Language Learning: Watching T.V. or Movies

Dear Edward,

While your tv might not look like this any more, any way of watching videos can help you improve your language skills.

While your tv might not look like this any more, any way of watching videos can help you improve your language skills.

There are so many ways you can practice your Spanish skills, both before you get here and once you have arrived. We have already talked about reading in Spanish, going to intercambios, and other ways to pick up the language. But I know that everyone is different and some people prefer watching tv and movies over activities like reading, so today, we want to talk about how you can learn Spanish by what you see on your tv screen (or computer).

Video is such a good resource because, if you use it correctly, you can get sound—good for pronunciation and understanding skills—while being able to visually see how certain words sound and are put together to form sentences. Maybe it is because I am slightly deaf, but I find that being able to see how people’s lips and faces move when communicating really help me imitate this in my real life (helping me seem more fluent when I talk). And while I know that not everyone learns and grows in the same way, if you are an audio/visual person, video might be one of the best methods for you to improve your language skills. Here are my top tips for getting to most out of your video sessions:

  1. Watch videos in the original version: And not dubbed ones. I know there are many people who don’t actually mind dubbed versions, but it really messes with my brain, so I guess I assume it messes with other people too when the shapes peoples mouths make don’t actually fit the sounds coming out of them. In addition, watching videos in the original version help you connect to the actor him/herself and allow you to get a good feel for the person they are playing (as opposed to dubbed voices that might not fit the role as well).

    Note: I one time watched part of the dubbed version of Django Unchained in a class here and I felt terrible for my classmates who had probably never heard the real (powerful) voices of the actors and just knew the “Spanish interpretation” of them.

  2. Feel free to use subtitles: In Spanish, of course. People are often afraid that using subtitles will diminish your learning because you will be too busy reading to follow along with the dialog. However, I feel like watching with subtitles in the language (or even your language if you are a real beginner) help you catch things you might not get otherwise. They can also help you check that your understanding is as good as you think it is and warn you when you need help to stick to the plot.

Couple watching movies together. Photo by on Pexels.

So, how would I personally recommend that you integrate videos into your language learning plan? I have three suggestions for you:

Movies as periodic boost:

Movies are great because they are kind of like a short-term commitment to practicing your Spanish skills—you only have to make it a couple of hours before you can you take a break. There are so many Spanish and Latin American movies that are now available, you won’t have to worry about not having nothing to watch.

At the same time, keep in mind that there is a difference between Spanish Spanish and Spanish found in other Spanh-speaking countries (even within Spain there can be some pretty big differences). I bring this up because even when you are understanding the people around you REALLY WELL, it can be difficult to get the gist of people who are from different regions. So, be patient with yourself and chalk it up to the learning process—trust me, sooner or later you will be able to get most of what is going on no matter who is speaking.

If you are specifically interested in Spanish directors, we have talked about Pedro Almodóvar, as he is probably the most famous internationally, however, there are many more! Check out other directors such as Alejandro Amenábar, Juan Antonio García Bayona, Álex de la Iglesia, and Isabel Coixet. Also, consider taking a look at films that are classics such as the Pelota Vasca, Torrente, Los Lunes al Sol, El Laberinto del Fauna, La Piel que Habito, and Lo Imposible. And don’t reject Latin American films because the Spanish is ‘different!’ I find that many times they pronounce things more clearly and are easier to follow, making this a great way to embark on your language learning journey.

Netflix screen. Photo by Charles 🇵🇭 on Unsplash

Tv shows as an everyday/weekly thing:

When I think about tv, I think of it as a way to become integrated into a long-term relationship with a cast of characters. Because tv series are usually shorter sessions that are made available once or twice a week, it is a bit more of a commitment to practice your Spanish this way. At the same time, by watching a couple of times a week/month, you will be able to follow the story a bit easier (even if you don’t pick up on all the details). In addition, by listening to the same actors, you will increase your ability to understand them as you adapt to their accents and mannerisms.

In Spain they are not as famous for dramatic soap operas as in Latin America, but they do love their series! Some of the most popular are: La Casa de Papel, Los Seranos, Las Chicas del Cable, El Internado, and Merli (although this one is Catalan so if you watch it in Spanish it will be dubbed). In addition to being entertaining, these shows will oftentimes help you connect to what is going on in Spanish culture and keep you updated on the styles and norms here.

Other ways to get video into your life:

Movies and tv are no longer the only ways to access videos in your day-to-day life. If you really want to practice, there are now more options than ever to help you get access to audio/visual practice. Some of the ones that I think are useful are:

Playing video games. Photo by on StockSnap
  • YouTube: These days you can find almost anything you are looking for on YouTube—from makeup tutorials to streaming songs this platform (and others like it) can help you find videos on things that interest you. My personal theory is that, as long as you are enjoying it, you can learn! So choose something that strikes your fancy and go with it.

    Note: I have a friend who swears he learned English this way and he speaks really (REALLY) good English.

  • News/Sports: If you are a person that likes to regularly watch the news or sports games/commentaries, this is a great opportunity for you to switch languages once in awhile and practice some Spanish. And if you are living with a host family or with Spanish flatmates, you can almost always count on them having the news or games on during meals. Take advantage of this and see what new language skills you can pick up!

  • Instagram: Like YouTube, Instagram is a great resource for finding audio/visual content in another language. We highly recommend checking out one of our collaborators Your Spanish Guide who is a Spanish teacher and also think it is worthwhile to follow feeds that interest you. For example, I love food and cooking, so I have been know to get stuck down the rabbit hole of watching cooking videos on Instagram.

If this hasn’t motivated you to start watching things in Spanish, maybe you should pick up a book or start listening to music to practice your language skills! Let us know what you’re loving in the comments.