Introduction to Jamaican Patois

Posted on November 4, 2013

Introduction to Jamaican Patois


So you want to learn how to speak like a Jamaican? Maybe you have Jamaican family members or friends and have a very difficult time understanding their thick accent, maybe you are a fan of reggae music and would like to know what those awesome sounding lyrics actually mean, maybe you are planning a trip to Jamaica and would like to communicate with the locals in their native tongue, or maybe you just want to know how to speak like a Jamaican because let’s face it, it looks and sounds pretty impressive.

If any of the above reasons (or any other reasons) is why you are here, you’ve come to the right place, as throughout this series you will be introduce to the different areas of the Jamaican Language. Let’s begin by stating some facts about the Jamaican language.

Jamaican Patois Facts


  • Generally, when most people inquire how to speak like a Jamaican, they usually mean how to speak Jamaican Patois, a separate language spoken by most Jamaicans, as most Jamaicans do in fact speak Standard English (or some variation of it). For a more detailed look at the Jamaican Language you can check out this post I wrote on the Overview of the Jamaican Language.
  • Contrary to popular belief, Jamaican Patois is not “Broken English”. It is actually a combination of English, French, Various West African Languages, Spanish and many others. Jamaican Patois came into existence during slavery when the slaves were denied use of their native tongue and forced to learn English.
  • Up until recently, speaking Jamaican Patois was regarded as “inferior” which is why there is not any real grammatical structure or conventional spelling to Jamaican Patois. For example “yesterday” can be spelt as “yesideh” or “yestideh”.
  • Jamaican patois is also known as “Jamaican Creole” or “Jamaican Dialect”. In Jamaica, it is called Patwa or Patwah.

Difference between Jamaican Patois and a Jamaican Accent


Speaking Jamaican Patois is often confused with speaking with a Jamaican accent, which in reality are entirely two different things. Speaking with a Jamaican accent is merely speaking English while pronouncing the words similarly to how Jamaicans speak patois. Speaking Jamaican patois is a separate language in itself as a conversation in patois is incredibly difficult to understand by Non-patois speakers compounded by the fact that most Jamaicans speak very fast and cut most of their words in half. Some Non-patois speakers are probably left wondering if the Jamaicans actually understand each other when they speak in this fascinating dialect. Take a look at the example below to see the difference.


Standard English
What’s going on, is everything ok?
Jamaican Accent
What’s going on mon, is everything irie?
Jamaican Patois
Wah deh gwaan, everyting irie?


As you can see, the example written in Jamaican Patois will most likely be impossible to understand by someone who does not speak this language. It is literally the same as saying something in Spanish to someone who doesn’t speak Spanish. Not to worry though as by following this series along with using the translations found in our patois dictionary, you will be talking, singing or even cursing like a Jamaican in no time.


Next : Jamaican Greetings »







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