More than a few people asked me if I speak Spanish prior to and after my journey to Panama. My answer was rather jumbled.

I haven’t studied Spanish since my freshman year in college–I took Spanish 3 that spring and completed my foreign language requirement for graduation. That fall, I considered studying for a minor in Spanish because I found level 2 rather easy. Unfortunately, level 2 did not prepare me for the difficulty of level 3, and I gave up on earning the minor.

Over the years, I’ve managed to remember a few words and phrases here and there. The only opportunity I had to practice speaking Spanish was with a friendly Colombian expat in China who spoke neither English nor Chinese. Fortunately, we had a friend who spoke all three languages.

Prior to my departure for Panama, I attempted to brush up on my forgotten Spanish vocabulary. I asked a few students and co-workers at the college for some basic assistance. My father also picked up a copy of Making Out in Spanish (I still think the Chinese version is more amusing and useful).

Less than a week before my flight, someone in my building threw out a box of books. Among the stack, I found two that I claimed–Michael Chabon’s Kavalier & Clay and Conversational Spanish in 7 Days. The latter book was small, though not small enough to serve as a pocket guide, and useful. It reminded me of verb conjugations and tenses as well as vocabulary.

I knew enough Spanish to ask some basic questions upon my arrival in Panama City, and I quickly recalled more. I did my best to understand what people were saying, and even though I didn’t understand every word, I usually got the gist of it. More importantly, I discovered that Panamanians are much more friendly when tourists attempt to converse in Spanish, even if the tourist only speaks a few words–they appreciate the effort.


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