Have Fun With Spanish in Panama

Not everyone has a knack for languages…and studying a foreign language at the age of 50, 60, or 70 may seem challenging. For some people even the thought of it is overwhelming.

So the good news is you don’t have to speak Spanish if you want to live in Panama. In Chiriquí—where I live—there are several thousand expats. Plenty of them are European and may speak multiple languages, but the majority are North American and I would wager that a good 75% of them do not speak Spanish.

I meet new folks all the time, in David or Boquete…at a friend’s…or a social event. We chat about the usual things…how long have you lived here?…where are you from?…what kind of work do you do? Eventually, I have to ask, “So how’s your Spanish?”

Most of the time the answer is something like, “oh, so-so,” or “not so good” or “what Spanish?” But you know what? These folks are not just getting along…they are living the life they want; happy, active, and engaged.

The point is that you shouldn’t let a lack of Spanish hold you back from making the move if you want to come to Panama.

But if you decide to study Spanish you may be surprised at how much you already know. There are dozens of words that are the same in English and Spanish, with just a different pronunciation, or maybe one letter different.

Think of all the Spanish-sounding words we use all the time…taco, tequila, chili, adios, amigo, guacamole, Colorado, fiesta, hacienda, Nevada, Montana, patio, salsa, rodeo…and dozens more. You already have a Spanish vocabulary.

And once you start to use a few common phrases here, things will really start to open up for you. Simple pleasantries are easy to master and a great way to become closer with people in your new community. At the produce stand, pharmacy, doctor’s office or bank, I greet everyone with a buenos dias (good morning) or buenas tardes (good afternoon)…on my way out, it’s hasta luego (see you later).

And you simply can’t say por favor (please), gracias (thank you) and de nada (you’re welcome) often enough!

You’ll find that the locals are eager to help you learn. Even though I’ve been practicing Spanish for 10 years, I’m all the time mixing up words or searching for the right ones. In the hair salon I mistake caballo (horse) for cabello (hair), and when I asked a store clerk, “Como se dice ‘panty hose?'” (‘How do you say panty hose?’), she said “Panty hose,” which cracked us both up.

If you’re considering a move abroad to any country, learning to communicate with the residents there will enhance and simplify your life in more ways than you can imagine. You don’t have to be fluent before you go. Learning another language is a process, not an event, and as long as you keep after it, you’ll continue to improve.


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