The main focus of our 6 week journey through Central America was to take Spanish classes throughout the region. After a few weeks of taking spanish classes in Guatemala, we headed to further south to learn Spanish in Panama with Habla Ya.
Learning Spanish in another country is a great way to fully immerse yourself into the language as well as have the opportunity to practice every day in real life situations. Our experience traveling through Central America learning Spanish was a great way to learn about the different countries, local ways of speaking as well as sample different types of instruction.
Locations to Learn Spanish in Panama with Habla Ya
Habla Ya is one of the best Spanish schools in Panama with 3 locations across the country. The three locations are in the main tourist hot spots of Panama City, the island town of Bocas del Toro and the mountain getaway of Boquete.
During our visit to Panama we decided to take classes at two of their centers. Both of the centers are quite different from each other and offer an overall different experience.
Boquete is set in the middle of a small mountain town in a new building in the center of town. Classes are held in small rooms set up like mini classrooms. It’s not just the inside of the classroom that feels different too. In Boquete most classes are offered in the afternoon as the morning tends to be the best part of the day with less chance of rain so this is when you will find the group activities scheduled. The vibe in Boquete is mellow, with an older hippy, expat feel.
Bocas del Toro is a small island on the Caribbean side of Panama about 30 minutes by boat from Almirate. The island is small, but bustling with locals and tourists. Here, the school is set in a large older clapboard building with plenty of space for students and teachers to find their place either indoor or outdoors. Here there is also the option to stay at the school in their on site accommodation. The school is set about a 15 minute walk from the main street of town providing a quieter place to fully immerse yourself.
While the school has a super mellow feel, the town definitely caters a bit more to the young hip party crowd. If that is you, you will love it. If you are with children, it may feel a bit off at first. Our recommendation is to find a place near the Habla Ya offices and immerse yourself more into the neighborhood vibe.
The last location for Habla Ya is in Panama City. As we did not study here, we do not have personal experience, however we stopped by to visit and would love to return to check out classes here. It feels like you could easily feel like you live here whereas in the other locations it’s much easier to always mingle with the tourists.
Registering for Spanish Classes at Habla Ya
Registering and booking classes at Habla Ya was very easy to do online and in advance. They do require a $99 deposit to book in advance and hold your spot. I would recommend doing this as it’s just the first step in their multi-pronged approach to getting ready for your arrival.
Once you have paid your deposit you will complete a relatively extensive written test online to determine your Spanish level. Even with many years of Spanish under my belt I was still placed in a beginner class. Young children do not have to do this assessment, rather they will do it once they arrive on site.
The office staff at Habla Ya were very helpful in helping us decide which destination we should choose first, how we would get to each of the locations and options on where to stay. We highly recommend that you utilite their extensive knowledge of the different locations to plan your trip the most effectively.
Their website is also a great resource for all things Panama, from where to stay, what to do and how to get around.
Spanish Class Instruction at Habla Ya
Having tried a few other schools by the time we arrived to Panama we had a good idea of what we liked in Spanish schools and what we didn’t. Upon our arrival in Boquete, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Habla Ya has an actual curriculum for teaching children Spanish. My son was presented with a little booklet outlining all of the work he would be doing in the next week.
For adults since you would have completed your assessment in advance, your group class will be predetermined before your arrival. From our experience no class had more than 3 or 4 students.
For children who have not had any prior classes at Habla Ya, the first day begins with a quick oral test to determine exactly where the child’s language skills are. Following this, the one-on-one class begins with some get to know you talk, games and workbook exercises.
The two classes my son participated in at the different locations were quite different. His teacher in Boquete was much more focused on playing games mixed with a bit of workbook time. His classes in Boquete were 4 hours a day due to a holiday during the week. During their class time, my son would work on basic vocabulary, spelling, writing listening and speaking.
Kimberly, his teacher in Boquete did not speak any English or if she did, we never knew because she did not speak in English in front of either of us. You might think a kid would find this difficult but my son actually preferred when the teachers speak only Spanish. It helps him and he teacher focus!
In Bocas del Toro, the teacher was much more academically focused, prefering to play less games and spend more time on worksheets, writing and spelling correctly. To be honest, my son was not as excited by this class as it felt much more rigorous and focused on getting things right or wrong. We provided feedback to the school about this and one day she did focus more on interactive learning like walking around the campus to find different words. However, this did not last as her style just is not playful.
During our visit there was another child taking private lessons as well. She was older and perhaps had more Spanish language skills, so they would play games such as Scrabble to work on spelling.
For the adult classes, your class structure will depend on your level of Spanish. In general, classes rely heavily on speaking to one another as well as completing worksheets. There will be exams to help gauge your progress as well. Yes, you are in school again!
Extracurricular Activities at Habla Ya
One of the major aspects to all of the Spanish language classes in Panama are extracurricular activities to encourage further Spanish practice. In Boquete, our classes were held in the morning instead of the afternoon which is more typical, so we were unable to participate in any of the planned activities. We had hoped to do more with the school in Bocas del Toro, however we also found ourselves busy with other more family focused activities.
As the school does not have a large population of children studying, the activities are much more geared toward adults. In a few years I think my son would be able to participate more readily with the adult outings for for now we were unable to participate.
The type of activities presented to the students include the things that tourists would normally do, however it’s a great community building exercise to do it with other students at your school. During our visit I did not see too many signups on the board as it seemed people were content to do things on their own. However, I think this a valuable offering of the school that should be more widely discussed so that people can participate.
Since we were unable to attend any of the extra activities, my son’s teacher in Boquete wanted to spend some time with us and took us to the local visitor center to take photos in front of the Boquete sign, see the beautiful view and watch the cheeky coatis! It was a really special afternoon and gesture by his teacher that we both greatly appreciated.
Cost of Spanish Language Classes in Panama
In general the cost of everything in Panama is much higher than what we were used to in Guatemala, but a bit cheaper than in Costa Rica. This includes Spanish classes as well. The cost for one week of 4 hour a day private classes for my son was $350. This is quite a bit more expensive than the schools in Guatemala. For adults learning Spanish in group lessons, the cost was $250. Habla Ya offers different types of classes (group, mini group and private) catering to what your needs are.
In addition to the cost of the classes, the homestay options here were much more expensive than in Guatemala making it less cost effective to stay with a local family. Habla Ya charges an administration fee to help set up a local homestay in addition to the cost of the homestay making the weekly fee close to $500. This combined with the cost of classes is a bit prohibitive for many families.
If cost is a factor, you can easily find apartment rentals on Airbnb from $250 a week and there are several great private rooms at hostels providing a great atmosphere for families. We would suggest Hansi located right on the main street. It is clean, quiet and centrally located. For those looking for apartment rentals, check out Sun Havens Apartments.
Which Location is Best for Families?
We were able to switch locations during our visit to Panama allowing us a unique view of two of Habla Ya’s locations. Both locations, one in the mountains, one on an island, offer totally different experiences which is what made moving between the two so appealing. However, since the instruction was quite different at the two schools, and there was not a seamless transition, I am not sure I would recommend doing this.
The staff at Habla Ya said that the two teachers talked and shared information on the level my son was at. However from my son’s perspective the teachers were so different and focused on such different things, he did not find the transition smooth.
In general I would say that Boquete is a cute mellow town that easily provides an atmosphere of living there. There is a small decently kept up park, nature walks, and lots of restaurants and ice cream shops which families will love.
Bocas is much more of a backpackers, party town which may not feel as family friendly. However, having access to many different beaches is also quite appealing for families. That said, you must know that there are no close beaches on the island with Habla Ya, which means you will need to take water taxis each afternoon.
Panama City is a large metropolitan city with plenty of things to do and provides an easy place to live as a family. We did not do classes here, but it would be one place that I think would be nice to live longer than the other towns.
Overall we were happy to sample the different towns, and I found this was a great way to travel around Panama and also have plenty of time to really experience each destination. Both towns are small enough that spending more than a week or two might get boring, but overall we really enjoyed both destinations. That said, I’m not 100% we would do the same again mostly due to the lack of a seamless transition between the two classes.
My son loved his teacher in Boquete and really enjoyed the town’s vibe. But, we also loved spending so much time in Bocas. It’s tough to decide, I know!
Summary of Spanish Schools in Panama
Learning Spanish in Panama is much different than the previous Spanish schools in Guatemala. Studying Spanish in Panama is a not a big industry which means your options are much more limited. In both Boquete and Bocas de Toro we did not see any other Spanish language schools available for tourists. On one hand this means that Habla Ya holds the market quite easily, but on the other there is not a lot of competition which also means there are not a ton of teachers available.
During our visit my teacher called in sick, which meant that my classes were rescheduled for the afternoon. As I was with my son and his class was scheduled in the morning, this caused a bit of a problem. It meant that I was not able to do my class as planned.
Overall, Habla Ya was a great place to learn with wonderful receptive staff. However, not Habla Ya’s fault, but I would say that it is a bit more difficult to stay in Spanish mode in Panama since there is a high influx of tourists, expats and locals who speak very clear English. If you truly want to up your Spanish game here, I would recommend staying with a local family so that you are forced to practice much more.
In general, I would recommend visiting Panama as a destination to learn Spanish. The schools here are much more expensive than in Guatemala, but it is also quite an interesting place to study with places to let your hair down and enjoy yourself outside of classes.
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