In my first few months, I learned some important words that helped me communicate what I wanted, but it was typically easier to find someone who spoke English than to try to pretend that I spoke anything resembling Spanish.
After a year in Panama, I realized my grasp on the Spanish language was about that of a toddler. I finally realized my osmosis-learning-process wasn't working and got into a Spanish class, something I should have done this the moment my plane landed in Panama.
Group Spanish classes were fun because we could laugh at one another's mistakes while still learning key words and phrases. After a few classes, we moved from basic phrases to verb conjugation. Although group classes would have eventually gotten me there, I knew I needed serious coaching. I moved to private lessons with a tutor who allowed me to set the pace.
What do Spanish lessons cost? My group lessons were $15 for a 90-minute class. My private lessons are $25 for a 1-hour class. Although the teachers think you need 90-minutes, I'm a proponent of a 60-minute class. One hour is long enough to learn one or two key things without going into overload.
Here is the interesting part. I thought learning Spanish would be a horrible process, but it's actually quite fun. I do my Spanish homework in the morning while I sit on my balcony sipping coffee. I give my brain a rest by watching the ships enter the Panama Canal and practice my accent with the parrots in the forest. Surprisingly, the hour I spend each morning studying Spanish is the most enjoyable parts of my day.
Not only do I get immense gratification from my new language skills, but my maid rewards me with motherly smiles every time I learn a new word or phrase. Perhaps I'm moving past the toddler phase after all.