Can you Learn Spanish by Watching TV? (An Hour a Day)
If you’ve seen my previous posts about learning Spanish, you’ll see that I’m currently in route to learning Spanish myself. Last year I took a test that put me at a low-intermediate level of Spanish.
As I’ve moved closer to complete fluency, I’ve realized a few techniques that stand out when learning Spanish. One of them being my favorite is by watching TV in Spanish.
Learning Spanish by watching TV is one of the best ways to achieve reading and listening fluency. The act, along with the subtitles and speech allows a more natural context than textbooks allow. But the method of watching should differ according to the learner’s level.
For me, I’m at a point where I spend about an hour a day watching TV in Spanish more passively. I can understand most of what’s happening, especially with the subtitles turned on. Depending on the level you are at, you may be suited for more efficient methods.
The Best Way to Watch TV to Learn Spanish
You can’t watch TV to learn Spanish as a beginner learner in the same way you do as an advanced learner. But both levels can choose what shows they would like to watch in Spanish. The most important thing in learning Spanish is how much you enjoy it. This also applies to the shows you watch.
Popular advice goes for telenovelas or Spanish TV, as these are one of the first things that come up in people’s minds. However, if you don’t particularly care for sappy drama, then there’s no point. Spanish culture is more than telenovelas.
When choosing a show, it could be a show you know you’ve enjoyed in the past and could watch again. But this time do it with Spanish subtitles and dubbed audio.
The important thing is that you’re not going to continue with the TV show if you don’t particular connection with the plot. So forget telenovelas if that’s not your thing, and watch what you like.
The next most important thing is going to be the way you watch it.
For Novice Learners
Novice learners will not understand most of what they read from the subtitles or what they hear from the conversations.
That’s why it’s better to have subtitles in English while watching audio in Spanish. This is what I did when I first started watching TV shows in Spanish.
The point here is simply to relax and enjoy the TV show while you get acclimated to the sounds of how words are pronounced in Spanish. Over time, the sounds will start to make sense.
At this point watching TV shows should just be a supplement for the main ways you’re learning Spanish – mostly learning vocabulary and some grammar should be the primary focus.
I would also recommend this YouTube channel, LEARN SPANISH FAST with TV SERIES, to learn Spanish by watching TV. Their approach allows you to listen to a clip in English first, and then watch it again in Spanish.
For Intermediate Learners
As you move up the rungs of beginner status, you realize you understand more of what is spoken and how to use basic grammatical structures. TV shows become more important as you understand the words to learn that are used in conversation.
This is not something books generally provide. How you say something, is often different than how you write something.
At the intermediate stage, there are 2 methods you should implement:
- Write Vocabulary Down – This slows down TV watching process in exchange for building a practical vocabulary. For every word that you don’t know, write it down to be able to review it and memorize it over time.
- Watch TV Shows Passively – But this time, it should be completely in Spanish. Subtitles in included. This way you are expanding the context of the words said in both the act and the subtitles.
The above 2 methods should be used interchangeably for fear of boredom.
Writing the vocabulary down can be a pain to do when you want to just watch the show. But you have to remember that you’re doing this with the knowledge of the needed hard effort to learn Spanish primarily and not be a zombie on a couch binge-watching.
I get that there is more work than what beginners require. But it is the step necessary to move forward.
For Advanced Learners
I am not at this level yet. But I do plan on it within the next few months. Here is my plan on how I would watch TV:
- Watch TV shows that were primarily made for a Spanish-speaking country. This means a deeper understanding of culture, which means a deeper understanding of this foreign language.
- Watch more documentaries and history TV series.
At this point, you will still want to continue to improve your reading and listening skills. But learning about the culture becomes more necessary as you achieve fluency.
To achieve fluency, you need to target a specific country’s Spanish and be immersive in that. This includes the media they watch.
My Favorite Shows to Watch in Spanish
I have many favorite shows. Now, I’m watching them in Spanish. As of this writing, my main go-to show is the Peaky Blinders. When I watch it, I have the subtitles and dubbed audio in Spanish. Although you miss out on the British accent, the show is still as good in Spanish.
Rick and Morty is another one that I’ve watched in Spanish. The visuals and the irreverent humor make it a fun watch.
Other Spanish movies, TV programs, etc I’ve enjoyed in Spanish:
- El inocente – This is a thriller/mystery mini-series from Spain.
- Bajo la piel de lobo (Movie from Spain)
- Pan’s Labyrinth (Movie from Spain)
- El bar (TV Show from Spain)
- Hogar (Movie from Spain)
- Moon Knight
- The Mandalorian
Most of the dubbs are either from Mexico or other parts of Latin America. But the movies I’ve listed from Spain are actual actors that are native Spanish speakers.
As Spanish learners, progress into the language learning journey, a variety of Spanish audio becomes more important. Different accents in the Spanish language from multiple Spanish speaking countries really allow you to hone in listening skills.
There are a lot of other great TV shows available. But this list should get you started.
These People Learned Spanish by Watching TV Shows
If you do a quick browse through Reddit forums, you’ll find different people having success in learning Spanish by watching TV shows. For inspiration, I’ve put together quotes people gave in learning Spanish by watching TV shows.
Here are a few anecdotes I’ve found about their successes:
- “After 100K words of Spanish literature. And more than 30 hours of TV I can now understand mostly everything to a conversational standard.”
- USER: thatpianoguyhezron REDDIT LINK
- “Pretty much all my netflix watching is in spanish now. When I first started I had to pause a lot to figure out what was happening, but now I can just watch real time. I still miss some bits, but I know enough to fill in teh blanks which I think is very helpful for helping me learn words/phrases I’ve not been exposed to.”
- USER: slightlyintoout REDDIT LINK
- “80% of the Spanish I’ve learned is by watching shows in Spanish with Spanish subtitles. The other 20% combined is by listening to Spanish books on tape while reading along, using Duolingo and reading BBC Mundo. I’ve never taken a Spanish class.”
- USER: girlnumber20 REDDIT LINK
Spanish is a journey that can’t be shortcutted. Watching TV is a great way to learn Spanish, but if you’re starting from scratch, it should be stated: USE IT AS A SUPPLEMENT. You have to use other materials to quickly get a working vocabulary. TV shows are perfect to train your ear to Spanish sounds in the early stages.
I started taking my Spanish journey seriously about a year ago. Today, I am constantly told that my level of Spanish surprises native speakers. If you’re curious my approach to learning Spanish, check out an article I wrote on the best way to learn Spanish on your own.