July 2, 2014 | By Cailin O'Neil |
Before visiting a destination where the people speak a language different from your native tongue, it is a good idea to learn a few words and phrases from the language that they speak. Doing this can help you navigate, do simple tasks like ordering food or thanking a person. It is also a common courtesy to the people you are interacting with. You might not be able to speak their language fluently, but that small amount of effort and being polite could really help you out and go a long way in regards to them being willing to help you out in return.
The official language of Jamaica is English and you should be able to travel throughout the country without having any problems communicating. However, if you really want to impress and get to know the locals, then it might be a good idea to learn a bit of their other language known as Jamaican Patois.
What to know about Patois
Patois (pronounced like Patwah), is known by linguists as Jamaican Creole. It is mainly based on the English language with different uses of grammar, mixed with various African languages, native words and even a bit of Irish English.
Jamaican Patois is more often spoken than written and one of the hardest parts about learning the language is that it isn’t legally recognized. Because of that, the language isn’t standardized either. This means that there are many variations of different sayings and many variations as to how things are spelled as well, with no one way being wrong.
Key phrases travellers to Jamaica should know
Often times you will find that the Patois word compared to the English word is an altered direct translation like “Thank You” being “Tank yuh”. Other times the Patios version might be more of an explanation of what you are trying to say in English. An example of this is “Goodbye” being “Walk good” which is like saying, “take care” or “travel safe”. If you think about it too much it might be harder for you to learn. This is the type of language that just kind of flows out of your mouth.
To begin, here are a few Jamaican slang expressions you should know before travelling. Some of these are very basic words that you would want to know or at least get an understanding of before visiting Jamaica.
Hello = “Yes sah” or a more casual greeting would be “whaa gwaan” which is the equivalent to “What’s up?”. There are numerous variations for greeting someone, which also include: “Whap’am” and “How yuh stay?” which means “How are you?”.
An appropriate response to one of these greetings might be “irie” which means “alright” or “fine”.
Good Bye = “Walk Good” or “lata”
Thank You = “Tank yuh”
Yes = “Yah man”
No = “Nuh” or “No sah”
Drink = “drinkz”
Water = “watta”
Eat = “nyam”
How much is this? = “Ow much is dis?”
Examples of more advanced expressions for the adventurous linguists
If you think you have an ear for languages and you want to be able to communicate a bit more with the locals, then these few expressions and phrases might help you out.
Perhaps you are looking for directions?
Show me where this is located = “Mek I know weh dis deh”
Where is the bus stop? = “Weh di bus tap deh?”
Or maybe you want to make some small talk?
Who sings this song? = “A who sing da sang ya?”
Where is the party? – “Wich paaat di paaty deh?”
What are you doing? = “Wha yuh a do?”
Tips for meeting the locals and practicing the language
Now that you have a handle on the lingo, it is time to meet some locals, try out what you have learned and perhaps learn more from first-hand conversations.
If you are staying at a resort during your vacation, the best place to start is at the bar. Pick a time of day where the hotel bar is not overwhelmed, take a seat at the bar, grab a drink and strike up a conversation with the bartender, preferably a local. Hotels are all about customer service and most bartenders love to chat, so this is the best way to test out your new skills without going too far outside your comfort zone.
If you feel more comfortable like you have a handle on things, ask the bartender, the concierge or your tour guide where they would suggest you can go to hang out with some locals. Hopefully they will recommend a great local watering hole where you can not only strike up a conversation with some real locals, but you might also get the chance to try some great local fare.
A few key phrases to know for customer service interactions
Aside from common pleasantries and small talk, it is also a good idea to figure out a few phrases of Patois that relate to customer service. From shopping at a market, to getting service at a restaurant or bar, here are some prime examples.
How much is this? = “Ow much is dis?”
What is that? = “A wah dat?”
Can I have… = “Cyan I ave…”
Can I order? = “Cyan I orda?”
What is the best? = “Wah is di bess?”
I like this. = “Mi like dis.”
Learning a new language can be a fun experience and is a great way to expand your mind. As with learning any language, it is always fun to not only learn the most common words to help you get by, but also to learn a few funny words and phrases as well. Here are a few you might enjoy.
“Blabba mout” = Someone who talks too much.
“De olda de moon, de brigher it shines” = The older a person is, the wiser.
“Wanti wanti can’t get it, getti getti no want it.” = The grass isn't always greener on the other side.
These few words and phrases should get you started talking like a Jamaican local or at least help you attempt to communicate with them. Don’t forget that being polite, saying “please” and “thank you” can really go a long way. Hopefully they will inspire you to learn more and feel more comfortable speaking with the locals.
Remember that English is the native language of Jamaica, so you don’t need to learn Jamaican Patois to travel there. These suggestions are just for fun and they might help you understand some of the reggae music that you are sure to hear.