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What Language Is Spoken in the Virgin Islands?

September 7, 2023 | The Aerial, BVI

English is both the official language and the dominant language in the British Virgin Islands and the United States Virgin Islands. You may also hear people speaking Creole in both of the Virgin Island territories. Due to regional migration and the islands’ proximity to Latin America and other Caribbean countries, you may hear French and Spanish spoken in some parts of the Virgin Islands.

If you are considering a trip to either the BVI or the USVI, understanding something of the linguistic diversity and historical influences that have shaped each territory’s identity can help you get more out of your trip. 

Languages in the British Virgin Islands vs US Virgin Islands

It’s common to get the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands confused. After all, both share some colonial history but have very distinct cultural influences. Politically speaking, the main difference between the USVI and BVI is that the USVI is a U.S. territory, while the BVI is a British overseas territory.

Before European nations began colonizing the Virgin Islands in the late 16th century, both island territories were inhabited by the native people. In 1672, England took over the British Virgin Islands. At the same time, the Kingdom of Denmark acquired what is now known as the Danish West Indies, which included the current U.S. Virgin Islands. This was until the sale of the U.S. Virgin Islands to the United States in 1917. Today, the two territories have separate administrations.

What Is Creole Language? 

Creole languages—sometimes referred to as “Virgin Islands Creole English,” “English Creole,” and “Caribbean English”—are used in addition to standard English in both of the Virgin Islands territories. Creole languages form when two or more natural languages interact and meld over time. Virgin Island Creole is based on English but is in essence a blend of African, European, and Caribbean dialects. 

The dialect of Virgin Islands Creole spoken on different islands varies according to the origins of the people who live there. The use of Virgin Islands Creole also varies according to socioeconomic status. The middle and upper classes use it informally among friends and at home, while standard English is more likely to be spoken in professional settings. Dutch Creole, which was common in the Virgin Islands in the past, is no longer spoken.

What Are the Cultural Differences Between the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands?

The U.S. and British Virgin Island territories have unique cultures that reflect their colonial history and influences from different ethnic groups. Traditional festivals, carnivals, and street parades with dancing and music can be found on both groups of islands. 

As the British Virgin Islands form part of the British Commonwealth, many of the islands’ customs are rooted in British tradition mixed with Creole influences on music and dance. In general, British Virgin Islanders enjoy an easygoing lifestyle. It is customary to greet people when entering a room with “good day” or “good evening.” 

U.S. Virgin Island culture is also influenced by Creole traditions, which are evident in their music, dance, and traditional celebrations. Visitors to the island can anticipate historical excursions, culinary experiences, craft fairs, and parades that showcase the islands’ cultural diversity.

In both territories, “island time” is standard. Locals move at a slower pace and are not in a rush to do anything. Visitors are expected to do the same and should take advantage of the laid-back island lifestyle that both the USVI and BVI provide. 

USVI vs BVI: Which is Best for a Vacation?

Both the US and British Virgin Islands are known for their turquoise waters, pristine beaches, and exquisite culinary experiences. Therefore, picking the right destination for your tropical adventure will mostly depend on what kind of vacation you want.

  • The US Virgin Islands are more heavily populated and are known for their bustling nightlife, shopping, and daytime adventures. The USVI may be a good choice for couples or family vacationers looking for a range of activities. 
  • The British Virgin Islands are less populated and crowded and visitors can expect a good amount of peace and tranquility. The British Virgin Islands also feature some of the world’s most exclusive health and wellness resorts for those seeking some R&R.

Embrace the Vibrant Cultures of the Virgin Islands

Many people decide to travel to Virgin Island territories because English is widely spoken. This can make it easier to engage in local transactions and conversations and learn about the history of the islands. At the same time, it can be fun to learn a little Creole as you meet and interact with the local population.

If you meet someone who speaks a language other than standard English in the VI, don’t be afraid to ask them a few questions and pick up a few phrases. In the end, learning a language while on the road can only make your travel experience better!