Contributing writer to Latinworld.com
The truth is, speaking Spanish isn’t completely essential in Panama. Unless you choose to live in a remote, rural area of the country, chances are you won’t have any trouble finding English speakers. But knowing the language does make adapting to life in Latin America a little easier, and Panamanians will definitely appreciate it if you take some time to learn their language. By speaking only English, you’ll likely confine yourself to expat circles, and won’t have the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in Panamanian culture.
If you live in Panama – or you’re going to be around for a while – I’d recommend signing up for at least a basic Spanish course. And don’t be shy about using your newly acquired Spanish skills. Panamanians are friendly people and even if they laugh at your attempts, a gringo who wants to take part in the culture is much better regarded than one who can’t be bothered to learn the language.
Most programs begin on Mondays as long as there are enough students enrolled. You may want to keep in mind that even if you sign up for cheaper group lessons, there may only be one or two other students in your class. Also, programs in Bocas del Toro seem to attract a younger crowed, so if your idea of a good time doesn’t include surfing or barhopping, you may want to call ahead and inquire about adult classes.
Languages in Action (www.languagesinaction.com/spanish_courses/panama/index.php) offers language schools in Panama City and Boquete for beginner through advanced students. Four week courses in Panama City cost $875 ($1575 with home stay) and four week courses in Boquete start at $975. Class size is limited to four students. One-on-one sessions are also available.
El Paraiso Language School (www.elparaisoschool.com) takes a more adventurous approach to learning Spanish, offering courses such as “Spanish and Adventure,” “Spanish and Surf,” “Spanish and Scuba Dive” and “Spanish and Volunteer. If you just want to learn Spanish with no adventure of the side, small group classes cost $205 without lodging and $315 with lodging per week. Private classes start at $235 per week without lodging.
EPA! Español en Panamá (www.studyspanishinpanama.com) is located in the heart of Panama City’s financial district and offers semi-intensive to super-intensive programs, as well as a “general Spanish and Panamanian course” aimed at expat residents. Prices start at $600 for four weeks and go up depending on the number of sessions per week you sign up for. Accommodations with two meals a day cost $500 for a four week period.
Habla Ya Spanish Language School (www.hablayapanama.com) is probably the best known Spanish school in Panama and offers group and one-one-one courses, as well as a “Part Time Spanish Crash Course” for those already living in Panama and looking to pick up some Spanish. Located in Boquete, Habla Ya can help you find accommodations (private apartment or home stay) and they offer excursions in and around Boquete. Four week group programs start at $750 (80 hours) and the part time resident programs costs $500. Private lessons start at $295 for 20 hours.
El Instituto Latinoamerica de Idiomas (ILISA) (www.ilisa.com) Long established in Costa Rica, ILISA opened a Panama campus by the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal in 2005. Group lessons (max four people) cost $1,820 for a four week session and one-one-one lessons start at $2,720 per month. They also offer a less-intensive 60 hour, 10-week program for foreign residents for $695 for group lessons or $1,465 for one-on-one sessions. They offer home stays for $175 a week and furnished apartments and hotels from $30 per day.
Spanish by the Sea and Spanish by the River (www.spanishbythesea.com) is another well-regarded Spanish language school with campuses in Bocas del Toro and Boquete. They offer a number of Spanish courses, including standard, business and medical Spanish. Group lessons cost $80-$220 per week, depending on how many hours you sign up for and private lessons $150-$430 a week. They offer school stays, home stays and apartment stays for an additional fee if you don’t have your own accommodations. There are also weekly group activities.