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Speaking the LanguageBack to top Back to main Skip to menu
Panama - Speaking the Language
As the Panama population is a fusion of various ethnic groups in the country, there are numerous important native languages that still exist. Many native languages are still spoken among certain population groups. Buglere, Yue, Hakka, Embera, Northern Embera, Embera -Catio, San Miguel Creole French, Panamanian Creole English, Ngabere, San Blas Kuna, Epena, San Blas Kuna, Woun Meu and Teribe are some of the traditional languages in Panama.
Those who cross the border from Costa Rica and enter Panama, will notice a significant change in the dialect. Affected by its Caribbean orientation, Panamanian Spanish sounds much closer to Puerto Rican than Nicaraguan Spanish which is spoken further north. Many students who speak Mexican or European Spanish may need some time to get used to this variety of Spanish. However, it is quite easy to understand. For example, Panamanians tend to pronounce "H" instead of "S" and they usually do not pronounce some "D's" at the end of certain words. Panama City has its own dialect which includes the mix of English and Spanish words.
The official language in Panama is Spanish and it is a result of many years of Spanish rule in this region. There are a number of less common indigenous languages which are still in use, but these tend to be localized. These include Hakka, Ember, San Blas Kuna, Teribe and Epena, and many more.
English is spoken fluently by approximately 15% of the population and it can be mainly heard in the cities, which is the result of the influence from the Americans, who had a strong presence in Panama during the 20th century. English is commonly used in some businesses, particularly those that are international, but most will use Spanish on a daily basis. It is not essential to be able to speak Spanish before starting work in this country as most Panamanians can speak some basic English. It is worth checking out these details before applying for a job as most companies still expect that expats are willing to learn the local language. Learning basic Spanish should be enough for some, helping them to deal with day to day activities such as shopping and socializing.
Those expats who do not speak Spanish can always apply for language schools. Lessons are available in the form of intensive courses, night classes or day release classes, which are usually organized through an employer. In Panama, schools such as "Languages in Action" have been in existence for years. "Languages in Action" is accredited and the courses last from one week to one year. Accommodation can also be arranged for those who need it for the duration of their courses. There are also some specialized language programmes for those who work in specific industries. These include medical Spanish, business Spanish and courses for children.
"Habla Ya Spanish" is a language school that offers private lessons as well as group classes. Volunteer placements can be also arranged so that students can put their new found language skills to good use as soon as possible. Courses begin each week, so no matter what time of the year expats arrive in Panama, they do not have to wait for tuition.
The "ILISA", Instituto Lantinoma de Idomas, is a school which offers courses made for those who want to learn intensively. This school has been present since 1987 and it is based both in Panama and Costa Rica. Group classes include no more than four students per class and programmes can be designed to ensure that they learn the Spanish they need for work or daily life.
Many expats who come to Panama do this to teach English, particularly younger expats. This is a good option that most English speakers can opt for in order to support themselves in this country. A qualification in TEFL is required for most schools and work can be easily arranged before arriving in the country. There are agencies which arrange work and a number of websites which advertise vacancies for TEFL teachers in Panama. Once they arrive in the country, expats can arrange work at other locations as well, as most TEFL jobs are not full-time positions and that most of the work takes place in the evening.
It is also possible to earn money as a private English tutor in this country. In order to work as a TEFL teacher it is not strictly necessary to be able to speak Spanish, as many language schools insist that only English is spoken during the lesson. However, for private work expats will need to know some Spanish. In some cases, the students already have some knowledge of English as most of the population can hold at least a basic conversation in English. On the other hand, in some very rural areas the language may be limited to Spanish or to one of the indigenous languages, so a guide or translator might be needed when visiting.
English language television channels and radio stations are also available in Panama. Some channels even offer a secondary language, so that people can watch in either Spanish or English. Most cable and satellite providers offer channels in English, Spanish, French, Italian and German. Some TV channels are also broadcast with subtitles, although dubbing is much more common.
Languages in Action
Habla Ya Spanish
Tel: (507) 730 8344
ILISA (Instituto Lantinoma de Idomas)
Tel: (506) 2280 0700 (Costa Rica)
The International School of Panama
Tel: (507) 293 3000
Read more about this country
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