The official language in Panama is Spanish. Some areas of Panama, like Coronado and Boquete, have a high concentration of expats so it is possible to get by there without learning very much Spanish. But even in those areas, there will be many times when you really need to be able to understand some Spanish and ask questions in Spanish, even if it is not a complete sentence.
At the very least, you need to learn how to be friendly in Spanish. You need to learn to ask for your bill at restaurants because they will not bring it to you until you ask… simply say “la cuenta, por favor” (the check please). When you enter an elevator or a doctor’s waiting room, it is customary to greet everyone with a simple “buenas tardes” (good afternoon – if it is after noon) or just “buenas” is fine too. In Panama, even when you pass someone on a sidewalk it is customary to be friendly by saying “Hola” or “Buenas”.
Just a little bit of Spanish and a big smile goes a long way in Panama. Panamanians will respect you for trying even if you do not pronounce the words just right. They might correct you to help you learn Spanish. Say gracias (thank you) often!
Just yesterday, I went to the farmers market in Boquete to buy two pineapples and papaya. They don’t speak English there. I asked how much (cuanto cuesta) and they told me $3.50 (tres cincuenta). They understood me and I understood them. The expat lady in front of me did not know how to ask how much or understand the numbers when they told her a price. The sales person could see the puzzled look on her face so she entered the numbers in a calculator to show her how much. It worked. But it would have been so much easier if the expat understood just a little Spanish. We cannot expect that Panamanians will speak English and should not get frustrated if they do not. Hint: talking louder in English does not help a Spanish speaker understand English any better!
The most affordable areas in Panama do not have a high concentration of expats. Most people in those town will only speak Spanish so you will definitely need to learn more Spanish if you want to live there. You don’t have to be fluent but you will need to learn more Spanish to live comfortably in those areas.
There are two courses I recommend to help you learn Spanish.
Duolingo offers free online training. They also have an app for your cell phone. You can set your schedule to 10 minutes a day, 30 minutes a day, whatever you are comfortable with. Duolingo will definitely help you learn some Spanish but it is all by memory. This course is good for starters, but when you get serious, you need to take it to the next level with…
Gary Scott’s Online Spanish Course is only $79 one time payment. I especially like this this online course because you can learn at your own pace. And it teaches the kind of Spanish that is spoken in Panama. (Mexico Spanish is different) I attended a three day live seminar of this course in Boquete a few years ago. It was amazing that everyone in the class could speak, write, and read some Spanish by the end of the first day.
With Gary Scott’s Online Spanish Course, you’ll learn a lot of little tricks which expanded our Spanish vocabulary right away. For example, did you know that any English word that ends with IC (like plastic), you just need to add an O to the end for the Spanish word… plastico!
If an English word ends with IVE, convert to IVO then voila, you have the Spanish word. Active becomes activo! Relative becomes relativo!
If an English word ends in TY, convert it to DAD. Activity converts to actividad in Spanish.
See how easy that is!!
Gary’s Online Spanish Course will teach you hundreds of these little “tricks” to help you learn Spanish really fast!
Gary’s Spanish Course utilizes a special method of learning, called Super Learning, which was created and refined by the Bulgarian educational master, Georgi Lozanov. Lozanov transformed the entire Soviet educational system to such a degree that this third world country beat the USA into space! When learning, you’ll listen to a special kind of music which puts your brain in to “super learning” mode to help you learn Spanish faster and retain what you learn too. I don’t know how it works but I saw it in action when I took this seminar — it really works.
Did you know that Spanish is the second most used language in the United States? Even if you never move to Panama, knowing some Spanish will come in handy!
MORE REASONS TO LEARN SPANISH
It will enrich your experience in Panama if you get to know Panamanians instead of just hanging out with expats. Some Panamanians will speak fluent English but many will not. If you know a little Spanish and they know a little English, you can communicate in Spanglish. It works and it’s fun!
When you move to Panama, you will want to explore the whole country because it is so beautiful and diverse. This is where knowing a little Spanish will come in handy. When you don’t know how to speak Spanish, you can always use Google Translate.
The more Spanish you learn, the better your experience will be while living in Panama.