English language school
Tourism is becoming one of Panama’s growth industries and the Camara De Turismo for the highlands of Chiriqui is doing all it can to help. Most English speaking tourists have learned some Spanish words. It might be a simple, “Dos cervezas, por favor” or knowing how to ask where the toilets are. Often heard is the audible sigh of relief when the waiter or store owner says “Yes, I speak English.”
When this happens the server, store clerk or bartender, are no longer simple providers of food or drinks – in an instant they become something far more important – they become ambassadors for Panama.
This week in Volcan CAMTAL (Camara De Turismo De Tierras Altas) launched a program to teach English to around a hundred people involved in the local tourism industry. The 9-month course held in a local primary school will involve 5 hours of study a day for 5 days of the week. The courses start after normal working hours at 5:00 p.m. There is no cost to the students thanks to funding provided by the government agency INADEH. The teachers for this course will be Licda. Dilcia Gonzáles and Licda. Silvia González de Cheng.
One local business, the Quetzal Lodge in Guadalupe, has encouraged all of its staff to take part. President of CAMTAL, Romulo Ponte and past president Annabella Rios De Esquivel, were there to greet the students as they packed the small schoolroom. One student, Gabriella de Molek said “This will open many doors as there are several large projects planned for Volcan and they will need people who speak both English and Spanish.”
I am struggling to learn Spanish. I believe that anyone who lives or retires here should make a genuine effort to learn at least some of the language. As I strive to be understood in my butchered Spanglish, most Panamanians I meet want to use me to practice their English. The important point is that both sides are trying to gain better understanding.
“The Panamanians are wonderful.”
In a local restaurant there was a charming young server called Michelle. Her English was so good that both my wife and I would bombard her with questions about her job, her hopes and about life in general in Panama. Michelle is typical of many Panamanians in that they show a warmth and sense of contentment that tourists find refreshing. Most of our guests enjoy themselves so much they faithfully promise to spread the word about this country when they return home. More often than not they leave us with this simple phrase, “The Panamanians are wonderful.”
The students in Volcan, Bugaba and Cerro Punta, will not only have to master basic English but will out of necessity have to be unpaid tour guides. They will be Panama’s frontline representatives for the tourism industry. They will need to know about the height of the volcano, and the locations of the best waterfalls, beaches, points of interest and bird-watching spots. We want all of our VISITORS to return home and encourage their friends and families to visit Panama. We can promise them modern first world cities, palm treed beaches and stunning eternal spring mountains. And soon we will be able to promise them more English speaking people in their hotels and resorts.
I applaud the efforts of CAMTAL and INADEH for helping our tourism industry flourish. My heart goes out to the nearly 100 students who will toil 5 hours a night struggling to grasp the basics of English. I know its difficult learning a new language. In solidarity with the students this reporter promises to do his best to “aprender mas Español . . . Pronto!”