This post is by Langu Spanish teacher Raúl Rodríguez. You can book a lesson with him here.
Traveling Without Moving: A world of Spanish on your screen
Two friends have been studying Spanish the same amount of time, using the same study materials, and taking lessons with the same teacher. They test their listening skills and speaking fluency and one of them performs much better than the other. Does he have a natural talent or a more effective study technique? No, he has been watching a TV show in Spanish almost every day for months. Regular exposure to the language was what helped him to have better skills than his friend.
Watching TV shows, doing online courses, and listening to talks in Spanish are productive language learning habits because they will
- train your ear
- teach you about culture, customs, or an interesting topic in an entertaining way
- immerse you in the language without living in a Spanish speaking country
To create a habit and not overwhelm yourself, start with short episodes. Small chunks are easier to digest. The Lord of The Rings saga may not be the best idea. For everyday language, documentaries and reality shows are better than movies or series.
In Spain, we have been dubbing foreign media ever since the early days of cinema and TV. That helps explain why we have so many excellent dubbing professionals, but not such great English skills in this country.
English is the most common second language in Spain, but making the language a part of daily life has not been a habit here. We are accustomed to the comfort of the dubbed content. Most often, English only happens during class time or after opening the grammar book. Fortunately, contact with any foreign language has never been easier, thanks to the Internet.
Watching engaging content is very important. Here, those quality Spanish dubbing professionals are good news for you. If you cannot find a Spanish TV show you like, watch something dubbed into Spanish. The voice quality tends to be excellent and translations are pretty accurate. Most expressions or idioms should be adapted from a Spanish cultural point of view to make sense after translation. As literal translation does not always work, this can be helpful for you. Shows and movies that are popular and have been around for a while are usually the best option.
How to Make Audiovisual content part of your learning plan
Whether your level, getting into the habit of watching whatever content in Spanish with subtitles will help your language learning. You can do it intensively or extensively.
For intensive watching, find something you like so much that you’ll want to watch it again in a short time. It has to be so interesting for you that taking notes from the subtitles and repeating phrases aloud feels like it’s worth doing it. Usually, something related to your job, hobby, future life project, or any other engaging topic is the best to keep you motivated.
For extensive watching, turn on the subtitles and enjoy the story and the sound of the language. The goal here is learning Spanish while being entertained. The more you do it while continuing with your classes and study time, the more vocabulary you will learn every day. You will sharpen your ear and become familiar with frequently used language without even noticing it. The language will start to sound more familiar. Then, the day will come when you predict what a character is going to say. That magical moment will skyrocket your confidence and motivation.
There are many ways to approach this and use it in your Spanish study plan and lessons:
- What is the story? Read a synopsis of what are going to watch. Make a few notes of what you remember and how it made you feel after watching it. Then tell the story in your own words.
- Guess the plot from teasers before watching. Watch a teaser and try to predict the story. Write a text or a bulleted list. Watch the movie or series episode and see if the story went as you expected.
- Practice with dialogue parts from the subtitles or a script. Have you found a character you like that has a clear accent and speaking pace? Mimic his voice tone and inflections while reading parts from a script or the subtitles. It would be like learning to play or sing a song you like. As it will feel more like playing than studying, it will help you to be relaxed while doing it. With time and practice, you will make the song yours and develop your voice and style.
- Paraphrase. TED talks, interviews, or any short video of someone talking about any topic are best for this. Find a topic you like. Copy and paste the transcript in a text document and highlight the best ideas. Then connect those ideas using your own words and report what you have learned. Prepare to do a presentation on the topic.
- Learn and teach. There are many online course options in Spanish for almost any field. Practice your Spanish while learning about anything interesting for you. Write the relevant points and organize your notes as if you were to teach them. If you can prepare this with the help of a teacher or a friend, you will learn a lot and also feel great. It will be an excellent way to grow many trees from one seed.
- Have wide ears and a narrow mouth. Listen to many different Spanish accents despite how hard they may sound. It will take you out of your comfort zone and sharpen your ear. Think of it as doing running training with a 20-kilo backpack for some time. How do you think you will run the day you do it without it? It is better to do this during extensive watching. Having subtitles in Spanish is a must and don’t worry if you have to rely on them for the most part. Laser focus on one accent to improve your speaking skills. You can aim for the clarity of a broadcaster or the coolness of a gangster. While both can help with language for "business" skills, one of them will not make your parents happy or help you land a good job position. Find a good model. Take notes. Repeat and mimic what you hear and see, even the hand gestures.
You can take all the above to your language class to practice with your teacher and get feedback about language usage and pronunciation. You will not only have fun with these types of activities but also learn about culture and customs, which will help understand and use the language in context better.
There are many TV shows, films, and other resources from which to choose. Below you will find a few examples that will help you get started.
Netflix shows and movies:
La casa de Papel. If you do not already know about it, this series has become a worldwide phenomenon. It is quite popular among the Spanish learning community.
La casa de papel, el fenómeno, is a documentary film about the unexpected worldwide success of the series.
Merlí is a philosophy teacher with a particular point of view about life and education.
In El autor, a frustrated writer manipulates his neighbors to find inspiration for a novel. You can download the movie script here.
Camarón, de la isla al Mito. If you are into flamenco music you will enjoy this series about the art and life of the legendary Camarón de la Isla.
Street Food: Latinoamérica is not only a very well done series about delicious street food in different South American countries. Each chapter builds its plot over the past and present life events of a person to create a beautiful and moving story. It will open your mind and leave you with a feeling good — and quite hungry!
¡Niquelao! (Mexican and Spanish edition). A bakery contest that will help you learn vocabulary and expressions if you are into the topic.
American Netflix shows with good Spanish dubbing:
Somebody Feed Phil (Comida para Phil) If you like traveling and food, you will enjoy this show. Phil Rosenthal is a food lover with a good sense of humor. From Michelin-starred restaurants to street food, he experiences and presents every country with child-like enthusiasm and optimism.
Tidying Up With Marie Kondo (¡A ordenar con Marie Kondo!) An excellent show to learn useful home-related everyday phrases and vocabulary. Beware, your wardrobe may end up looking tidier than ever.
Friends is a classic that has been around for a while. You can have a laugh and learn many useful expressions from this group of amigos.
If you are into personal development, you can find many talks of Doctor Mario Alonso Puig on the Motivando YouTube channel. Food for thought delivered with a clear voice.
TED en español has many short videos about almost any topic. Each talk has subtitles and a transcript. You can copy the transcript and retell the ideas using the third person and express your opinions about it.
Course platforms like Domestika, Crehana, or Tutellus are an excellent way to do an engaging activity in Spanish and gain new skills in almost any topic you can imagine. Some of them have subtitles. Read the course description and watch the presentation video to see if it suits you well.
Practica Español is a website from the EFE news agency. You will find news about many different topics with companion audio or video. Many of them include a quiz to test your comprehension.
Language Learning with Netflix is a Chrome extension that helps you work with Netflix subtitles to make studying languages with films or series more effective and enjoyable.
The website Aprender Cine has many Spanish movie scripts that you can download for free.
Choose the contents and learning methods you like most. Even if you only watch TV shows and movies in Spanish passively, it will surely pay off in the long run.