If you think Belize Kriol refers to nothing more than the exotic Caribbean accent of your Belizean hosts, think again. Better yet, listen as they talk casually with each other; you’ll hear an entirely different language than the Rasta-tinted English Belizeans reserve for foreigners. Belize Kriol, or “Creole” in its English spelling (not to be confused with the French Creole of New Orleans, which is completely different), is a Belize-ified version of the greater Caribbean pidgin conglomerations heard elsewhere in the region. It’s a rare and dedicated foreigner who learns to speak fluent Belize Kriol, but trying out a few local phrases, proverbs, and dirty words can go a long way to getting laughs and making friends.
The National Kriol Council of Belize created the Belize Kriol Project to help you do just that—and to promote the unique culture and language of the Kriol people of Belize. In their Belize City office (next to the House of Culture), pick up one of several publications in written Kriol, including dictionaries, phrasebooks, poetry, and prose (my favorite is the Chravl Buk eena Kriol ahn Inglish, or “Travel Book in Kriol and English”). For an introduction to Belize Kriol before your trip, subscribe to a mailing list or online forum, where you can see the language as it is used in active conversation (do an online search to find these).
To speak Kriol, listen to the spoken language. If you are comfortable doing so, ask the speaker to slow it down and explain the words and phrases to you. Writing these down phonetically and practicing saying them, over and over, is the best, most humbling way to learn any language. Here are a few facts and phrases to get you started.
For one thing, there is no past tense in Belize Kriol, which explains menu items like “fry chicken” and “stew fish.” You should also be aware of a few Kriolized English phrases. For example, “right now” means “just a moment,” or “coming right up,” and despite its promise of promptness, actually refers to a time period between the present moment and three to four lazy hours into the future. Also, money and numbers are expressed as “Wan dollah, two dollah, chree dollah, etc.” A “five dollah” bill, by the way, is also known as a “red bwai” (red boy). Another expression is “Life without a wife, is like kitchen without a knife.”
This random selection of Belize Kriol was contributed by a mix of Belizean and gringo friends: You know who you are. Thank you!