What’s the best unconventional way to learn Spanish?
If you need a break from going to class or reading a book, there’s nothing better than learning Spanish through movies.
Why Learn Spanish Through Movies and Films?
Why learn Spanish through movies?
Here are three reasons:
- Movies are just plain fun. You can reserve them for times when you’re just too tired to do anything else.
- Movies tend to use natural conversational Spanish. This is different from other sources of Spanish like books or news.
- Also, movies are a great way to become culturally fluent. Being able to talk about a famous Spanish movie is a great way to connect with Spanish friends.
So you want to learn Spanish with movies – where to start?
9 Tips for Learning Spanish with Movies and Film
1. Watch a movie you have seen in your language.
If you are already familiar with the plot, you will not worry about missing anything. I suggest watching the movie a few times with the subtitles in English first. Even though subtitles are usually a summary of what actors are really saying, it helps you get the gist of it. At the same time, you are exposing yourself to the Spanish audio, even if it’s not your priority at this point.
Once you are ready, deactivate the subtitles. I suggest doing this by segments, particularly the first time you see it. Watching a whole movie in Spanish might be overwhelming.
2. Focus on short segments where there is only one voice (or two at the most).
Not only are there many of variations of pronunciation and intonation in the different Spanish speaking countries, but each person also has his or her own way of speaking. This said, jumping into a conversation with many speakers may turn out to be a little frustrating (particularly if you are expecting to understand every single word that everyone is saying).
3. Don’t feel like you “have to” watch a movie you dislike.
You should definitely find something of interest to you in the movie, whether it’s the plot, the actors, the atmosphere…even the music. Otherwise, you’ll just suffer through it as you probably did when you took traditional classes.
4. Stick to one country.
At some point you must have wondered whether the Spanish you are hearing is “real” Spanish or a dialect. Well, remember that Spanish is spoken in many different countries. Just as it happens with English, there are local variants—though the differences are not so great that they become dialects. If you are American, you can understand an Australian, but you don’t speak like him. The same happens with Spanish.
Therefore, one suggestion that could help is this: stick to movies from one particular country first. After you feel comfortable with that local variety of Spanish, “move” to another country. Each Latin American nation speaks its own variety of Spanish, but in general they have more similarities with each other than any they have with Castilian Spanish (the “original” variety spoken in Spain).
The latter has a more differences in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. And when it comes to vocabulary, the main differences are in words for foods, clothes…and curses! Other than that, there are more similarities than differences.
5. Pair up.
Although these are tips to work through a movie on your own, it wouldn’t hurt to get together with a friend who is in your same situation. He or she can supply those words/phrases/key points you missed, and you can help each other when either of you gets lost! Moreover, this person can be your partner to role play the dialogues you already learned by heart when using tip number 3.
6. Watch “Terminator”…in Spanish.
Watching a Latin American or Spanish movie will also help you learn about the culture. However, at first it might be helpful to watch your favorite movie in English by choosing the Spanish audio option.
That way, you’d be enjoying a movie you feel totally comfortable with, and at the same time you’d be learning how to say in Spanish those lines you already knew by heart in English. Famous movies like “Ghost” (“La sombra del amor”) and “Brokeback Mountain” (“Secreto en la montaña” or “En terreno vedado”) are often available in Spanish.
7. Listen to a line, pause, repeat, and go back a few times.
Sometimes you may feel like you are making fun of the actors. But mocking them might be just the secret to get closer to the original pronunciation and intonation of Spanish. Once you’ve done this a few times, you can try “talking” to the movie.
For example, choose a role in the dialogue. After you learn that role, pause and say each line before it’s said in the movie. Then, listen to the original line and check how close you got. Change roles. You can also try recording your part and then compare it to the movie’s.
8. Look up new words and review them.
If you’re up for it, the most effective way to learn from movies is to actually take the time to look words up, write them down, and review them on a regular basis. It’s not a simple hack, but it works.
Tips 7 and 8 are effective, but you’ll spend a lot of time and energy. If you’d like to be more efficient with this, and are open to watching other kinds of videos, you might want to check out our video-based Spanish learning site FluentU, which was designed to address exactly this problem.
FluentU helps you learn Spanish through movie trailers, commercials, news and inspiring talks. It does this through interactive transcripts and by turning videos into language learning lessons.
Recommended Classics to Learn Spanish with Movies
As I mentioned in tip number 6, it would be very helpful to start with one particular country first so that you train your ear to that accent, intonation, and speed. In my classes, I have successfully used the following Argentine movies:
“Caballos salvajes” (“Wild Horses”). (Drama, action.) In this 1995 film, a young “yuppie” and a retired old man make an odd couple in what ends up being a road trip to escape justice and find their destinies. The young man is a cool social climber, while the old man is his exact opposite: an old-fashioned anarchist whose ideals never materialized. These differences are reflected in the way they speak.
“Esperando al Mesías” (“Waiting for the Mesiah”, 2000). (Drama) Here you can watch the trailer of this movie that focuses on a Jewish young man as his life intertwines with people outside his faith while he questions his beliefs and life style. Most of the characters are young people from Buenos Aires, while Ariel’s boss is a native from Spain.
“Made in Argentina” (1987). (Drama) The story of two Argentine families that reflects the situation in Argentina at the time. One family goes to the United States as political refuges; the other remains in Argentina despite the difficult financial situation. After a few years, the now “American” family returns for a visit and may consider a definite come-back.
The other option to consider is taking the other family back to the USA with them, to fulfill “the American dream”. Here, there is a contrast between the more “refined” Spanish of the family that lives in the States and the language of the working class family of a car mechanic who has always lived in the same neighborhood and uses a more colloquial, lower-standard Argentine Spanish.
“Nueve reinas” (2000). (Criminal). Here is the trailer for this Argentine blockbuster that had its Hollywood version in 2004. Two conmen trying to make a living think they have struck gold when a big scheme falls right into their laps. Some of the tricks they try to fool people with are clear, even if you can’t follow every word, because they are typical of any big city crook. If you are already familiar with the “trick,” that will help you understand the dialogues.
“Cohen vs. Rossi” (1998). (Comedy). This is a grotesque comedy involving an Italian and a Jewish Argentine family. Many slang words in Argentine Spanish come from the language of immigrants. Here are samples of the slang that originally came from Italians and Jews but are today part of everyday speech in Argentina.
And finally: sit back, relax, and enjoy! Don’t worry if you don’t get absolutely everything. Patience makes perfect. Remember the computer or the DVD player never get tired of repeating words a thousand times for you. And if watching movies is something you enjoy anyway, you won’t get tired either, and you’ll end up learning lots of new words and expressions!
And One More Thing…
If you like learning Spanish through movies, then you’ll love FluentU. FluentU takes real-world videos like music videos, commercials, news, and inspiring talks and turns them into Spanish learning experiences. FluentU is designed for you to become familiarized with everyday Spanish, by combining all the benefits of total immersion and native level conversations with easy-to-read subtitles.
FluentU has a wide variety of videos—topics like soccer, TV shows, business, movies and even magical realism, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native Spanish videos within reach with interactive captions. Missed a word? Tap on the captions to instantly view definitions and useful examples.
And FluentU isn’t just videos—it’s a complete language learning program. Learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s Learn Mode. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re learning. You’ll be able to create vocab lists and track your progress as you progress through video after video.
The best part? FluentU keeps track of your vocabulary, and it recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. You have a 100% personalized experience.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.