Living in Panama and embracing the Spanish language!

Blog by Terry Richmeier and Manzar Lari




When we first moved to Boquete, Panama, we knew that we would need to learn Spanish or at least retain some words in order to order our lunch (almuerzo) or Dinner (cena) and maybe a word or two to know how to ask “how much?” (cuánto).

What we didn’t realize is that we needed to know more than what we originally thought. What words do you need to know if you have pain and need to see a Doctor? What if the pain is in your back or your neck? Then, when the plumbing clogs up and you need to describe this to the plumber, what then? And there are always these little things about food allergies or that you may not want anything to drink that has sugar (sin azúcar). When the order arrives, you end up getting a flavored tea that has Splenda in it and that was not what you wanted!


Navigating through these challenges and struggling for the right words to use can be frustrating to say the least. For some people it can be as easy as sitting down with a book of Spanish words and phrases and learn the vocabulary and grammar. For some others, it is advisable to take a Spanish class and for still others, taking private lessons is the key. And after all the time and money spent, most still have a difficult time retaining the new words and applying them in their proper forms of conjugation. How many forms of conjugation does one really need?!?! Practice is crucial in order to retain any new learning.

Here in Panama, the people are so happy and thus forgiving with our language difficulties. If we just try, they love us for trying. TERRY here at Casa de Montaña was out at a restaurant eating. He mustered up enough courage to try a back-words compliment by telling the waiter that he “did not like his food” (No me gusta mi comida). This was after Terry finished the entire plate. At first the waiter laughed and then thought for a second that Terry was not kidding. Maybe he really did not like his food after all? This made Terry nervous and so he tried to explain that he loved his food. (No, no, te amo!) What Terry actually said in Spanish was that he did not love the waiter. Embarrassing moments were shared by all! Everything turned out ok. However, Terry learned that joking in a different language is off limits until he knows more!

Here is a clip of a Spanish speaking person who tries to speak English. This must be what we as English speaking people sound like when trying to speak in a foreign language.





Ser y estar


Foreign languages are hard to learn as an adult. Studies show that learning a second language as a child is much easier. Take a look at this article from the American Council on the teachings of foreign languages:

How to i learn

And why can some people comprehend and retain it better than others? The four components of language learning include: speaking, reading, writing and listening. The following article asserts that out of the four, listening (or comprehension) is the most difficult one to acquire and master:


As for Manzar (co-owner of Casa de Montaña), being fluent in two languages already, has an above average understanding of conjugations, has been open to learning Spanish, he is treating all this as a “delightful challenge”! He has gone from home studies, then to two Spanish classes and is now taking private lessons. This challenge is opening up new horizons for him and eventually he will become tri-lingual. He states that contrary to popular opinion it is really not that much easier for him to learn Spanish just because he already knows two languages!

Terry (co-owner of Casa de Montaña) on the other hand has just enough words to sound like the above video and is so proud when he can get his staff to understand him! Of course, most of that is the fact that the staff can think outside the box when communicating with Terry and can generally figure out what Terry is asking them!

Veronica (one of the staff) has decided to get a degree in English and every night, Monday through Friday, is going to classes at the University as she has a true desire to understand and speak English. We at Casa de Montaña Bed and Breakfast are supporting her in any way possible.

Andres (our office staff) came to us speaking both Spanish and English and has helped us along the way with not only answering the phone in Spanish but interpreting during staff meetings and writing up all our informational flyers as well as information that we have included in the binders for the bedrooms and anything else that we need his assistance with.

Nicolas (our other staff) will start his day speaking to us in English and seems to easily understand our English, hand gestures and voice overs we use to tell him what we need done. He will quietly and respectfully slip in the correct word we need into the conversation helping us to learn new Spanish words!


In most countries around the world, the governments and schools are requiring that two languages are taught. Germany requires three languages and in Pakistan English and Urdu are required in many schools. Panama is no different! This country is working towards their schools becoming bi-lingual. Almost anywhere you go in Boquete you will find an English speaking Panamanian who will gladly help you get your point across.

The 4 most spoken languages in the world are in this order: 1-Mandarin 2-Englsih 3-Hindi/Urdu 4- Spanish. This means that Spanish is an important language for most of us to learn. The following article shares the top ten:

So while you are staying with us at Casa de Montaña Bed & Breakfast, why not enroll in a Spanish class or two? It is a fun way to learn a language as well as the culture and meet some interesting people. We have many options here to choose from. Do contact us directly through email or by calling us to inquire about the special Spanish language student rates and where to enroll! Hasta Pronto!!!

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