Guide to Panamanian Spanish: Vocabulary, and Grammar

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Panamanian Spanish
  • José Anconina
  • 25 Feb, 2024
  • 7 Mins Read

Panamanian Spanish is the official Spanish dialect spoken in the Republic of Panama. Panamanian Spanish is spoken as a native language by 4 million people today. Around 2 million people speak Panamanian Spanish as a second language. Panamanian Spanish is classified as a local dialect with similarities and differences to Peninsular Spanish.

Panamanian Spanish emerged under the influence of local culture and the local Panamanian languages, Ngabera and Kuna languages. Panamanian Spanish has spread and developed through the combination of Castilian Spanish and English with Panamanian culture. The influence of English on Panamanian Spanish has led to this language being called “Spanglish.”

How to Learn Panamanian Spanish?

Learning Panamanian Spanish offers a unique opportunity to delve into the vibrant culture and history of Panama. With its distinctive pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar, Panamanian Spanish reflects the country’s rich heritage and diverse influences. By familiarizing yourself with the dialect’s characteristics, essential words and phrases, and effective learning strategies, you’ll be well-equipped to engage in conversations, navigate local customs, and truly immerse yourself in the language. 

Things to do to learn Panamanian Spanish are listed below.

  1. Immersion Programs in Panama
  2. Online Tutors and Language Exchange
  3. Language Learning Apps and Resources
  4. Practicing with Native Speakers
  5. Cultural Immersion and Travel
  6. Watching Panamanian Movies and TV Shows
  7. Reading Panamanian Literature
  8. Participating in Language Exchanges

Origin and History of Panamanian Spanish

Panamanian Spanish has a complex history shaped by various factors.

Before the Spanish invaded Panama in the 16th century, various indigenous tribes, including the Cuevas and Coclé, lived in Panama. Although these tribes did not influence Panamanian Spanish much, some of their words, such as “guarila” (a type of wild boar) and “guaguancó” (dance rhythm), have been integrated into Panamanian Culture.

With the Spanish Colonization beginning in 1538, the first Spanish settlers in Panama came primarily from Andalusia in southern Spain. Andalusian Spanish also influenced Panamanian Spanish in terms of pronunciation and vocabulary.

With the strengthening and expansion of the Spanish Empire, Castilian Spanish also spread in different regions and began to split into dialects in some local areas.

With the construction of the Panama Canal and the influx of American workers, some English words were transferred to Panamanian Spanish. This transfer process is generally called the “American Effect.”

Most Common Used Panamanian Spanish Words and Phrases

The origin of words and phrases used in Panamanian Spanish emerged through the interaction of many different languages. In a country where the primary language is Panamanian Spanish, many different dialects and accents have occurred depending on the local region. To effectively communicate in Panamanian Spanish, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with common greetings, expressions, and words.

The table below lists the most commonly used words and phrases in daily life in Panamanian Spanish.

Panamanian SpanishEnglish
¿Qué xopá?What’s up?
¿Qué tú haces?What are you doing?
Estar limpio/limpiaTo be broke
Tranquilo!Relax, don’t worry
Offi Ok/yes/understood
DisculpeExcuse me
Estar tirao/tiradaTo be tired
BucoA lot
Plena A style of reggaeton music
Cocobolo Bald-headed person
Estar bien tallao/talladaTo look good/handsome/pretty
Parquear To hang out with friends
Diablo rojoPublic bus

This is just a small selection of common Panamanian Spanish words and phrases. The dialect is rich and varied, with many more words and expressions to discover.

How did Panamanian Spanish Emerge?

Panamanian Spanish has been shaped by various cultural influences over the years. The country’s indigenous languages, such as Panamanian Ngäbere and Kuna, have left their mark on the vocabulary and pronunciation of Panamanian Spanish. Additionally, Panama’s historical ties to the United States, mainly through the Panama Canal, have introduced English words and expressions into the local dialect. This blend of indigenous and foreign influences gives Panamanian Spanish unique flavor and character.

Panama’s geographic location at the crossroads of Central America and the Caribbean has also contributed to the development of its distinct dialect. The country shares linguistic similarities with other Caribbean Spanish-speaking nations, such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the Caribbean coasts of Colombia and Venezuela. Furthermore, Panama’s historical ties to Colombia have influenced its language, as the two countries were once part of the same political entity. These historical and geographical factors have resulted in a dialect that is a fascinating blend of Central American and Caribbean influences.

How does Panamanian Spanish Differ from Standard Spanish?

Panamanian Spanish exhibits several key differences from standard Spanish, which can be broadly categorized into pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar.

The differences between Panamanian Spanish and standard Spanish are listed below.

  1. Panamanian Spanish is spoken at a faster pace than standard Spanish.
  2. Sentences in Panamanian Spanish may be shorter and more direct than those in standard Spanish.
  3. The intonation used in Panamanian Spanish can be different from that of standard Spanish.
  4. There are some differences in verb conjugations between Panamanian Spanish and standard Spanish.
  5. The definite and indefinite articles (“el,” “la,” “los,” “las,” “un,” “una,” “unos,” “unas”) are sometimes omitted, especially before titles and professions.
  6. There are many words and expressions that are unique to Panamanian Spanish and not found in other dialects. These words often refer to local food, customs, and culture.
  7. Panamanian Spanish tends to be more informal than standard Spanish. This is reflected in the use of slang, contractions, and colloquialisms.

How is The Accent of Panamanian Spanish?

Panamanian Spanish has certain accent similarities and differences with other dialects. These similarities and differences are listed below.

  1. 1.Pronunciation of “c” and “z”
  2. Syllable Shortening
  3. Dropping of Final “s”
  4. Softening of “ch” to “sh”
  5. Voseo: The Use of “vos”

1. Pronunciation of “c” and “z”

In Panamanian Spanish, the letters “c” and “z” are pronounced as an “s” sound. This is a common feature of many Caribbean Spanish dialects. For example, the word “cascada” (waterfall) is pronounced as [kahˈkaða], similar to the English “h” sound in “he.”

2. Syllable Shortening

Many Panamanian Spanish words are shortened by omitting the last syllable or consonant. This is a characteristic feature of the local dialect and adds to the informal and relaxed nature of the language. For example, the phrase “vamos” (we go) is often shortened to “vamo.”

3. Dropping of Final “s”

Panamanian Spanish speakers frequently drop the final “s” at the end of a word. This is a common phenomenon in many Spanish dialects, but it is particularly prevalent in Panama. For example, “vamos” (we go) becomes “vamo.”

4. Softening of “ch” to “sh”

In certain regions of Panama, the “ch” sound in a word is softened to a “sh” sound. This is similar to the pronunciation in other Spanish dialects, such as Andalusian Spanish. For example, the word “mucho” (much) is pronounced as [muˈʃaʃo].

5. Voseo: The Use of “vos”

Voseo is a linguistic phenomenon observed in several Spanish-speaking countries, including Panama. Instead of using the more standard pronoun “tú” (you), Panamanians often use the pronoun “vos” when addressing someone informally. This affects verb conjugations, with forms like “cantáis” (you sing) and “sois” (you are) replacing the traditional “cantas” and “eres” forms.

Panamanian Spanish Words of English Origin(Spanglish)

Panama’s historical ties to the United States and the presence of the Panama Canal Zone have influenced the language, resulting in a blend of English and Spanish words. 

Words of English origin used in Panamanian Spanish are listed in the table below.

Panamanian SpanishEnglish
ChopearTo shop (from “shop”)
El guyThe man (from “guy”)
Chingongo Chewing gum (from “chewing gum”)
Frén Friend (from “friend”)
Priti Pretty (from “pretty”)
CuaraQuarter (from “quarter”)


Using Pronouns in Panamanian Spanish

Pronouns play an important role in Panamanian Spanish, particularly in certain regions where the subject pronoun is commonly used. Instead of relying solely on verb conjugations to indicate the subject, Panamanians often include the pronoun in their sentences. For example, instead of saying “Qué haces?” (What are you doing?) a Panamanian might say, “Qué tú haces?”

Additionally, Panamanian Spanish features the use of “vos” instead of “tú” in informal contexts. This phenomenon, known as voseo, affects verb conjugations and requires different pronouns. For example, instead of saying “tú cantas” (you sing), a Panamanian might say “vos cantáis.”

Most Common Used Panamanian Spanish Slang Words

Panamanian Spanish is a vibrant dialect overflowing with unique slang words and phrases that add flavor and fun to everyday speech.

The table below lists the most commonly used slang words in daily life in Panamanian Spanish.

ahuevado?stupid or very dumb
¡Ayala vida!surprise, amazement, misfortune
  Chambón/aSomeone who’s bad at doing something
  Estar boloTo be drunk
Estar en la pintaTo be in style

Check out this other article to learn more slang words and phrases used in Panama.

José Anconina

Jose has been a Spanish Tutor at since 2023. She studied Spanish Language Teaching at university and has an M.A. in Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language. In her free time, she likes book reading.
Jose aims to enrich his students' learning experiences by providing them with knowledge about Spanish culture and traditions.

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