So I’m half-joking here. But this is still kinda legit. 😉
If you’re a beginner or intermediate Spanish speaker, and you want to improve your Spanish…I don’t recommend you go to the Dominican Republic (DR).
I just got back from a trip to the DR. Even though I was already fluent in Spanish, it was a wild ride–linguistically speaking.
It’s a much more challenging environment to learn Spanish, for several reasons (compared with other countries).
I’ll explain 5 of those reasons below.
Let’s dive in.
1. Dominicans Don’t Pronounce their Words
The first and most obvious issue with Dominican Spanish (for foreigners), is that Dominicans barely pronounce their words.
From what I can tell, the main issue is that they nearly always cut off the ‘S’ at the end of any word–and sometimes even in the middle of a word. I suspect they get so used to doing this that they may not even realize they’re doing it.
The end result?
If you’re not Dominican, you’ll probably have a hard time understanding Dominican Spanish. Even if you’re already fluent in Spanish. (And even if you’re a native speaker from another country!)
I’ve had various people from South America or Central America tell me they have a hard time understanding people here.
Dominicans probably cut off other letters at times, but the S at the end of words is the most obvious.
2. Dominicans Use Unusual Vocabulary
When I first went to the Dominican Republic back in 2014, I was pretty confused.
I kept hearing words I was totally unfamiliar with. Some of these words seemed really common.
That’s because in the DR, they have different vocab for a lot of common things.
Here are three examples:
- Instead of “tienda”, they say “colmado”
- Instead of “frijoles”, they say “habichuelas”
- Instead of “ventilador”, they say “abanico”
All 3 of those things are super common in the DR, so you hear them a lot. But if you’ve spent time in other countries, it’ll take a while to get used to it.
There are a bunch of other different vocab words as well. Maybe something about being isolated on a Caribbean island makes the language here even more distinct than if you were comparing it to countries in Central America or South America, for example.
3. Dominicans Talk Really Fast (and Don’t seem to Realize it)
As a foreigner, it seems like Dominicans talk too fast.
Obviously that’s what they’re used to, that’s how they’ve grown up. And they basically understand each other.
But if you’re trying to listen to them, and you’re not used to it, it’s pretty freaking difficult.
That’s all fine and dandy… but one issue that arises is they don’t seem to be fully aware of this issue.
In other words, if they say something to me really fast, and I respond “What?”… they say it really fast again. It seems like if they understood why I didn’t catch what they said, they would then slow down and enunciate the 2nd time.
But enunciation is kind of a foreign concept in the DR (see point number 1).
So it’s often hard to get the info you need, because even when people repeat themselves it may still be too hard to understand, due to the fast talking and lack of full pronunciation. Not to mention weird vocab (see point number 2).
4. Unusual Word Orders / Iffy Spelling
Here are a couple additional issues that I observed in the Dominican Republic, which could affect your Spanish learning.
Dominicans use a completely different word order versus other countries.
Basically, they put the pronouns in the middle of the phrases, instead of at the beginning or the end.
Here are a couple examples:
- “Que tú quieres?” (instead of “Que quieres tú?”)
- “De donde tú eres?” (instead of “De dónde eres tú?”)
As you can see, the word order is different.
There are lots of other sentences where they do that as well. I heard it many times, but I don’t remember all of them now.
Combine that with the other issues I mentioned above… and you’ve got quite the formula for a challenging lingual environment for “extranjeros”.
Obviously, not everyone in the Dominican Republic has spelling issues. But it seemed pretty pervasive in my limited experience.
For example, they often combine two words into one, add or remove an “H”, change a “Y” to an “I”, etc.
I’ve seen this happen in other countries, but it might be even more common here.
5. Too Many Gringos (in Some Places)
Recently I wrote a blog post with several tips about how to effectively immerse yourself in Spanish in a foreign country.
One of those tips was to go somewhere without too many gringos.
If you go to the somewhat touristy areas in the DR (which is several places)… there are too many gringos.
The basic problem with this is that too many people are trying to speak English instead of Spanish. So you likely won’t get enough practice.
You could avoid this by going to some secluded area that doesn’t have a lot of tourists. But if you go to any beach towns or historical areas, you’ll probably run into a lot of gringos.
This is all Tongue-in-cheek
As you hopefully realized…I’m half-joking about all of this.
Feel free to go to the Dominican Republic–I won’t stop you. In fact, it’s a lovely place to visit!
But if your main goal is to work on Spanish…the DR probably isn’t the best country to visit. For all the reasons I explained above.
Better options for Spanish practice would include: Guatemala, Peru, or Ecuador, to name a few.
In each of those countries, you’ll typically hear more clearly pronounced Spanish and less variation in vocabulary, and have an overall easier time communicating.
The Dominican Republic is actually Awesome
Like I said, I’m half-kidding about the idea of not going to the DR.
It’s actually an awesome place to visit, for various reasons.
1. The People are Friendly.
I really liked meeting people in the DR. Most of them are really friendly, generous, and helpful.
There are always exceptions, of course. Some people try to take advantage of tourists. But overall, the people are pretty cool.
2. It’s a Beautiful Country.
This is a tropical island, and there are tons of beautiful beaches and other beautiful scenery. So it’s an attractive place to hang out.
3. Fun Food
There’s a lot of interesting food to try in the DR, that you may not find elsewhere.
For example: mangú or mofongo. I enjoyed sampling some of these dishes on my most recent trip.
Final thoughts: Should You Visit the DR if You Want to Learn Spanish?
Go ahead and visit the DR. It’s a pretty cool place.
But if your main goal is to learn Spanish, I’d recommend going somewhere else first. Such as the options I listed above.
Once you feel confident with Spanish in a less chaotic setting… then you can helicopter into the insanity of Spanish in the DR, and see how you fare.
I was already fluent in Spanish before going to the DR, and it was still super-challenging. It’s just a different environment, and even native Spanish speakers often struggle to communicate with the people here.
For some additional tips about how to learn Spanish effectively, check out my blog post about the best strategy for learning Spanish.