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Don't be Afraid! Learn Spanish.

Phyllis Mc




I was in a taxi in Panama City trying to talk to the driver. I had only lived in Panama a few months at the time and the driver spoke as much English as I spoke Spanish. Not much, but some. I tried to tell him that the drivers in Panama City were crazy and that I was afraid to drive my own car. I told him:"Tengo mierda."

He slapped his leg and laughed. "Shiit," he said. "Shiiiiiiiiiiit!"

Mierda means shiit. Miedo means afraid.

I have lots of other stories of how not to speak Spanish. I can't tell you the number of times that I said something that I thought was Spanish and a Panamanian had no idea what I was trying to say.

Learning a new language is both painful and funny. And valuable, if you are planning to live here.

I recognize that the younger you are, the easier it is to pick up a new language. The younger you are, the easier it is to pick up anything. Dancing, cooking, skiing, reading, and algebra. OK, maybe not algebra. Only geeks pick up algebra easily. I think people who learn algebra easily have a genetic abnormality that allows them to absorb fairly useless information and then find a way to make it usable.

But I digress.

Speaking Spanish helps you navigate life here in the restaurants, stores, and community. You can order food, ask directions, tell someone you need help, and tell your workers what you need done. You can chit-chat on the corner with Boqueteños you have met instead of just saying "hola" and quickly walking on.

The Boqueteños will respect you for speaking Spanish. Even if you can barely get your idea across, you are trying. You are valuing them enough to make the effort to learn their language. Believe me, it goes a long way (even if you have to use Charades and Spanglish.)

Now that you are motivated, where do you start? There are teachers or schools here who will get you on the right path. I've seen private teachers advertise on Boquete News. Habla Ya usually offers reduced rates in September.

Duo-lingo is a free online language program and it is pretty good. I've heard good things about Rosetta Stone. The big difficulty with these programs is making yourself do it every day. For those of us who don't don't commit to adhering to a daily schedule, it won't work. If you're paying someone to teach you, you'll most likely show up.

When I first got here, I took an immersion class. I spent five hours a day taking individual lessons in Panama City. My favorite Spanish phrases were: "No entiendo." or "Como se dice?" I experienced huge headaches on a daily basis. I often cried out of frustration. I learned a lot of Spanish.

It was a wonderful experience.

Here's some other ways to teach yourself the language.

* Read children's books in Spanish.

* Listen to Spanish songs. Play one song over and over until you can pick out the words. i especially like Besame Mucho. La Bamba is also popular.

* Force yourself to speak to the Boqueteños in town. Expect to be misunderstood or have a good laugh at your own expense. It's a bonding experience.

* Pay a local to talk to you for an hour. You are not paying for a teacher, just someone to practice with, so you can work with any native speaker.

* Watch telenovelas on TV. The actors speak more slowly and clearly than Boqueteños do.

* When watching shows in English, use Spanish sub-titles. This will help you learn new words. It is how I learned that "cabron" and "Cabra" mean two different things. One of these words isn't something you want to call a man. At least not to his face.

* Check this out on you-tube. It recommends You Tube videos to learn Spanish. https://www.brainscape.com/blog/2011/04/youtube-channels-learn-spanish/

* Learn the most common nouns, verbs and phrases first. Practice them throughout the day. Put stickies around the house with your new words on them so you see them all the time. Think of how a child learns their language- through repetition. You will need to learn and say a new word over and over again until your brain can spit it out again easily.

Laugh at yourself and your mistakes.

Don't give up. Rendirse es para los cobardes. Giving up is for sissies.




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The one balboa coins called "Martinellis" are now called by some "fugitivos". The first person I tried it on resulted in some serious stink eye. I should have known better! although I did get snickers from others. Trivia fact: "Martinellis" are the only circulating coins I know of that are attracted to magnets. Handy if you drop one down a sewer.

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Another great resource is languagetransfer. I downloaded all 92 free lessons and practice every day. It is free and can also be watched online on YouTube. Other languages as well. 

Thanks Phyllis, great article!

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