Spanish is Guatemala’s official language. Government communications, businesses and educational institutions all use Spanish. Most Mayans, however, regard it as a foreign language, though those educated or living in cities know Spanish. Some Guatemalans have also taken English at school.

Just as Canadian English is not identical to British or American English, so Guatemalan Spanish is somewhat different from the Spanish spoken in neighbouring countries. Centuries of isolation from Spain mean that the language still uses some old forms and words. Indian words have also found their way into Guatemalan Spanish.

Many Mayans speak one of nearly two dozen Mayan languages spoken before the Conquest; the most prominent are Quiche, Cakchiquel, Mam and Kekchi, with the others being dialects of these four languages. The lack of a common Indian language can be a barrier to communication between highland villages and especially in terms of indigenas’ having a political voice.

In general, the rules of courtesy in Guatemala emphasize respect and hospitality. In conversation, the honorifics don and doña or señor and señora are almost always used to precede people’s names. People generally greet one another by shaking hands.

English Spanish
Hello Ola
Goodbye Adios
Please Por favor
Thank you Gracias
How are you? Como esta?
Yes Si
No Non

  Did you know?
Most Guatemalans have two last names, but only the first is used in speech. For example, Humberto Urruaquín Ixcán would be called Señor Urruaquín, while his wife Maria Majún de Urruaquín would be called Señora de Urruaquín.