At this particular time, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, you may find yourself with a lot of extra time on your hands at home. While you could easily let that slip away, we would encourage you to take advantage of this time to improve your Spanish skills! There are so many ways you can practice your Spanish skills, no matter what your currently level is. We have already talked about reading in Spanish, going to intercambios, and other ways to pick up the language. However, we know that everyone is different and some people prefer watching TV and movies over activities—especially when you’re stuck at home. That’s why, today, we want to talk about how you can learn Spanish by engaging with 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 are said and put together to form sentences. Personally, we find that when you can see how people’s lips and faces move when communicating it helps you imitate this in your real life (helping you seem more fluent when you speak that language). And while we 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.
In the following video Dani summarizes three easy tips for watching TV in Spanish. If you are someone who prefers simple and to-the-point, check out this short video we’ve put together. For further explanations and details, read on for our top tips that will help you get to most out of your video sessions:
Here are our top tips for getting to most out of your video sessions:
1. Watch videos in the original version: And not dubbed ones. There are many people who don’t actually mind dubbed versions, but they can really mess with other’s brains when the shapes peoples’ mouths make don’t actually fit the sounds coming out of them. In addition, watching videos in the original version helps you connect to the actor him/herself and allows 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: Claudia once watched part of the dubbed version of Django Unchained in a class here and felt terrible for her 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 their learning because they will be too busy reading to follow along with the dialog. However, we feel that watching with subtitles in the language you are learning (or even your native language if you are a real beginner) can help you catch things you might not get otherwise. It can help imprint in your mind the correct prepositions, verb tenses, and expressions to use in certain situations. It can also help you check that your understanding is as good as you think it is and warn you when you need help following the plot.
So, how would we personally recommend that you integrate videos into your language learning plan? We 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 (castellaño) and Spanish found in other Spanish-speaking countries (even within Spain there can be some pretty big differences). WE 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 us, 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!’ We 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.
Pro-Tip: One thing to be aware of is that subtitles will not always be done in the dialect of Spanish that the audio of the film uses. That is to say, although you may be watching a movie made in Spain (in which the actors use castellaño grammar and expressions), you may find that the subtitles were done in more of a Latin American-style (ie. using ustedes forms instead of vosotros or different vocabulary). While this can be frustrating, you have two options—you can embrace it as another layer of your learning experience or you can simply turn them off if it bothers you too much (that’s what Dani does).
Tv shows as an everyday/weekly thing:
We like to think of TV as a way to become integrated into a long-term relationship with a cast of characters. Because 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 on a regular basis, you will be able to follow the story a bit more easily (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 Merlí (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.
One final consideration is that many of these shows can be found on Netflix and other streaming services (including Spain’s RTVE, read more about that resource and others here), making the long-term commitment more ‘bingeable.’ While we understand that you may be choosing TV over movies in order to get in your language-learning in smaller doses, there is something exciting about getting so hooked on a show in a foreign language that you forget it’s an educational experience and just want to hit next and continue being entertained.
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:
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. We subscribe to the theory that, as long as you are enjoying it, you can learn! So choose something that strikes your fancy and go with it.
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, we love food and cooking, so have been know to get stuck down the rabbit hole of watching cooking videos on Instagram.
Loving these ideas, but just not sure where to get started? Not to fear, we’ve put together two additional articles for you looking into language-learning through entertainment as well as specific resources we’d recommend for such language-learning, with suggestions based on your current level of Spanish!
Alternatively, if this hasn’t motivated you to start watching things in Spanish, maybe you should pick up a book—we’ve recommended our favorites here—or start listening to music to practice your language skills! The important thing is to find an activity you genuinely enjoy, then it can stop feeling like Spanish practice and start feeling fun! Let us know what you’re loving in the comments.