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We've been writing about all things Panama for over 10 years. So search our blog to plan your vacation. From must do's, where to party or eat, to which beaches and hiking trails you shouldn't miss. You'll find great insider info about Bocas del Toro, Panama City and Boquete, as well as Panamanian culture, customs and traditions, and certainly tips and advice for learning Spanish while on vacation!


3 Weeks Studying Spanish at Habla Ya Spanish School in Boquete, Panama

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This is a testimonial from Habla Ya Spanish student Marie-France Roy from Toronto, Canada. If you, as Marie-France, would like to have a shot at winning some free Spanish lessons over Skype, click here for more information about what you need to do...

In February 2010 I spent three weeks studying Spanish at Habla Ya in Boquete, Panama. I took a combination of private classes and group classes (which rarely had more than three students) for a total of five hours a day. I stayed with a local woman in her cozy home, about three kilometers from the school, where I had my own private room.

Every morning I walked for 40 minutes down to the school, often stopping for coffee at Cafe Ruiz along the way. (Panama is a coffee growing country and coffee shops are not hard to find.) I passed “Mi jardin es su jardin”, a garden estate with its entrance draped in bougainvillaea, before arriving refreshed for my class.

The mountains of Boquete offer stunning views and the temperature makes the walks nice and fresh
The mountains of Boquete offer stunning views and the temperature makes the walks nice and fresh

The fact that I had more than one teacher was an advantage because each person had a slightly different style, as well as a unique personality and interests. I think my favourite part was just chatting with my teachers about life and current events. I had one hour of private class in the morning and four hours of group classes in the afternoon.

Habla Ya was not my first Spanish course, and not even my first Spanish course in Latin America. I had started learning Spanish in my home town of Toronto 20 years prior. And five years after that I had taken private lessons for two weeks at a school in Quito (Ecuador). So I already knew the advantages of an intensive course, especially when taken in a Spanish-speaking country. Those early courses had allowed me to travel on my own through Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Uruguay and Spain, and manage just fine with the language, but I was limited since I could only express myself in the present tense and the “voy a” future tense. I could deal with the basics but couldn't have interesting conversations with the locals. I was stagnating and getting frustrated. It was time to crank up my skills a notch. So I started at Habla Ya at the B1 level (low intermediate).

It was nice that we sometimes had our Spanish class outdoors. Here's me, with my Spanish teacher Monica, and a classmate from Denmark
It was nice that we sometimes had our Spanish class outdoors. Here's me, with my Spanish teacher Monica, and a classmate from Denmark

I had first considered Guatemala, but I was worried about crimes against tourists so I kept searching online and soon came across Habla Ya. Since Panama (and Boquete in particular) was also a place I wanted to visit, I started making arrangements. The staff at Habla Ya answered all my questions quickly and thoroughly, while remaining friendly and professional.

Once on site, the courses and activities didn't disappoint. So much so that I ended up extending my stay by a week! I applied myself, studied, and did all my homework. However, it was not just work and no play. On week-ends and evenings, I participated in some of the activities organized by the school, such as a beach trip to the island of Bolaños in the Golfo de Chiriqui, a group dinner organized at one of the homestays, a couple of movie nights, and a Saturday conversation session (where I met a fellow Canadian with whom I am still in touch). On my own, I visited an animal refuge called “Paradise Gardens”, and joined a comprehensive coffee tour offered by Casa Ruiz that took us from the coffee plantation to the coffee shop via the processing plant and roasting facility. With a few of the other students and a hired guide, I also hiked the Quetzal Trail, a popular day hike in the area. That was on my 47th birthday. My (much younger) companions sang me an unexpected “Happy Birthday” right there on the trail!

If you're visiting Boquete to study Spanish you really shouldn't miss the CHiriqui Gulf National Marine Park. Here's me on Isla Bolaños
If you're visiting Boquete to study Spanish you really shouldn't miss the Chiriqui Gulf National Marine Park. Here's me on Isla Bolaños

I did so many other things during those three weeks (drinks at Zanzibar come to mind). There was never a dull moment. I also rarely had to walk back uphill to my homestay. There was usually somebody else going that way who offered me a ride. My “mama de Panama” (my nickname for my host) also drove me a couple of times on her way back from errands in town.

Dinner out at local restaurant with fellow students
Dinner out at local restaurant with fellow students

My three weeks came to an end way too soon, and I was on my way to my next destination: Bocas del Toro. Already I felt much more comfortable using the language, having finally stepped out of my old patterns. One year later though, on a trip to Argentina, I was pretty sure I had forgotten most of what I had learned, since I had barely used the language all year. To my surprise, I opened my mouth, and the past tense came tumbling out, that's right, the preterito indefinido! The brain works in mysterious ways.

Well, it's now over three years later and I have pursued my travels in Latin America (Colombia, more Argentina and Uruguay, Chile, Ecuador again). My Spanish has kept improving with additional classes along the way. It's a work in progress. But signing up at Habla Ya and getting off that “plateau” where I was stuck for 15 years was a good decision. A very good decision indeed.

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We've been writing about all things Panama for over 10 years. So search our blog to plan your vacation. From must do's, where to party or eat, to which beaches and hiking trails you shouldn't miss. You'll find great insider info about Bocas del Toro, Panama City and Boquete, as well as Panamanian culture, customs and traditions, and certainly tips and advice for learning Spanish while on vacation!


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