dis mus be Jamaican a respond to mi harticle!'

      Thank you for your comment.

    • jagandelight profile image

      jagandelight 6 years ago from Florida

      you made me laugh because I used those patwa a lot and it was funny reading it from some one else writing.

      Mi soon come - can be all day long. funny how you point that out because its true.

      If you can't tell already, I am a Jamaican.

    • editorsupremo profile image

      editorsupremo 7 years ago from London, England

      I love it too. I was recently in Jamaica holidaying and I was just enthralled at the way the locals spoke patois. There's so much emotion and expression in every syllable, similar to how the Italians gesticulate and emphasize their words. Absolutely fascinating how a medley of cultures created such a vibrant language.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 7 years ago from England

      Hi, I love to 'hear' other languages like this, I have seen people on TV speaking it, there is another similar one called pidgeon English the local people call it that, I believe it comes from papua new guinea, fascinating thanks nell