Cape Verde, or Cabo Verde, is a small collection of 10 islands off the west coast of Africa. With a superb year round climate, it is becoming a great destination for winter getaways, but just how widely spoken is English there? Can tourists expect to get by there just speaking English?
English is reasonably widely spoken in Cape Verde in tourist spots, such as hotels and museums. Prevalence has grown over the last few years with an influx of foreign English speaking workers into the country. However, outside of this, English coverage is patchy and it will definitely be helpful to be able to speak some basic Portuguese, which is the official language in the country.
Here are the the 10 islands which comprise Cape Verde.
- Santiago – largest island, hosts the nation’s capital Praia
- Boa Vista
- Santo Antão
- São Vicente
- Santa Luzia
- São Nicolau
The top four bolded ones, Santiago, Sal, Boa Vista and Maio are the most commonly visited by tourists, with loads of beaches and attractions. If you are staying in any hotel or resort there, at least some of the staff will speak English. The country receives more visits from the UK than anyway else, as Brits hope to escape the winter blues, so tourist staff will be ready to converse in English with you.
If you are venturing out of hotels and resorts and visiting towns like Cidade Velha, Mindelo, or the Fogo volcano, then English coverage will be hit and miss. The same goes for some of the smaller, less popular islands.
You may find staff in some restaurants and shops and some museums who speak a bit of English, but it is best not to count on it once you are outside your hotel or resort. We will cover some basic Portuguese phrases to get you by further below.
Languages in Cape Verde
The language situation in Cape Verde is somewhat complex. The official language across the Cape Verde islands is actually European Portuguese. It is the language taught in schools, used in government documents, and spoken on TV and radio. However, it is not widely used in daily life across the islands.
Rather the daily language used most often in conversation is actually Cape Verdean Creole, an African language with Portuguese inflections. English, French, Spanish and German are also spoken among the general population in mixed amounts.
Cape Verdean Creole itself though is a complex language, with many different dialects and subdivisions among the different islands which have made it very difficult to standardize and pin down. Not all variants of the language are mutually intelligible across the islands of Cape Verde.
The bottom line in all of this for English speaking tourists is that you should be fine in any resort, hotel or attraction which deals with tourists, since it’s brilliant year round climate is making it an ever more popular destination for foreigners.
Elsewhere, having a few basic Portuguese words will help – see the next section for more on this. You don’t need to worry about learning Creole as it is too complex and varied a language and Portuguese will be understood even if it isn’t widely used in conversation among the locals.
Learning Some Portuguese Phrases
Whilst the official language of Cape Verde is actually Portuguese, though it is in reality not reported to be widely used in daily conversations. All government and legal documents are drafted in Portuguese, and much of the television and newspapers are also in Portuguese (the European dialect).
Whilst the most spoken language on the islands is actually Cape Verdean Creole, standard European Portuguese will still be understood, even if it isn’t widely used by the locals among themselves. It will help to have a few basic phrases in case you ever venture outside the hotel or tourist spots and are struggling to be understood in English.
See the video and table for some of the basic European Portuguese phrases which will help you along.
|English||European Portuguese||Pronounced As|
|See you soon||Até breve!||atay brey-veh|
|Excuse me||Com licença||com li-sayn-sa|
|Please||Por favor||Poor favoor|
|Thank you||Obrigado/a||Obri-gardo/a (m/f)|
|Good morning||Bom dia||bome dee-a|
|Good afternoon||Boa tarde||Boa tar-dt|
|Good night||Boa noite||Boa-noy-t|
|How are you?||Como você está||como voh-see eshtar|
|Do you speak English?||Fala inglês?||Farla-in-glaish?|
|My name is.......||Meu nome é||mey-oo nohme eh.......|
|The bill, please||A conta, por favor||Ah conta poor favoor|
|How much is it?||Quanto custa?||Kwantoh coosta?|
|I have a reservation||Tenho uma reserva||Tenyo ooma reh-serva|
m/f in the table indicates that the ending of the word changes depending on whether a male or female is saying it.
Some practical essentials:
- Essential stats on Cape Verde:
- Population: 483,000
- Time zone: EST +4 hours; GMT -1 hour
- Currency: Cape Verdean escude (CVE) ($1 = 106 CVE; £1=125 CVE at time of writing)
- International calling code: +238 (see here for getting a working local SIM card/number when abroad)
- Drives on the right.
- Luggage allowances – see here for an excellent guide on luggage allowances (checked and cabin) for all major airlines worldwide.