GoAbroad Interview

Ezequiel Morales - Academic Director & Spanish Teacher

Ezequiel Morales - Academic Director & Spanish Teacher

Ezequiel was born in 1988 in the city of Changuinola, in the Bocas del Toro province of Panama. He studied to become a primary teacher and attained a degree in teaching both English and Spanish. Ezequiel loves to read and travel to new places in Panama, and of course, he enjoys traditional Panamanian food. He is currently learning English and enjoying every step of the journey.

How did you get connected with Habla Ya?

In 2012, I was working for the Panamanian Ministry of Education when my aunt told me that Habla Ya was hiring teachers. I applied and two days later I was interviewed by the Human Resource Manager and Director of Academics. I was asked several key questions, about how I’d handle issues in private classes, and how I’d manage the various educational needs of students in group classes. Apparently they liked my responses, as the following week I was offered a job.

Man swimming in a river in Panama
Enjoying Panama’s natural beauty

What role do you play in the organization? What does a typical day of work look like for you?

I fill the roles of both Academic Director in Panama City, and professor. Thus, I work closely with the other campuses and the Instituto Cervantes, which accredited us. I also manage many of the administrative needs of the school. On a typical day, during the height of our busy season, I have to balance my two roles. I can have up to five classes, including private classes, online classes, and group classes, in a typical day. It can be a bit complex, but I’ve been able to manage my time well without problems.

How does your academic background and professional experience help you ensure international students enjoy their time with Habla Ya?

I have been working with Habla Ya for three years. Although I studied to teach Spanish, my education was focused on Spanish for native speakers. Thus, the school provided me with the training to teach Spanish as a foreign language to non-native speakers through the Instituto Cervantes. That experience has formalized my work in the classroom with foreign students and helped me perfect my teaching techniques.

The Spanish curriculum in public schools in Panama is heavily focused on teaching grammar and literature. The same grammatical elements that are taught to native speakers between the ages of 10 to 13 correspond with the advanced C1 level of Spanish taught to foreigners. The curriculum is significantly different for native speakers, because they don’t need to learn the culture, uses, and traditions of languages, for example. It’s already innate to them. However, teaching Spanish to a foreigner is largely focused on teaching a person how to speak like and comprehend a native speaker.

Bocas del Toro, Panama
Studying in Bocas del Toro

For example, Spanish is not as direct as many other languages and native-speakers can feel offended if spoken to in a direct manner. Thus, it’s also important to teach someone learning Spanish as a second or third language the way in which they can convey a message within the appropriate cultural context.

How is Habla Ya different from other Spanish language schools?

The Panamanians accent is easy to understand because it is quite clear. Additionally, Panama is a microcosm of all of Latin America. There are people from all over the Spanish speaking world: Spain, Venezuela, Chile, Colombia, etc. Thus, when you learn Spanish in Panama, you have the advantage of interacting with many different types of Spanish speakers and accents without even having to travel to their countries!

We Panamanians say that Panama is a "crisol de razas,” a true melting pot. We're also known to speak fast and drop the "s" in many words. Other than that, Spanish is quite a homogenous language, much more than let's say English, French, or Portuguese. Once you reach a conversational level of Spanish, you should be able to understand everyone regardless of where they're from.

Nightlife in Panama City
A night out

What is the most unique thing about studying Spanish at Habla Ya in your opinion?

Based on what students have told me, Habla Ya is a school that is much more organized, structured, and prepared to teach according to their needs. Habla Ya has a curriculum for every level, as well as teachers trained in the methodology to teach the students to acquire a new language. Habla Ya’s teachers also think about how students can benefit from cultural assimilation in order to speak Spanish.

Our students are encouraged to connect what they’re learning to the world around them.

And I guess it doesn't hurt that Panama is such an amazing country with spectacular Caribbean beaches, lots of eco-adventures to be had in the mountains, and Latin America's trendiest capital, Panama City.

Our Panama City campus has been open for only two years and there is a lot of competition for students within Spanish schools here. Once, I had a student who came to me only wanting to take two private classes. After the second day, he commented that he was pleased with how I corrected him, invited him to think and express his thoughts in Spanish, that our classes were structured, that there were many activities, and that our classes covered all the types of skills. He admitted to me then that he was also taking classes at another school here but that his other school did not address his needs. He was very impressed with how much he’d learned in such a short time.

Students with their Spanish teacher
Happy students!

How do you help students adapt to life in Panama?

In order to help my students adapt to Panama, I try to join them in the activities provided by the school. For example, I attend the salsa classes in the evenings and help them meet native speakers. I also give them useful advice that they can apply in their daily interactions with people, such as when it’s important to use “usted” versus “tu”, or how to use the conditional tense to make requests. I help them learn the subway system and the history of places like Casco Viejo, so that they can integrate within the culture of Panama.

What is your best piece of cultural advice for individuals contemplating attending Habla Ya?

My advice would be not to be afraid to express yourself and interact with people in Spanish. Generally, Latinos are very precocious and will enjoy speaking to you and asking questions.

Don’t be afraid to speak and make errors. No one will judge you for it!

What do you enjoy most about your job?

What I like most is that, each week, a new person arrives and it’s an opportunity to get to know their culture and make a new friend. This week, I have a student who is the president of an important bank and I had to adjust to his specific Spanish-learning needs. Thus, this week, I have had the pleasure of a new challenge: really tailoring my teaching methods so that a new student can excel.

Spanish student with teacher in Panama
In the Habla Ya classroom

Do you have any goals for 2016?

My goal is to continuously improve my teaching methods and take additional training courses for teaching Spanish as a foreign language, provided by the Instituto Cervantes.