French and Dutch are spoken in St. Martin, and a lot of people speak English here, too. If you’re interested in languages, this “melting pot” of the Caribbean makes for a unique linguistic vacation!
St. Martin, the “Culturally Rich” Island of the French West Indies
St. Martin is a quaint and culturally-rich island in the French West Indies. It is famous for its beaches and beautiful coastline. The beaches on the French side tend to be more secluded and more conducive to quiet contemplation and privacy. It’s also a great place to try out your French.
“FRENCH SIDE” VERSUS “DUTCH SIDE”
Divided between a “French side” (St. Martin) and a “Dutch side” (Sint Maarten) our island is loved for its blend of Caribbean and European charm, gourmet food and friendly people.
Located on the “French side” of St. Martin, Grand Case is actually part of France, and therefore part of the European Union. The small fishing village of traditional wooden homes is populated with a mix of French expats, local islanders, and, most importantly, the best variety of gourmet restaurants in the Caribbean, if not the world.
Casinos Versus Quiet Beaches and Good Food
The Dutch side is generally regarded to be quite developed (think fast food and casinos) while the our French side is much quieter with placid beaches and truly stupendous food and wine. There are no border controls when crossing from one side to the other. While English is the main language of the Dutch side of the island, French is the lingua franca on our side.
A Melting Pot of Cultures
According to official sources:
Due to a major influx of immigrants searching for better employment and living conditions, over the past twenty years the number of Creoles has been surpassed by the number of immigrants. Today, the island’s population of 69,000 is truly a melting pot of people from 70 or more different countries.
Perhaps as a result of this melting pot, English is widely spoken as an “international language” around the island. As well, even though the British no longer have a presence on the island, during the colonial period, the presence of settlers and several military garrisons has meant that English has become as e main language spoken on the island.
The Creole Connection
Besides English, French and Dutch, other common languages spoken on St. Martin include Spanish (spoken by immigrants from the Dominican Republic), and Papiamento (spoken by immigrants from Aruba and Bonaire) and various French creoles spoken by immigrants from other parts of the French Caribbean.
A creole language is essentially a language that is mix of different languages, but has a complex grammar and functions as a first language for children and other members of a cultural group. The creole spoken on St. Martin is unique to the island, and incorporates elements of French and other Caribbean creoles brought to the island, and even English.
Talking With the Locals On St. Martin
This may sound a little confusing for some travelers, but vacationers shouldn’t worry too much because most people on both sides of the island speak at least some English. Locals on the St. Maarten part of the island speak English with a West Indian lilt, and also have populations that speak French and Spanish.
Grand Case has maintained its village feel and you will find the people warm, friendly and quick to help. If you make the effort to speak with some of the residents don’t be surprised if after a few days, while walking down to dinner, you hear your name called out and you find yourself dragged off for a quick aperitif.
What’s more, the locals appreciate travelers who try to communicate in en francais, and a French to English translation dictionary could be very useful to have while visiting the island.