Guatemalan language

Guatemala's flag

The Republic of Guatemala is a country belonging to Central America, whose capital is Guatemala City. It has a population of more than 17 million inhabitants (67th), and an area of ​​108,889 km 2 (105th). Its human development index is medium (128º) and its official currency is the Guatemalan quetzal. And what language is spoken in Guatemala?

What language do they speak in Guatemala?

Guatemala has only one official language, Spanish.

However, multiple indigenous languages ​​coexist in the country:

  • 21 Mayan languages.
  • Xinca (in the southeast area).
  • Garífuna (in Izabal, the Atlantic coast).

These indigenous languages ​​received official recognition after the civil war in Guatemala, in the peace agreements that ended the internal armed conflict, thus becoming a multilingual state. In addition, it is the country in America with the highest percentage of the population that speaks indigenous languages, ahead of Peru.

Indigenous languages

The Constitution promulgates the respect and dissemination of these languages. However, the small number of speakers in many of these indigenous languages ​​presents great difficulties when it comes to their conservation. The fact is aggravated since, at present, many young people do not learn the languages ​​of their ancestors, preferring to learn Spanish.

guatemala indigenous languages ​​map

The most common languages ​​by native speakers, after Spanish, are:

  • Quiché (k’iche’): [1,000,000] It is spoken in six departments.
  • Quekchí (q’eqchi’): [555,000] Spoken in four departments.
  • Kaqchikel: [500,000] Used in up to seven departments.
  • Mam: [480,000] In three departments.

The rest of the languages ​​are below 100,000 native speakers. The Mayenes are: Poqomchí, Zutuhil, Achí, Kanjobal, Ixil, Acateco, Jacalteco, Chuj, Pocomam, Chortí, Chalchiteco, Avocadoco, Sacapulteco, Sipacapense, Uspanteco, Tectiteco, Mopan and Itzá. The non-Mayenses are the aforementioned Xinca and Garífuna, with 100 and 5,860 native speakers, respectively.

The Spanish language

Spanish is the language of the majority of Guatemalans, covering up to 93% of the population. It became an official language in 1965. It was then that the government promoted several programs of bilingual Castilianization and radio schools, to accelerate the change of Mayan students to Spanish. Inadvertently, efforts to integrate the indigenous language, especially the new alphabet, gave institutions tools to use the Mayan language in schools, and while improving Mayan children’s learning, left them without the means to learn in a exclusively Spanish atmosphere.

Thus, a further expansion of bilingual education took place in 1980, when an experimental program was created in which children were to be instructed in their mother tongue until they had sufficient fluency in Spanish. The program was successful when students in the pilot program showed higher academic achievement than those in pure Spanish schools. In 1987, at the end of the pilot project, bilingual education was made official in Guatemala.

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