We’ve told you before that watching TV can help you learn Spanish. (Hey, it worked for Kobe Bryant.) But maybe you’ve been thinking to yourself, “Yeah, OK. But I don’t understand anything. How can I be learning Spanish?”
A lot more is going on than you think when you watch shows or videos in Spanish. Think about when you first watched TV in English when you were a small child. You didn’t really understand what was going on then, either. But you sat and watched, and you started repeating what you heard, just as you did when the grown-ups in your house were talking. Of course, learning face to face with a native Spanish tutor is always the best option, but using TV and videos between classes can help you make the most of any business Spanish course and help keep you interested and engaged in your language learning. As you watch, try to recapture some of that openness and curiosity you had as a child. Be patient. Don’t expect to figure everything out instantly — and just have fun! (5 minutes suggested at first)
Based on our experience helping countless professionals improve their Spanish skills, we can help with the “having fun” part. Here are some ideas for shows and videos to watch that will hold your attention, as well as some activities you can do while watching to stay engaged and enhance your learning.
Videos and Shows for Learning Beginner Spanish
Extra TV in Spanish is a free resource for students at A1 and A2 levels of Spanish (the two beginner levels). Start with the first episode, “La Llegada de Sam,” and the following episodes will pop up on the right side of the screen.
Try this activity to get the most out of these videos: Watch for two or three minutes and pay attention to the context. If you need to watch the video with subtitles a few times first, that’s OK. But then play the video again with a piece of paper taped over the subtitles so that you actually listen.
Relying on subtitles is one of the biggest mistakes when using video or TV shows to learn a language. If you only read, then you will only learn to read. You will THINK you’re learning Spanish, but when someone speaks to you, your ears will not have adjusted to the SOUND of the language, and you won’t understand what they’re saying. Remember those 4 semesters of Spanish in high school? Everyone says to us, “I can read fine, but I don’t understand when people speak.” There’s a reason; you never learned how to hear the language.
A scientist from Puerto Rico confirmed this for us when we interviewed her about her experience coming to the U.S. for work.
“The first day at work, I kept looking for the subtitles on everyone’s chest, but they never appeared,” she said.
She was not ready for hearing native speakers talk. She thought her years of watching TV in English had helped her — and she had learned lots of vocabulary — but she hadn’t been paying attention to the sound of the language. When you’re learning Spanish, or any other language, you need to HEAR the language for hundreds of hours. So cover up those subtitles!
FluentU is also a great resource for videos at the beginner level. If you buy the basic version, you can also get flashcards to quiz yourself after each video. So convenient! The videos are so realistic, because they are directly from YouTube. This is both ridiculous and challenging, since they weren’t particularly made for Spanish language learners. But they will certainly keep your attention, and will create an experience for you, which will help with remembering what you learned. Remember, you learned your first language through experiences, so the more you can create unique experiences, the better chance you have of remembering them.
Netflix is also changing our ability to access shows in other languages. Almost any show can be turned into a Spanish show: Just look in the right-hand corner of the screen and change the audio to Spanish. Try this with the kids’ show “Pocoyo.” Yes, it’s for children, but it’s also very descriptive, which will help you with learning Spanish. Just five minutes a day will be a challenge for your ears.
Videos and Shows for Learning Intermediate Spanish
Ready to move past beginner Spanish? FluentU videos are divided by level, so you can choose which one pertains to you. On Netflix, try watching children’s movies in Spanish. Most of their dialogue will be the everyday vocabulary words you need. We also love the show “Super Genius.” Again, this is for children, but the audio is at the speed native Spanish speakers use and is in a commonly used neutral accent. (This is key when finding shows to watch.) “Super Genius” is also easy to follow, since what you’re seeing on screen matches what they’re talking about, which isn’t always true in movies or shows for grown-ups.
“La Familia P. Luche” is another show that intermediate Spanish learners can use to improve their language skills. You will also learn about Mexican culture and humor, which is very different than what you might be used to. The show is about a typical Mexican family, and its primary audience is teenagers. What will help you most (and what will be most challenging) in this show is that it uses lots of jargon, slang and idioms. As you watch, write down sentences with new phrases. Then, bring them to your next Spanish class. Ask your teacher which phrases are appropriate for meetings and which ones are appropriate to say at happy hour. You’ll have a blast learning all the new ways to sound like a native!
Here’s another activity you can try when watching videos or shows at any level: For five minutes, transcribe what you hear. Here’s why this works. In your first language, you can probably write emails or even have a phone conversation while following what’s happening on a TV show. That’s because you’ve heard your native language so much that you don’t have to pay a lot of attention to understand it. But when watching a show in your second language, it’s much harder to concentrate for long periods of time. So grab your pen and a notebook, put the subtitles on and push play. When the first line comes up, pause and write it out, saying it out loud as well. This allows your brain to hear, say, see and do something.
Videos and Shows for Learning Advanced Spanish
Here’s where the ability to switch almost any show on Netflix to Spanish audio really comes in handy.
If you change a show’s audio to a language other than the one it was filmed in, the dialogue becomes easier to understand. Something about the sound quality changes. The background noises recede, and the actors overdubbing the dialogue speak clearly and more slowly. This makes for amazing Spanish-learning pleasure with fewer frustrations when characters are in noisy restaurants or when the soundtrack becomes louder than the actors’ voices!
Try watching some of your favorite English-language shows in Spanish. Since you already know the storyline, you’ll be better able to follow along. Granted, you won’t be learning about the humor, life or culture of Spanish-speaking people, but let’s take baby steps!
You can always mix in some classic Spanish-language shows from Netflix. A few of our picks:
- “Made in Mexico,” a reality show about the elite of Mexico City.
- “Money Heist” from Spain.
- “Velvet.” This six-season soap opera is set in mid-1900s Spain. It has some older words that are no longer commonly used, but it’s the best plot that I’ve seen so far on Netflix’s Spanish-language TV shows.
- “La Reina del Sur” is another soap opera (Mexican telenovela) that has gotten RAVE reviews from Fluency Corp clients.
- “Ingobernable” is about the first lady of Mexico finding out the truth about her late husband. (Good stuff!)
These shows will keep you so entertained that you just might forget you’re watching in Spanish. But remember, at least some of your viewing should be without subtitles. If you don’t train those ears, you’ll just be learning to read in Spanish. (And that’s the easy part!).
One more thing to remember: While watching videos and TV shows can help you learn Spanish faster, you won’t learn how to speak the language without having conversations. We recommend two hours per week with a Spanish instructor to practice what you’ve learned so that you can collaborate better with your Spanish-speaking or Latino employees or coworkers. This world is global now, let’s get prepared for it and connect better with those around us. Looking for a Spanish language training program for yourself or for employees at your company? Contact us for a free consultation: [email protected] or (800) 401-3159.