Located 3,958 miles from Hawaii in an isolated archipelago called the Mariana Islands, the island of Guam is the first place that sun touches U.S. soil every morning. Considering Guam is located so far from the U.S. mainland, you might wonder things like:
In this article, we’ll answer that final question and give you a tour of the most common languages spoken on Guam. By taking a peek into the languages you’ll hear spoken on Guam, you’ll also get a glimpse into the different ethnic groups you’ll encounter on the island. If you’re considering a move to Guam, these insights will give you a sense of what life on the island might be like for you—and how you can prepare for a smooth transition to Guam.
What’s the Official Language of Guam?
The island of Guam has two official languages:
- Chamorro—the language of Guam’s original inhabitants
However, the two official languages of Guam don’t tell the full story of Guam’s long history—or the numerous ethnic groups who have made their home in Guam over the years.
The island was claimed by Spain in 1565, ceded to the U.S. in 1898 as a result of the Spanish-American War, and occupied by the Japanese during World War II. All of these events significantly impacted the Chamorro language. We’ll dive into that in the next section.
Additionally, due to immigrants from the Philippines, Asia, and other Pacific Islands, there are many languages besides English and Chamorro spoken in homes across the island.
In fact, when you look at census data, you’ll begin to get a glimpse of the diverse ethnic backgrounds of the people of Guam. Let’s take a closer look at the numbers.
What Languages Are Spoken in Guam?
Because Guam is a U.S. territory, you might expect that English would be the most widespread language spoken at home. However, U.S. Census Bureau data shows that a majority of the population speaks a language other than English at home:
Within that “other language” category, you’ll find quite a range. Of those who speak a language other than English at home:
By the way, if you’re curious how the Census Bureau defines Philippine, Pacific Island, and Asian languages:
- Philippine languages include Tagalog, Bikol, Bisayan, Sebuano, Ilocano, Pampangan, and Pangasinan.
- Pacific Island languages include Carolinian, Chamorro, Chuukese, Hawaiian, Indonesian, Malay, Palau, Ponapean, Samoan, Tongan, other Micronesian languages, and other Polynesian languages.
- Asian languages include Chinese, Japanese, Korean, languages of Southeast Asia such as Vietnamese and Thai, Dravidian languages of India, such as Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu, and the Turkic languages.iii
As you can see from the numbers, Guam has a significant population who trace their roots to the Philippines. In fact, Filipinos are the second-largest ethnic group on Guam, making up about 24.5% of the population. The only population larger is those who identify as Chamorro—40.3% of Guam residents.iv
The people of the Philippines share a number of commonalities with the people of Guam. Both places were colonized by the Spanish, and it’s believed that both also share common ancient ancestors. However, it was the large influx of Filipino workers in the wake of World War II that gave Filipinos a significant foothold on Guam.v
Now that you have a better sense of the diversity of languages spoken on Guam, let’s take a closer look at the Chamorro language. We’ll also throw in a few common Chamorro phrases you’ll likely hear on the island.
A Deeper Look at Chamorro, the Language of Guam’s Original Inhabitants
Even though it’s one of Guam’s official languages, only a minority of Guam’s residents speak Chamorro at home—an estimated 17.8%.vi Additionally, very few of those estimated 25,827 Chamorro speakers were under the age of 18—only 2,394.vii
These numbers have left many concerned for the future of the Chamorro language on Guam. One potential solution can be found at P.C. Lujan Elementary in Barrigada. The school is the first publicly funded Chamorro immersion school. Although its program is still in the pilot phase, the project’s leaders hope to expand the program and teach Chamorro to a new generation of students on Guam.
The language has long suffered over the length of Guam’s history. Guam spent many years under Spanish rule, and Spanish became the common language on the island. Today, as much as 55% of the Chamorro vocabulary borrows from Spanish.viii Furthermore, Chamorro was banned under U.S. Naval rule in 1917, with harsh consequences for those who violated the rule.ix As a result, the number of Chamorro speakers declined significantly. During the Japanese occupation, students were taught Japanese.x
However, today, you’ll still hear Chamorro spoken on Guam. (And, hopefully, the number of Chamorro speakers will continue to grow!) To get you started with some basic Chamorro, we put together a quick list of a few commonly used phrases, with pronunciations courtesy of wikitravel.org:
You’ll probably hear the first phrase in this group—Håfa adai!—all over the island. If there’s one phrase to practice before you arrive on Guam, that’s it! Get comfortable with it now so you can deliver it with confidence from the first time someone greets you on Guam.
What to Expect When You’re Moving to Guam
Now that you know a little about the languages on Guam, as well as the culture and ethnic groups you’ll encounter on the island, you’ve got a better sense of what to expect if you’re headed to Guam. Of course, the best way to know is to go. We look forward to welcoming you to our beautiful island!
If you’re moving to Guam, we’d be happy to assist with a safe, easy, and affordable move. Just reach out to our Tamuning-based team to get started with a complimentary quote for your move. (They can also help you hone your best “Håfa adai!”)