ultimate guide to spanish immersion with TV shows from spain

The Ultimate Guide to Spanish Immersion with TV Shows from Spain

Are you looking to immerse yourself in Spanish?

Want to be thoroughly entertained while doing so?

Look no further, because we’re going to step right into a warm hot tub of Spanish TV and soak up as much of the gorgeous language as we can.

Perhaps you’ve already watched some passionately dramatic telenovelasand have maybe even trained your ears to identify certain accents, like Chilean or Argentine.

But are you curious to see what Spanish is like on the other side of the pond?

Get ready to dive into the vibrant country that never sleeps, the place where those futbol-crazed fans and tapas-consuming citizens wouldn’t dare eat dinner before 9 p.m.—because we’re going to Spain!

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The Ultimate Guide to Spanish Immersion with TV Shows from Spain

Not only is television in Spain an endless fountain of enjoyment, but you’ll find it’s also a fantastic way to immerse yourself in Spanish.

Why Use Spanish TV to Immerse Yourself in Language?

Here are some of the reasons that watching Spanish TV from Iberia is an effective and fun way to immerse yourself in Spanish.

  • Shorter than movies. Two hours is a decent chunk of time that you might not always have lying around to throw in a Spanish movie, but a half an hour or an hour for a TV show? I bet that’s easier to squeeze in.
  • Sequential. Since TV series use the same characters throughout, you can become familiar with the format of the show, the people, their mannerisms and their way of speaking. This feature of television shows will help you stay engaged by building a connection with the show, and also help with your language learning, as you’ll become familiar with the speaking speed and accents of each character.
  • Learn slang. TV shows are an awesome source for picking up slang or idioms. Spain certainly has different vocabulary and phrases than Latin America, so you’ll hear lots of it in these shows.
  • Spanish culture. Along with colloquial language, you’ll also—perhaps without knowing—pick up bits of Spanish culture just by seeing how people live and act in Spanish TV shows. Sure, you shouldn’t make sweeping generalizations based on everything you see on TV. But the more you watch, the more you’ll start to pick up on interesting details, like the washing machine being in the kitchen and clothes being hung out to dry on a line, or that people say “hasta luego” when leaving an elevator.
  • Entertaining. TV shows are made to entertain, no matter your native language. These shows will engage you and be enjoyable. You can definitely get sucked into a series just like you would in your native language. But when you get drawn into a Spanish TV series, you’re doing your brain a whole lot of good.

Spanish TV shows are clearly an awesome way to immerse yourself in the language and culture of Spain, but how can you be sure you’re absorbing what you should?

8 Tips for Successful Spanish Immersion with TV Shows from Spain

You’ll be even more prepared to watch TV shows from Spain—plus get the most out of them—if you use the following tips.

1. Learn TV-related Spanish words

Before you start watching a show, it’ll be a lot easier navigating websites or TV guides if you know these basic TV-related Spanish words:

las series — TV series

los programas — non-fiction TV programs, like reality, cooking and game shows

(be careful with this word’s gender, because even though it ends in “a,” this noun is actually masculine—so it’s el programa.)

las telenovelas — soap operas

los documentales — documentaries

los capítulos — episodes

las temporadas — TV seasons

And here’s one more for you: if you see something on a site that says “directo” or “en directo,” that’s where you can watch television shows live. That means you’ll see whatever’s being played on that channel in Spain at that particular moment in time.

That sort of page or link is where you might also see the phrase “ahora en emisión” (broadcasting now).

2. Familiarize yourself with Castilian Spanish

The people of Spain speak castellano, which is Castilian Spanish.

For most parts of Spain, this means that you’ll hear the distinción (distinction) between the words with an s versus words spelled with a z or soft c.

For example, casa (house) and caza (hunting) are pronounced differently in Spain. Casa sounds as you’d think it would [KA-sa], while caza is spoken with a th sound instead of s, [KA-tha].

I also mentioned you’ll hear Spaniards say this th sound when there’s a soft c, so what’s that about?

A soft c is formed when a c is followed by i or e, like in the following words:

la canción — the song

la ciudad — the city

gracias — thank you (this is a good one to listen for on TV; you’ll hear it often!)

hacer — to do/make

once — eleven

A hard c, on the other hand, sounds like an English k, and happens when the consonant is followed by an a, o or u. For example:

ca-: cantar (to sing), el camino (the path)

co-co(with), contable (countable)

cu-: la cuenta (the bill), cuándo (when)

In Latin America, the Canary Islands and parts of Andalucía (southern Spain) you won’t hear these s/th differences, though, as both words from the beginning of this section would be pronounced like casa.

But we don’t need to get into the nitty gritty of all these varieties and differences (Google “seseo ceceo distinción” if you want to learn more about this), so we’ll leave it there as far as pronunciation goes.

Do be aware that Spanish vocabulary also differs from that of Latin America.

For example, piso means “apartment” in Spain, but “floor” in Latin America. The verb coger means a harmless “to take/catch” in Spain, as in coger el autobús, whereas in parts of Latin America it can be a vulgar sexual word you shouldn’t utter in public (if used in the wrong context).

You’ll also hear the vosotros form used regularly in Spain, so that’s something else to listen for.

3. Watch online to pause and rewatch

While most of us will have to watch Spanish TV online–due to our unfortunate distance from the Iberian Peninsula–doing so also has great benefits as language learners.

Watching online means you can easily pause a show to digest what’s been said, or even jump back a bit to rewatch certain parts. While you certainly don’t need to understand nor even hear every single word that’s spoken, it can be helpful to go back and rewatch a scene or part when you have no idea what just happened.

4. Find a series you enjoy and follow it through the seasons

Remember when I mentioned earlier that watching TV shows gives you time to become familiar with characters and their voices/personalities? Use that to your advantage!

So, after browsing around and finding a show that you enjoy, start at the first season and stick with it to the end.

The snowball effect of watching a series can happen with Spanish TV, too—like when you breeze through an entire season of “Gilmore Girls” or “How I Met Your Mother” in a single weekend and wonder what you’ve done with your life.

Except, in this case, there’s no need to feel guilty. You were immersing yourself in Spanish!

5. While watching, force yourself to think in Spanish

Spanish TV time is Spanish immersion time, so if you want to get the most out of it, try forcing yourself to think in Spanish as you watch.

When you first see the adorable children Carlos and Lucía in “Los Protegidos” say something incredibly cute, you can think to yourself, “¡Qué mono!” (How cute!) or even exclaim it out loud if you so choose! (What is it with foreign children that makes them so delightful, by the way?)

6. Set a weekly TV schedule

You’re probably getting pumped up already from reading this post—perhaps you’ll watch a show as soon as we reach the recommendations—but what’s to stop you from watching a show once and then slipping back into your old pre-Spanish TV habits?

To help make this a regular habit in your life, select one time a week where you’ll watch the same show. Once you’ve decided, write it down.

For example: “I will watch ‘Los misterios de Laura’ every Thursday at 7 p.m.” (Or better yet, “Voy a ver ‘Los misterios de Laura’ cada jueves a las 19:00.”)

Then write it on your calendar, jot it down in your planner and set a reminder on your phone.

Never make any plans for Thursdays at 7 p.m., because you now have a weekly date with Ms. Laura!

7. Watch with a friend

Know anyone who’s also learning Spanish? To help with consistency and to turn up the entertainment value, invite a friend to join you for your weekly Spanish TV dates.

With this extra accountability you’ll be more likely to follow through with your plans.

Plus, having someone to laugh with or to share in the confusion will make the experience that much more enjoyable.

You can also talk to each other in Spanish if you have a friend with you, instead of just thinking to yourself.

8. Warm up with FluentU

Wait a minute, am I really suggesting that you warm up to watch TV?!

Yes I am, and hear me out.

After you’ve been speaking in English all day, it takes a bit of time to switch gears up there and get your mind into Spanish mode.

So instead of missing out or feeling resistance during the first few minutes of your show, warm up with a quick FluentU video first! FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU App from the iTunes store or the Google Play store and bring FluentU’s innovative language-learning tools to your iOS and Android device.

After watching a FluentU video or two–or spending a few minutes in FluentU’s “learn mode” with your words that are up for review–you’ll be all ready to watch Spanish TV.

Where to Watch TV from Spain Online

While you can keep up with the latest TV news in Spanish at Series Pepito Ly, where can you watch the shows online?

Spain has several national channels that are available online.

Some have started limiting content to people registered with accounts, which are free and easy to sign up for.

A few, like Antena 3, have begun charging a small fee to have full access all of their shows, but don’t fret.

If you’ll watch Spanish TV at any cost, the one-time fees I’ve seen are less than a cup of coffee.

If you don’t want to spend a dime, you still have years and years of great Spanish television available for free online.

Here are the main TV channels in Spain:

While those sites should be plenty on their own, you can also stream shows on sites like Series Yonkis, Watch Series and YouTube. Hulu mostly has Latin American Spanish shows, but it does have “Isabel,” a show that takes place in Spain.

And for sports fans and news junkies?

Although I’m going to recommend Spanish TV series below, don’t forget that you can watch deportes (sports) and noticias (news) on most of these channels! Just look for those words on the top menu bar.

I tend to favor RTVE when it comes to the news, but that could just be because I was on it once, in footage of downtown Sol when I lived in Madrid!

True story.

Alright, now are you ready to see the gems that are out there, on all of these channels?

10 Killer TV Shows from Spain

1. “Aída”

ultimate guide to spanish immersion with TV shows from spain

Aída,” a sitcom that aired on TeleCinco from 2005-2014, is named after its main character: the energetic, working single mother Aída García.

Her father’s funeral in the opening scene of the very first episode (which doesn’t go down at all like a regular funeral) is the event that brings Aída and two of her children, Lorena and Jonathan, back to Aída’s mother’s house—where Aída’s brother Luisma also lives.

While her mother seems to think it’s just a short visit, Aída and her teens move back in for good. The living situation, plus variety of characters, make for some hilarious moments. The show has received many Premios Ondas (Ondas Awards), and “Aída” was been a favorite in most Spanish homes during its 10 seasons.

If you liked this show try, “7 vidas.” Aída” was actually a spin-off of this show. “7 vidas” aired from 1999-2006, so if you like the style—check it out!

2. “Aquí no hay quién viva”

ultimate guide to spanish immersion with TV shows from spain

Another Spanish comedy, “Aquí no hay quién viva” involves residents of an apartment building in Madrid who tend to all get on each other’s nerves. The characters themselves are funny, as many were created to represent exaggerated versions of various Spanish personalities. The show’s writers also often include current topics in the script, making fun of them in an amusing way.

If you liked this show try, “Los hombres de Paco,” a Spanish comedy that stars a group of police officers in Madrid.

3. “Cuéntame cómo pasó”

ultimate guide to spanish immersion with TV shows from spain

A historical drama and comedy, “Cuéntame cómo pasó” (which also goes by the shortened title, “Cuéntame“) begins during the final years of Francisco Franco’s rule, capturing the country’s transition to democracy. The show centers on the Alcántara family and their neighbors, who belong to Spain’s middle class at the time.

Created to celebrate 25 years since Spain’s transition to democracy, the show premiered in 2001 and is impressively still running today. It’s currently in its 16th season. “Cuéntame” has been a huge success for Spanish television, and is the perfect show to get an enjoyable dose of Spanish history, to understand how Spain came to be what it is today.

If you liked this show, try “Gran hotel, a historical drama involving mysteries that happen in a fictitious hotel during the rule of King Alfonso XIII.

4. “El hormiguero”

Screenshot 2015-02-01 17.14.23

 

A comedy talk show with a live audience, “El hormiguero” will keep you laughing and engaged. The show’s name means “the anthill” in English, which explains the two big purple ant puppets who appear in every show—or does it? You’ll see references to tons of current events, with parodies of pop culture, entertaining skits and interviews with celebrity guests.

Past guests include big names like Taylor Swift, Rupert Grint, Shakira and Emma Stone.

You can use these interviews as an interesting translation/comprehension practice, like this one with Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler. Everything those two say in English is translated a split-second later by a Spanish woman, so the host knows what they’re saying. Give it a spin!

If you liked this show, try “Gran hermano.” Yup, this is the Spanish version of the reality show “Big Brother.”

5. “Física o Química”

ultimate guide to spanish immersion with TV shows from spain

There are seven glorious seasons of “Física o Química,” which takes place in the fictional high school of Zurbarán in Madrid.

While it was too young and cursi (corny) for my Spanish university peers to be watching, as a Spanish learner it was the perfect place for me to pick up Spanish slang. Plus the exciting plot and comedic moments had me hooked—even though I knew my teenage English students were watching the same show!

The storyline is where “Física o Química” shows its true Spanish colors, with seemingly no limits to the content. A teacher secretly has a romantic relationship with a student, there’s blackmail, a student commits suicide, students have affairs and even threesomes! The characters grow and develop over the seasons, becoming incredibly likable and hilarious, and you won’t be able to stop singing the theme song!

If you liked this show, try “Vaya semanita,a weekly sketch comedy show that hails from the Basque country.

6. “Lo sabe, no lo sabe”

ultimate guide to spanish immersion with TV shows from spain

This is a fun game show that’ll have you picking up Spanish language and culture without even realizing it!

The premise is that the contestant walks with the host through a busy Spanish city street filled with lots of pedestrians.

The host then tells the player, for example, “Tenemos que encontrar a alquien que no lo sepa” (We need to find someone who doesn’t know the answer). By the way, did you see that subjunctive in the phrase? You’ll hear lots of it in the show, so it’ll become a familiar friend!

Then the host will ask a question—which appears in text on the screen—and the contestant will then (in this case) pick someone nearby who doesn’t know the answer. The host then stops and asks the question to that selected person, and if they don’t know the correct answer, the contestant wins money for that round!

So yeah, there’s definitely an element of judging by appearance, but it’s all in good fun. If the host tells the player before a round that “Tenemos que encontrar a alguien que lo sepa,” the contestant needs to choose a person nearby who they think does know the answer.

Perks are that every question appears as text on the screen as it’s read, plus you get to see everyday people in a Spanish city—how they dress, speak and act unplanned.

If you liked this show, try “Pasapalabra.” Another game show, the fast final round of “Pasapalabra” goes through each letter of the Spanish alphabet. For every letter, the host asks a question whose answer begins with that letter. If the contestant doesn’t know the answer, they can pass by saying “pasapalabra,” the show’s title. It feels so great when you know an answer!

7. “Los misterios de Laura”

ultimate guide to spanish immersion with TV shows from spain

For those of you who enjoy crime shows like “CSI” (or are there any “Diagnosis Murder” fans out there from back in the day?), you’ll want to check out “Los misterios de Laura.” Following a different mystery each episode, Laura Lebrel is a police detective and a mother of twins who always cracks the case.

If you liked this show, try “CSI.” If you’re such a fan, why not watch the Spanish dubbed versions of “CSI Miami,” “CSI Las Vegas” and “CSI Nueva York“?

8. “Madrileños por el mundo”

ultimate guide to spanish immersion with TV shows from spain

 

This weekly program goes right into the homes and lives of Madrileños (citizens of Madrid) who live all around the world! It’s already a treat to travel the world without leaving home, but getting to hear a Spaniard’s perspective of living abroad is the extra element that makes the program that much more interesting to watch.

If you liked this show, try “Españoles en el mundo,” which is the same idea, but just opens it up to a wider array of people around the whole country.

9. “Los protegidos”

ultimate guide to spanish immersion with TV shows from spain

Los protegidos” has elements of the American “Heroes” series, in that a small group of kids each has a special power. A little girl—the cute Lucía I mentioned earlier—can hear what people think, while young Carlos can move objects with his mind. The kids range from elementary to young adult, plus there are two adults who look after them, so there’s a little something for everyone.

An evil group wants to kidnap these special kids, though, which adds suspense to the show’s romantic, comedic and supernatural elements—which makes for an entertaining watch. I also love that there are younger kids starring in this show, as they tend to talk more clearly and slowly than others, plus as we’ve already agreed, Spanish kids are absolutely adorable!

If you liked this show, try “Sin identidad, which is a more suspenseful and mature drama, without the comedy nor innocence of “Los protegidos.”

10. “Tres 14” 

ultimate guide to spanish immersion with TV shows from spain

For those of you itching for more non-fiction, “Tres 14″ is a documentary program that covers scientific topics through interviews and reports. Recent topics explored what reality is, synesthesia and how children learn.

Although the scientific content will probably have many new words that you may not have studied formally, lots of scientific Spanish words are cognates, and the episodes have plenty of visuals so you’ll know what’s going on.

If you liked this show, try “La felicidad (en cuatro minutos),” a program that offers brief 4-minute episodes, as the title suggests, about happiness!

 

And there you have it, your complete guide to television in Spain! These channels and shows are sure to keep you entertained while simultaneously immersing yourself in Spanish.

You’ll soon find yourself using the fun “Vale, vale, vale” that frequently rolls off of Spaniards’ tongues ever so smoothly, and grow your desire to experience Iberia up close and personal. Enjoy!


Rebecca Thering is a freelance writer and editor who has lived abroad teaching ESL in Spain and South Korea. Valuing education and things that aren’t things, she inspires and helps others by writing about her experiences abroad, cultural insights and self-improvement pursuits at her personal blog, Rebe With a Clause.

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