I’ve spent the last seven weeks living on an amazing little island called Bocas Del Toro in Panama. My time is nearly ending and I leave this wonderful little home in just a couple of days. I missed living on an island so much, I love island culture, all the seafood I get to eat, the warm people, and of course, sunshine!!!! So I was really excited when I chose my next destination where to live, but why I really chose to live here was to learn Spanish at a school called Habla Ya.I took Spanish when I was in high school (more than 10 years ago by now), and still remembered the basics of Spanish, it was always “Hola cómo estás?”, I was able to order a glass of wine, ask for simple directions and that’s about it. I mean I only took two years of Spanish so I’m glad I remembered that much after 10 years. Though the more I traveled, the more I wanted to learn another language. Spanish is such an important language, it’s not only one of the most spoken languages in the world, but it’s also a root of many languages, once I know Spanish it’ll be easier to pick up other languages. So I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to sign up for some Spanish classes and give it a go.
Learning Spanish with Habla Ya
I did a lot of research before coming to Panama about different schools where I can learn Spanish. Whenever I went online and typed in “learn Spanish in another country” or something along those lines Habla Ya ALWAYS came up. Man, these people have some good marketing going for. At first, I was really drawn to their videos. They have an awesome introduction video that goes through the three different locations that they offer Spanish classes in; Panama City, Bocas del Toro, and Boquete. The videos were really well put together and the students really looked like they were enjoyed themselves.
What level of Spanish do I speak?
I emailed Habla Ya and asked them about their pricing and the structure of the schools. I got an email back within a couple of days with all of their prices (they had many different packages for their classes. Buy 3 weeks get one FREE. Pay by November 10th and get 10% of, etc.) I was also attached a brief overview of the levels, and what each lever dives into during the weeks there. Each level takes 3 weeks to complete and was structured A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2. After reviewing all the information I had I decided to do two levels (which would be 6 weeks total). Now, at which location? Habla Ya told me that the most popular school is the one in Bocas and that there are more activities to do while here than the other schools. I still considered the other school but I was pretty convinced of living on an island once again (I missed those island days from Thailand).
Once I had everything figured out class wise (or so I thought) I had to take a placement test on the computer to see which level I will be on. The test seemed pretty simple, and you can’t really cheat it. Once you get to the school you take another test orally, this is to make sure you’re at the same writing and speaking level. I didn’t know what level I scored at after I took the computer test but I was pretty sure I would be at level A2.
What will be my living situation?
Habla Ya is actually awesome about their living situations. They offer many different options for you when you sign up for their classes. You can do an immersion program and live with a host family, you can go through one of their budget/mid range/or luxury hostels/hotels, you can be put up in an apartment, or do something completely on your own. I actually ended up just getting an Airbnb because this was the cheapest option for me, and I like my privacy.
Getting to Habla Ya
Once I figured out my classes and accommodations I needed to get to Bocas del Toro. I was at the time living in Poland so the easiest thing for me to do was to fly from Poland to Chicago (stayed in my hometown for 3 weeks visiting my family and friends). Then fly Chicago to Florida, Florida to Panama City, and Panama City to Bocas del Toro (dang, that's a lot!).
I stayed in Panama City for a week before I got to Bocas and it was a bit too long for me. Thankfully I have some friends there that let me crash at their place and showed me around a bit, because there isn’t much to do in Panama City. Once I saw the city I was really glad that I chose Bocas to spend the next 7 weeks of my nomadic journey.
From Panama City you can get to Bocas several different ways, you can take a flight at about $100 or a bus for about $30. I actually ended up taking the night bus (which I recommend taking the night bus vs the day one, it’s 10 hours but you’re sleeping most of it anyways and for the price, it’s very affordable. But make sure to check the schedule because they don’t run on holidays. I had this problem and had to take a bus a different day than originally planned.) Then you take a boat from mainland to Bocas. The entire journey was just over 10 hours all together.
Learning Spanish with Habla Ya
Alright, so now that I’m all settled in and enjoying the sunshine I head over to the school on Saturday afternoon to do my checkin. I was greeted my two lovely guys Ludo and Cesar. Cesar and I chatted for a bit while I filled out the paperwork and was handed a map of the area. I took my oral test and he told me I would be indeed placed in level A2. He explained to me that if at any time I felt the classes were too hard or too easy to come to them and I would be places in another class. Cesar gave me a brief walk through of the classes, showing me the boards for activities, where to get water, the upstairs deck that students use to study and where the bathrooms were. So far I really enjoyed their welcome. Classes started bright and early at 8 am on Monday morning. I was really excited to get to classes and start my Spanish learning experience.
My experience with level A2
I was put in a class with 5 other people (two of them were brand new like myself and the other 3 were together starting at level A1) we all did a brief introduction and my teacher Eli introduced herself as well. I felt like level A2 classes were not so bad. I already thought I had a good grasp on Spanish to start with so level A2 I felt was just right for me. These are 4 hour long classes Monday-Friday with a brief 20-minute break in the middle. Eli was a great teacher and she explained things in a way we would understand them but she was one of the more strict teachers. There was no speaking English in her class at all, and if you didn’t know a word you had to kind of play charades with the other classmates to show them what it was you were talking about. This ended up being a lot of fun and entertaining. Her idea behind this was that our brains are lazy, which I totally agree with, if we looked the word up in a dictionary we would have forgotten it once we left the class. Mimicking the word would give us a remembrance of what it is.
Level A2 focused a lot on grammar. Every day we learned a new rule, implemented what we learned yesterday, and extended our knowledge by having conversations. Eli was great at keeping the classes entertaining with different games like charades, taboo, and other games. We learned a lot of new vocabulary words every day and took a ton of notes. You should see my notebook. At the end of the third week we had a written and oral test to move on to the next level.
My experience with level B1
Man these classes were intense! Level B1 is focused more on conversation versus the grammar. So everything that I learned in just 3 short weeks I had to implement these next three weeks. This level of classes was structured similarly, still 4 hours M-F with a 20-minute but we spent the first half of the class having discussions. There was a stack of cards we chose from, and each day a different student picked the cards with 10 different questions on each card. Some of the discussions included, politics, opinions on the world and the economy in our country and alcohol and drugs. They were intense topics and intense conversations.
This has been an absolutely amazing experience for me to be able to learn Spanish in another country. I definitely feel like my Spanish has improved but I don’t think I’m quite at completing level B1 yet, (though I did pass and get my certificate). 4 hours is a long time to spend just thinking and doing everything in Spanish. On top of that I was also working full time and up at 5:30 am every morning to teach English myself. Toward the second week of B1 I felt a bit brain friend and like no more Spanish could fit into my head. I just felt I didn’t have enough time to digest everything I learned between level A2 and B1 in order to continue.
What I would do differently
I am definitely going to continue to practice my Spanish as I really do want to become better at it. I do feel like I can have a decent conversation now with someone versus when I first got here I was just able to buy some wine and ask for directions. So that is definitely amazing! If I had to do this all over again though, I would have taken at least a week break between level A2 and B1, it was just a lot to take in and toward the end there I was feeling like I wasn’t making any sense. I would also love to retake these classes when I have nothing else going on. Because I was working while here it was difficult for me to practice my Spanish, sometimes even not having time for homework (yes we did have homework). These classes are definitely intense and a lot for someone if you can’t give it your all. But, it’s an experience I will never forget and I will just have to continue to practice my Spanish.
Have you ever done a language immersion program? Tell me about your experiences below.
Xoxo Ania Travels 💜