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Do the locals speak standard Spanish or some sort of dialect? To get around Panama City what language does need to know? Is English popular or is knowing Spanish vital?

  • If you're really lucky you might come across some indigenous Kuna people who don't know Spanish or English. But even most of them are bilingual or know only Spanish. – hippietrail Feb 24 '14 at 13:59
  • This might be a better question for Spanish Language. – Flimzy Feb 24 '14 at 16:53
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Spanish is the common language in Panama and is not much different than Spanish spoken in the rest of Central America. Even if you do not know the right Spanish, you will be understood, although you will find that some words are local.

While many people understand English, those are mostly concentrated around tourist areas. Although not everyone will be bilingual, there is often staff that speaks English in international hotel chains. As in most places, how much you manage without the language depends on who you interact with and what you are trying to say. If you learn a few Spanish words from a phrasebook, you can intermix to get what you are saying across.

  • Dumb but...what is the Spanish spoken in Central America? – verve Feb 23 '14 at 19:01
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    @verve For a basic overview, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_American_Spanish is not terrible. – choster Feb 23 '14 at 19:03
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    I find that site to be inaccurate at times which is why I asked the question here. :-) – verve Feb 23 '14 at 19:11
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    Most versions of Spanish, other than Castillian and Argentinian, are pretty much interchangeable in terms of understanding. My Spanish is South American, having lived in Ecuador, and I got understood very well in most Central American countries, including Panama. Occasionally, I used a word they don't use there and a few times got some laughs when using a word which has a different meaning across regions. Just rephrasing got me understood and never did I feel that someone was confused or offended by what I said. People are generally quite forgiving of foreigners when it comes to language. – Itai Feb 23 '14 at 19:15
  • Some Central American Spanishes slur or leave out sounds that are clear in most other varieties. I seem to recall the "s", "d", and "g" being affected. Spanish speakers generally bring up Cuban Spanish as the hardest to understand, I think also due to slurred or omitted sounds. – hippietrail Feb 24 '14 at 13:57
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I'll answer it a bit differently, since you asked about English being popular as well.

Officially, in Panama (the country), 93% of the country speaks Spanish as their first language, although many speak it as their second as well.

English is spoken by 8% of the country.

So by and large, as a traveller, you'll get by very well if you speak Spanish and/or English. Indeed in large cities, English tends to be more common than in the country, so Panama City will have more than 8% English speakers.

In terms of what Spanish, it'll be Panamanian Spanish. It's basically the same as European and other Central American Spanish, but with words borrowed from Italians, Greeks, East Indians and Chinese. This page also demonstrates the large variety of Panamanian Spanish slang if interested.

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    I found it to be perfectly understandable as somebody who learned Spanish in Mexico. It's unlike Mexican, Spanish, and Argentinian Spanishes if you are able to distinguish them. I got the impression it would be a lot more like Colombian Spanish than the varieties I knew though I never made it to Colombia to compare directly. At least for food vocabulary they had lots of things unknown or totally different to something with the same name in Spain, Mexico, or the rest of Central America. Again I had the impression that Panamanian and Colombia food must be similar. – hippietrail Feb 24 '14 at 13:55
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Just Spanish bro, just spanish but English also used but less, The index of linguistic fractionalization in Panama is 0.4 so it's meant not only spanish is possible ;) So maybe it's will be useful for you !

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