Spanish is the official language of Panama, but other languages are spoken in pockets around the country. The country’s seven indigenous groups speak a variety of dialects of Wounaan, Teribe, Emberá, Kuna, and Ngöbe-Buglé (Guaymí)—the most common are the latter two, the dialects of the largest indigenous communities in Panama. In the Bocas del Toro region, descendants of Jamaican immigrants who came to work on banana plantations speak what’s known as “Guari Guari,” alternatively spelled “Wari Wari.” It is also sometimes referred to as Creole English, but the language is really patois English blended with Spanish and Guaymí (Ngöbe-Buglé) words. Native English speakers often have a difficult time understanding Guari Guari. A good place to hear Guari Guari is at Old Bank on Isla Bastimentos.
San Miguel Creole French, spoken by immigrants from St. Lucía who arrived on the island in the 19th century, is a dying language that’s rarely heard in Panama any longer. On the other hand, Chinese immigrants, many of whom work as merchants running corner stores and small markets called chinos, continue to speak their native tongue. Adding to this linguistical mélange is Arabic, spoken by immigrants from the Middle East. There is also a growing English-speaking expat community in Panama City, Boquete, Bocas del Toro, and el Valle de Anton, and English is now a requirement in all public schools, meaning more and more Panamanians are bilingual.
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