Learn Spanish by Watching Movies: 8 Terrific Tips and 10 Recommendations
If you need a break from going to class or reading a book, there’s nothing better than learning Spanish by watching movies.
It allows you to hear the language in real time, usually in the form of casual conversational speech, and it introduces you to cultural aspects of the region where the movie is from.
Besides, it’s fun!
So if you want to learn Spanish with movies, start right here with these eight study tips for learners of all levels. Then, check out one of the recommended movies below!
- 8 Tips for Learning Spanish by Watching Movies
- 1. Watch a movie you’ve already seen in your language.
- 2. Focus on short segments with only one or two voices.
- 3. Choose movies you enjoy.
- 4. Watch Spanish-language originals.
- 5. Pair up with another Spanish learner.
- 6. Take your time, and re-watch scenes.
- 7. Practice the movie’s dialogue.
- 8. Look up new words (and review them!).
- 10 Films for Learning Spanish
8 Tips for Learning Spanish by Watching Movies
1. Watch a movie you’ve already seen in your language.
If you’re already familiar with the plot of a movie, it will be easier to follow it in another language. This is a great way to start learning Spanish with films. Find a Spanish version of your favorite movie and give it a watch!
I suggest watching the movie in Spanish with subtitles in English first. Even though subtitles are usually a summary of what actors are really saying, they help you get the gist of it. You’re still exposing yourself to Spanish audio, even if it’s not your sole focus.
This allows for comprehension of the spoken Spanish and makes it easier to learn new Spanish words.
It also gives you a leg up when learning new grammar structures. When you know a bit of the dialogue in English, you can see how the grammar changes when translating to Spanish. Then, you can better incorporate that into your own Spanish usage.
Once you’re ready, turn off the subtitles. I suggest doing this in segments, particularly the first time you try it. Watching a whole movie in Spanish might be overwhelming, so split it up.
But which part do you start with? Read on!
2. Focus on short segments with only one or two voices.
Not only are there many variations of pronunciation and intonation in different Spanish-speaking countries, but every person also has their own way of speaking.
Because of that, jumping into a conversation with many speakers may be a little frustrating, particularly if you’re expecting to understand every single word that everyone is saying.
So when you’re ready to turn off those subtitles, look for a part of the movie where only one person is talking. Remember: you don’t have to do this in order!
Go ahead and skip to the dramatic monologue at the very end of the film, or a part smack-dab in the middle of the flick. You’ve already watched it, so you won’t be spoiling it for yourself. And most importantly, it will help you follow along.
3. Choose movies you enjoy.
Watching movies is fun, so it follows that it’s also fun to learn Spanish by watching movies! Best of all, because it’s fun, you’ll want to watch more often, which will help you continue to improve your Spanish.
So make sure to choose movies you actually like. If you’re a fan of comedies, throw on some funny movies. If you like thrillers, watch those. You don’t have to watch that sappy, romantic story just because it’s a classic.
And let’s say you start watching a movie in Spanish and discover that you absolutely hate it. It’s okay to abandon it!
Just because you started the movie doesn’t mean you have to continue it. If one film isn’t enjoyable for you, find another that is. You’ll learn more!
4. Watch Spanish-language originals.
Watching a movie you’ve already seen in your own language is definitely a great strategy to start your Spanish film viewing. But don’t forget to watch movies that were actually filmed in Spanish too!
You might be studying “standard” Spanish, but remember that Spanish is spoken in many different countries. Just like with English (and other languages), Spanish has local variants, even though they may be subtle.
Watching Spanish-language originals will help you learn regional variations of Spanish. Each film is influenced by the country it comes from. If you have a target country, you can select movies from there to improve your understanding of how Spanish is spoken in that part of the world.
Here’s something else to keep in mind. Each Latin American nation speaks its own type of Spanish, but in general they have more similarities with each other than they have with Castilian Spanish (the “original” variety spoken in Spain), where vocabulary diverges quite a bit.
No matter which country’s movies you decide to watch, Spanish-language originals will help you learn authentic Spanish since these movies are meant to appeal to native speakers.
5. Pair up with another Spanish learner.
Although these are tips are perfect for working through a movie on your own, it wouldn’t hurt to get with a friend who’s in the same situation as you.
They may catch those words, phrases or key points you miss, and vice versa. You can both help each other when you get lost!
Further, this person can be your partner for roleplaying movie dialogues (see tip seven!).
6. Take your time, and re-watch scenes.
While briefly mentioned before, this truly deserves its own spot on the list.
Language students often get overwhelmed by entire movies, especially if they’re long. After all, watching a film in a foreign language can involve a lot of thinking.
Don’t hesitate to break a movie into segments to make it less daunting. Try watching just 15 minutes at a time.
Better yet, take time to re-watch your favorite parts! Not only is this fun, it will also help you remember the lines. Then, you can…
7. Practice the movie’s dialogue.
Once you’ve watched a scene enough times, try repeating the dialogue out loud. You can pause the movie to speak at your own pace.
It might feel at first like you’re just making fun of the actors. But hey, mocking them might be the secret to matching the original pronunciation and intonation of the Spanish dialogue!
Once you’ve done this a few times, try “talking” to the movie. For example, choose a role in the dialogue. After you learn it, pause the movie and say each line before the actor does, then listen to the line and check how close you got.
Finished with one character? Change roles. You can also try recording your part and then comparing it to the movie. Or practice with a friend!
8. Look up new words (and review them!).
The most effective way to learn from movies is to watch them actively. Be prepared to pause the movie to look up unfamiliar words.
You don’t have to understand every word of the film, but if a particular word is used often, it will be easier to just look it up. Write these words down and review them on a regular basis.
If you’ve ever tried watching a Spanish movie as someone who’s still learning the language, this can be pretty time-consuming! It might seem like you spend more time pausing the video and checking a dictionary than actually practicing your Spanish.
One study tool that works for this is FluentU, a language learning platform that combines authentic Spanish media with interactive subtitles.
As you watch a movie clip or trailer on FluentU, you can hover over any word in the Spanish subtitles to see its definition. Click on it to get more information and add it to your flashcard deck. You can even see other videos that use the word for additional context. The program shows you what tense, mood, gender, person and number the word is, then lets you see the same form in other FluentU videos.
Dual subtitles are available in English and Spanish, and the app includes a detailed and contextual video dictionary that includes example sentences with audio. To help you actually retain these words, FluentU uses adaptive flashcard reviews and personalized quizzes, which include speaking and typing practice.
FluentU is available in your browser, but there’s also an Android app and an iOS app.
10 Films for Learning Spanish
This movie from 2016 follows the story of three African American mathematicians who worked at NASA during the beginning of the space program. These women played a vital role as the US raced to be the first country in space. Best of all, it’s based on a true story!
Because “Hidden Figures” was originally released in English, you may already be familiar with it. It’s been dubbed in Spanish (which you can check for on any film listed on Amazon by looking at the “Product details” section of the movie’s page). So, you can try using tip number one here!
This 2011 movie is great for lower-level Spanish learners. The story is set at an elderly care facility, and the dialogue is often slow and clearly enunciated.
Two old men begin an entertaining friendship and often discuss their living situation, food, family and hobbies. So many movies focus on young protagonists, and “Arrugas” is a great reminder that getting old is just another adventure.
“Caballos salvajes” (Wild Horses)
In this 1995 movie, 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.
This comedy and crime film will keep you entertained with its unlikely friendships and drama.
“7 años” (7 Years)
This 2016 Netflix original uses Castilian Spanish. Four friends must decide who will do the time for the crime they committed together, while the other three remain free.
Watch their debates as they prepare to vote on who’s going to jail, all while learning some legal and financial Spanish vocabulary.
“Esperando al Mesías” (Waiting for the Messiah)
This 2000 movie focuses on Ariel, a young Jewish man. As his life intertwines with people outside his faith, he questions his beliefs and lifestyle.
Most of the characters are young people from Buenos Aires, though Ariel’s boss is a native from Spain, so you’ll be hearing some authentic accents.
“Cambio de ruta” (Change of Route)
In this Mexican comedy from 2014, Nicté is the best tour guide both at his company and the Riviera Maya in general. His tours are original and full of adventures that his guests will remember forever.
When the company is bought out by an international corporation, Nicté decides to open his own tour company. He also decides to compete in a magazine competition for greater recognition in the tourism industry—only to find he’s competing against his old company.
“Made in Argentina”
This story of two Argentine families reflects the situation in Argentina around 1987 (when the movie was made). One family goes to the US as political refugees, while the other remains in Argentina despite the difficult financial situation.
A few years later, the “American” family returns for a visit and considers staying. But the other option is to take the other family with them to the US and follow “the American dream.”
“No se aceptan devoluciones” (Instructions Not Included)
This 2013 drama/comedy is a Spanish-language film that offers both Spanish and English subtitles. When a man’s unexpected baby is left at his front door, he takes off to find the mother.
Instead, he finds himself raising his daughter and trying to provide a good life for her. Until six years later, that is, when the girl’s mother reappears.
(Note that the English title is “Instructions Not Included,” though the actual meaning of the Spanish title is “returns not accepted.”)
“Nueve reinas” (Nine Queens)
Two con-men trying to make a living think they’ve struck gold when a big scheme falls right into their laps in this 2000 crime drama.
Even if you can’t follow every word, you can probably follow the tricks of these con-men, because they’re typical of any big city crook. If you’re already familiar with the “trick” they’re pulling, that will help you make more sense of the dialogues.
“Cohen vs. Rosi”
This is a 1998 romantic comedy involving an Italian and a Jewish Argentine family, and it can be pretty grotesque.
A rich man tries to break into the world of politics and ends up pitted against a television editor. His son, a journalist, investigates him.
This is a great film for Argentine slang. Such words often come from the language of immigrants. Here, you’ll find slang that originally came from Italians and Jews but today is part of everyday speech in Argentina.
Again, don’t worry if you don’t get absolutely everything. Practice makes perfect.
Now, sit back, relax and enjoy learning Spanish with movies!