Learning Spanish on Netflix: 7 Binge-worthy Shows en Español Posted by Jakob Gibbons on Nov 23, 2015 in Learning
Are you an unashamed Netflix addict? Has your binge-watching habit become a live experiment to test just how long a human being can go without sleep? Don’t worry, you’ve got an excuse now: you’re just working on your Spanish.
I’ve only recently discovered the supreme bliss known as a Netflix subscription, and needless to say, my last several weeks have seen some intense binge sessions. That’s partly because a good documentary or reruns of my favorite 90s shows sounds like a perfect way to spend a Monday night. But it’s also because I realized I can use Netflix for language learning.
Last week on the Language News blog, I shared a post on the reasons you should definitely be using television to give your language learning a leg up. In short, this is because your brain requires massive amounts of data to really learn a language, and watching TV is one of the most efficient and enjoyable ways for the average learner to gather up all that data.
So if you love chilling out in front of the tube, and you love learning Spanish… you see where I’m going here!
For the Netflix-addicted Spanish learners out there, Netflix and other streaming services are full of Spanish-language programming. But before you jump into your binge session, a few important tips about using TV to supplement your language learning:
- Using subtitles in your native language is cheating! Rather than aid your learning, all it does is compete with the target language for your brain’s attention, and your mother tongue is always gonna win that battle.
- But using subtitles in the target language is not! Spanish-language subtitles over Spanish audio, rather than competing for your attention, work together to enhance the mental connections you form between the spoken words, written captions, and the images on the screen. All the programs in the list below have Spanish subtitles available.
- Listening is way harder in a foreign language, so make sure there are minimal auditory distractions in your binge-watching environment. When listening to a language I’m not yet super comfortable in, I always wear headphones, for extra clarity and zero background noise.
- Warming up is also hard. Ever notice how the first two or three minutes of a Spanish conversation are sometimes just a painful struggle to understand even the main ideas? That’s because your brain needs a chance to warm up. Try reading a Spanish article on Wikipedia before watching if your Spanish listening skills aren’t super developed yet.
With these tips in mind, here are 7 shows on Netflix that you can use to practice Spanish without even getting off the couch:
I started watching this show while researching for this post and I’m already hooked. It’s like the Spanish Downton Abbey, beautifully produced and with a turn-of-the-century setting. It’s in European Spanish, so Latin American Spanish speakers might need to turn on the Spanish subtitles like I did.
Fancy yourself more the romantic comedy type? Aquí Entre Nos features a familiar plot pattern with a less familiar twist: Dad feels taken for granted by his wife and daughters, so one day decides he just doesn’t feel like going to work anymore. Of course, conflict, drama, and lots of emotions ensue.
Who doesn’t love a good Ted talk? Netflix has got plenty of handy thematic lists of Ted talks available, but this one is the best en español.
If you’ve got Netflix, you’ve probably also been watching Narcos, so why not learn a bit about the show’s historical context? This two-part documentary details the life and times of Colombian druglord Pablo Escobar, offering historical perspectives on the kingpin that you won’t get from the drama series loosely based on his life.
For the traditional sitcom lovers out there, Vecinos might just be your next TV addiction. Three seasons of a suburban family and their neighbors going through the trials and tribulations of daily life: it’s that same old storyline that we for some reason just can’t seem to get enough of.
Disney movies (and just about all other animated shows) on Netflix come available with audio in Spanish! This is a gold mine: if you pick one of your favorite classics, no matter what level your Spanish listening is at, the storyline will be so familiar you probably won’t even need the captions!
How about the universal language of music? This nearly two-hour special gathers some of the best jazz performers from Latin America, featuring not only their music but brief biographical intermissions narrated in Spanish.
*Pro tip: Documentaries and formats like TED talks are among the easiest kinds of speech for learners to understand. Narrators and speakers nearly always use a standard dialect and speak a bit more slowly and a lot more articulately than they would in normal conversational settings.
*Pro tip: Watching animated movies you already know really well in your first language is a great vocabulary builder for beginning to lower-intermediate learners. They’re generally intended for children, so the language use isn’t too complex, and you’ll pick up simple nouns and verbs flawlessly since you already understand the plot.
And the best news is that these are just a few of the many and ever-increasing options for learning Spanish on Netflix. Don’t forget you can also always just click over to Netflix’s Spanish-Language TV Shows section to get started. If you try out one of these titles and enjoy it, make sure to click on ‘more like this’ from the show overview to get started on your next binge session!
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