What's spoken in Nicaragua

Languages and local phrases

What's spoken in Nicaragua

Spanish is the official language of Nicaragua, however English and a number of indigenous languages that are also spoken within the country. Like in many Spanish-speaking countries, accents, words and pronunciation change from region to region, making it hard to categorise their Spanish as a whole.

Nicaragua is located in Central America, and as such, is considered a Caribbean country. Because of this, it is a popular destination for learning Spanish. Their language is very fun, colloquial and colourful, as you might expect from a Latin countries. They are quite informal in their expressions, meaning that they often don’t use the formal usted, but rather the informal tu or, more commonly, the unofficial third person of vos.

Usted is used mainly to address older people (around 40 and above) and is seen as a sign of respect. To be safe, however, you should always address someone with this form - regardless of age - when first meeting them, until they tell you to refer to them with the more informal forms, or they refer to you as tu or vos.

Keep in mind that apart from Spain, no Spanish-speaking country pronounces the ‘c’ and ‘z’ as ‘th’ (as it would sound in things); rather as an ‘s’. This is the same case in 'Nica Spanish' (as it is colloquially known).

Common Nicaraguan Spanish phrases

There are many slang or common words and phrases that you will hear Nicaraguans using. Try and familiarise yourself with them, as many of these are untranslatable and you won’t always find them in a dictionary.

Chunche: this word can refer to anything, from an appliance to furniture, from a tool to a vehicle; it is basically the Nicaraguan equivalent of thingamajig or whatchamacallit. It can come in handy when you have forgotten how to say a certain thing.

Dale pues: this is commonly used, but is a fancy way of saying ‘yes’. Keep in mind that Nicaraguans often eat their ‘s’, so this may have more of a dale pué or pueh sound.

Pulpería: literally meaning “octopus shop”, this is what they call the corner shops where you can get almost anything for cheap. Don’t go around asking for a convenience store because nobody will understand; instead ask where the nearest pulpería is.

Ponte chiva: while chiva literally translates to goat, this phrase means to ‘stay alert’. If you are going to a crowded area or an unknown neighborhood, you might hear your friends say ponte chiva, meaning you should keep your eyes open and be careful.

There are plenty of Nica phrases and sayings, and writing them all down would be never ending. At least you know a few now, and by spending some time in this gorgeous country you are sure to pick some new ones up in no time.

Other dialects and languages

Although the official language of Nicaragua is Spanish, as stated by the Constitution, there are indigenous languages, recognised by the government, that are still spoken throughout. The main one is Miskito, which is spoken by approximately 200,000 people.

Nicaragua comes from African descendants, therefore they speak Nicaragua English Creole, a mix of Spanish, English and African dialects. This language is still spoken throughout the country, although slowly disappearing, by approximately 30,000 people. Most of these speakers learn Creole as a first language and Spanish as a fluent second.

Another national language is Rama, although it is believed to be near extinction. Most speakers of Rama also speak Creole. There are a few others, some extinct and some nearing extinction, such as Matagalpa or Sumo.

Further reading

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