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How to Learn Spanish in Panama

If you’re going to live in Panama, you will want to learn Spanish, even just a wee little bit. Hopefully you’ve already read about why it’s such a good idea! But, I get it. Easier said than done, right? Except, in this case, the “saying” isn’t easy at all.

No worries. I’ve kept track of the tips that have helped me along the road to hablaring. (That’s not really a Spanish word. You can’t just add “ing” like that. That never happens in Spanish. The rest of this should actually be helpful, though.)

1. Accept that it’s a learning process.

In case you don’t remember, it actually took you awhile to learn English. And you’re still learning! When’s the last time you came across an English word you didn’t know? No big deal, you just looked it up. Same with Spanish! Except you might be looking things up a little more often than not.

2. Actually read what you seeing around you.

As English speakers, we tend to ignore words we see written in Spanish or any other language. Don’t make this mistake! Read the road signs, read the menus, read the advertisements. You’ll see some words that look like their English equivalents, and BOOM — you’ve learned a new Spanish word. Order pulpo and see what shows up, and BOOM — you’ve just learned how to say “octopus”.

3. Practice every day.

Not for hours — you’ve got an exciting new Panama life, right? Just for a few minutes: review a few notes you took during the day, look up some new words, or just read a Spanish magazine article out loud to practice pronunciation and see if you can catch any new words.

4. Use what you’ve learned.

Don’t be scared! You’ll only learn by making mistakes, and it’s okay. Once you know the Spanish menu, say ensalada instead of salad and cerveza instead of beer and pizza instead of…well, that’s a freebie — even if your server is speaking to you in English. Use every Spanish word you know, even if you have to fill in the blanks with English.

5. Take a class!

Claire and crew at Picasso Bar & Restaurante offer Picasso Practical Spanish courses that will get you off to a good start. There are beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels; a new five-week course starts every couple of months. There are also several teachers, both native Spanish speakers and native English speakers who’ve been through the Spanish-language acquisition process, who teach private and group classes. Or, you could get a jump-start by taking an intensive course, like the one I did with Habla Ya.

6. Watch television.

It’s not every day you get advice like that! (This little gem is brought to you by My Panama Real Estate.) Watch shows in English with Spanish subtitles and pay attention to those words at the bottom of the screen. I’ve picked up lots of new words from watching subtitles. When you’re really brave, check out your favorite movies dubbed in Spanish. Since you already know the story, you can focus on the words.

7. Laugh at yourself!

Sometimes you’ll sound funny. Sometimes you’ll say the wrong thing. We’ve all been there (I’m still there!). It’s all in good fun, and people are incredibly forgiving when they know you’re just learning.

8. Take it easy.

On yourself! It’s okay to forget, then remember, then forget again. As long as you’re remembering more than you’re forgetting, you’ll be fine.

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