When I was in high school, Spanish was really the only foreign language option for me.
I had maps of Spain and Cuba and all the countries of South America.
I was excited to go abroad and experience a world so much bigger than anything I had seen before. I imagined countless opportunities to put my Spanish to use in a new culture…
If I could just get there somehow.
So how did I cope with this impulse when I was too young to get up and go?
Travel shows. I was dazzled by this on-screen substitute for real-life travel and it only helped my love of Spanish and Spanish-speaking cultures grow.
You can give your students the same experience in the Spanish classroom with Spanish culture videos. These videos are a great way to show them all the rich, diverse experiences that speaking Spanish offers.
Thanks to high quality programming that is available online, you can easily augment your teaching with Spanish culture videos that add significant value to your lesson plans.
Here are some points to consider while deciding which videos might work for you, followed by five great sites for endless culture video viewing.
The Value of Videos in Your Classroom
Successful Spanish teachers incorporate lots of different modes of learning into their lesson plans, including Spanish culture videos. But what kind of value do Spanish culture videos actually offer you and your students? Here are three ways that these videos can improve your students’ knowledge and appreciation of Spanish and Spanish-language cultures.
- Videos introduce students to cultural imagery that will draw them closer to the language. Students sometimes choose to learn Spanish because something about Spanish-speaking cultures captures their imaginations. Perhaps they dream of riding horses in the Pampas or swimming off the coast of the Canary Islands, and they imagine themselves mastering Spanish as a way to facilitate their explorations later in life.
On the flip side, these videos can increase students’ interest in the Spanish language if they are not inherently drawn towards it. Culture lessons make the language feel more relevant and interactive, and can inspire deeper commitments to studying Spanish once students see the places they can go with it.
- Videos allow teachers to “flip the classroom.” Flipping the classroom is a teaching strategy that is focused on getting students involved in their own learning. Assign a Spanish culture video assignment for homework—ask students to view it and bring in interesting observations, questions or a written response to class the next day—and you have an exciting lesson plan just waiting to be developed.
Assign different videos about the same culture topic to different students and turn the teaching over to teams. Group work has never had the potential to be so productive!
- Videos add variety to your teaching, which ensures student engagement. Students have a lot going on in their lives, whether they are youngsters learning how to sit still, high schoolers juggling a heavy course load or older students trying to make the most of a busy schedule. So how do you compete with all that to hold their attention?
Culture videos create educational “breaks” between grammar drills and vocabulary practice. They present information in a colorful, eye-grabbing way in a medium your students are likely already very comfortable with. And they instantly bring diversity to your lessons without tons of planning or prep time.
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What Kinds of Videos Can Work for Your Students?
The internet has a lot to offer when it comes to Spanish culture videos, so deciding which ones work best for you and your students might take a little experimenting. Here are some considerations you might want to weigh while exploring Spanish culture videos.
- Animated vs. non-animated: Many students will remember the cartoons they enjoyed as a child when presented with an animated educational video, and this emotional resonance is a good thing. Animated videos also often simplify a complex topic into cute and accessible figures and landscapes that will capture students’ attention.
On the other hand, videos that are not animated offer students the opportunity to observe places and people in real-life contexts. They bring to life situations and scenes that might only exist in students’ imaginations.
- Videos in Spanish vs. videos in English: As students gain fluency, Spanish culture videos in Spanish can only be a good thing. Sure, students might feel a little overwhelmed at first, but gradually, as their ears adjust and their brains become attuned to the cadence and sounds of Spanish, they will enjoy the challenge of being immersed in Spanish.
But some culture videos in English are also valuable when used in moderation. Beginning Spanish students will enjoy the gradual exposure to all things Spanish that can take place with videos in English, while more advanced students will benefit from the factual knowledge they can quickly pick up with videos in English.
- Language education videos vs. authentic Spanish videos: Spanish culture videos that have been designed with students in mind are great for reinforcing subjects like conversational skills and pronunciation. For example, a video that has been scripted to show students how Spanish greetings work in an informal party setting can be a helpful model to students practicing conversational Spanish through role-plays or group assignments.
Spanish videos for a native audience, however, offer students a more naturalistic experience with language and culture. They let students see how actual Spanish speakers engage with one another in a variety of relevant, real-life situations.
5 Online Resources for Spanish Culture Videos
Videos in Spanish
This resource offers subscribers realistic scripted videos in Spanish, with optional subtitles in English. It is particularly helpful for learning basic vocabulary for everyday interactions.
LinguaTV uses professional actors who incorporate accurate body language, facial expressions and other physical mannerisms into their exchanges, which provides structured exposure to everyday Spanish interactions. For example, one video about introductions focuses on young people who meet at a salsa dancing event—the music, setting and acting offer students cultural information that enhances the relevance of the vocabulary.
As well, LinguaTV offers free access to many of their videos on their YouTube channel.
LinguaTV’s videos come with interactive exercises that offer students opportunities to apply what they have learned. Quizzes and games make up the bulk of these practice opportunities, so students can test themselves in an low-pressure environment.
If you are interested in flipping your classroom, you might think about viewing a video or two yourself on YouTube before assigning students the same LinguaTV videos. Then in class the next day, students can play the practice games individually or in groups before you evaluate what they have learned with a quiz.
So, we have mentioned all the great benefits of using video in the Spanish classroom. But it is easy to get nervous about students spacing out, or thinking that the videos are less important than traditional worksheets and lectures. FluentU eliminates that issue.
Each video comes with interactive captions, so students can click any word for an instant definition, native pronunciation and visual learning aid. They might not even realize that they are learning new words while they watch the fun videos. There are also flashcards and exercises tailor-made for each video so students remember what they have learned when they are done watching.
If you are flipping your classroom during your actual class meeting time, you can assign groups of students different videos according to ability and interest in a particular topic. FluentU makes it easy by organizing the videos based on learning level and genre (including “Culture”). Then the students can watch the videos in class and prepare a mini-group presentation for their classmates or a whole lesson plan if you would like to give students more independence.
As an educator, you will appreciate that FluentU comes with built-in progress tracking, curriculum building and student communication tools. Plus, the opportunities for cultural exploration are wide-ranging. There are videos covering everything from idioms of Spain, to dedicated soccer fans, to a fried plantain cooking lesson.
Check out the full video library before your next class with the FluentU free trial.
This free resource offers dozens of videos on Latin American culture and history. You can toggle between English and Spanish versions of the website and the videos themselves. Video subjects include the Spanish-American war, interviews with authors, immigration from Mexico and more.
The site also has lots of informative reading material, and even provides educators with ready-made lesson plans and activities you can incorporate into your classes. The lesson plans were created for grades seven through 12 but can be adapted to other age groups.
For younger classes, PBS offers an interactive Spanish-learning site called “Oh Noah!” with tons of videos. Noah’s series introduces students to a child who finds himself in a community that speaks no English and he learns best when he makes mistakes. These gentle and entertaining videos are a great way to show students different ways to connect with Spanish and to develop an emotional relationship with what they are learning.
Videos in English
This free resource contains a wide variety of naturalistic culture videos, covering everything from the geography of Patagonia to the Mexican Day of the Dead. The collection of videos are not specifically designed for education nor for Spanish learners, but a wide variety of cultural lessons awaits. Best of all, every single video on this site has been curated to ensure all videos are suitable for children, even though the videos were not necessarily designed with children in mind.
Before designing your overall curriculum or a section of your lesson plan that covers a large chunk of your calendar, invest a little time searching through the variety of available videos to see if anything catches your interest. Because this resource is organized for a wide audience of users, not just educators and their students, the videos best suited for your lessons may not be the first ones that come up when you try a search.
For example, if your learning objective addresses a point about South American geography, you will find several cultural videos available about different natural features like a Chilean volcano or a Bolivian salt flat that might guide your lesson planning. Checking them out in advance for inspiration is a great way to make sure you are able to use the video to its best potential (and to ensure that viewing the video in class does not feel random or unattached to your curriculum).
This free YouTube series packages tidy explanations of historical events into short, entertaining animated videos designed for classroom and home use. Brothers Hank Green and John Green have created many 10- to 15-minute videos on all subjects, so search for the culture or history topic you need by clicking the magnifying glass on the YouTube channel page.
This resource is popular with kids of middle school and high school ages, thanks to its use of humor and fun animations, and they are also popular with teachers thanks to the well-researched content that is easy for students to understand and digest.
When preparing to teach your students about the background of a particular work of art, look to Crash Course for a clip to illuminate historical details. For example, accompany a lesson about the importance of Felipe II to Spanish history with a visual from the Museo del Prado and the Crash Course about the rise and fall of the Spanish Empire. This combination of visuals will make for a memorable history and culture lesson for your students.
So there you have it: five online resources that provide you and your students with high-quality Spanish culture videos. Good luck with your lesson planning and enjoy the video viewing!
Lynn Ramsson is an educator who enjoys working with students of all ages. She has taught in Virginia and California, and now, she writes from the south coast of England where she lives with her family. She travels to Spain as often as she can, in search of the perfect gambas al ajillo.
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