SS #19: Can you learn Spanish from TV?

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Tell me if this sounds familiar:

You learn Spanish for several months (or even years), then decide it’s time to try your hand at a TV show.

You turn on the show and it’s like you never even started learning Spanish. Everything runs together.

If this has been the case for you, know that it’s normal. Two reasons:

First, because TV is especially challenging— background noise, uncommon vocab, slang, accents, etc.

Second, because a more important gauge of your level is how well you understand regular people, both on video and in your interactions with them.

That said, TV can still be a useful tool for learning.

But only under the right conditions.

Unfortunately, most people sit down, ready to watch Narcos, dictionary in hand, and come away frustrated by constant pausing, googling, and confusion.

The solution?

Separate active learning time from passive/casual learning time.

This way, you can learn from entertaining content and still enjoy shows in Spanish.

Here’s how:

  • When watching TV to learn Spanish: give it 100% of your attention (details below). 
  • When watching TV in Spanish to relax: don’t suck the joy out of it by stopping every 12 seconds to look words up. Just watch and enjoy, and use subtitles if you want.

With that in mind, here’s exactly how I would take an episode of a fun TV show in Spanish and turn it into serious learning material:

Step 1: Pick 1 scene under 1 minute long

The scene should:

  • Be from an episode you’ve seen – a scene you enjoyed and are interested to learn from.
  • Be dialogue-focused (otherwise there’s not much to learn from)

By the way – I just released a new video on YouTube where I do exactly this, but with a focus on pronunciation, intonation, and how phrases connect in a natural way:

Step 2: Watch and analyze

Here’s how:

  1. Watch the scene once through
  2. Type out the Spanish subtitles (takes time but helps)
  3. Read through your transcript line-by-line and try to make sense of it. Try to guess from context what things mean before looking them up.
  4. Save any short phrases you like and want to remember.
  5. Rewatch the scene. After each line, pause the video and repeat after the actor, aiming to emulate their emotion and accent. 
  6. Rewatch the scene a final time.

Step 3: Come back to it a week later

After a week, you’ll have forgotten some of what you learned. Come back to this scene now. Rewatch it without subtitles and see what has stuck.

Bonus: after this, a useful exercise is to make some notes about what happened, then summarize the scene out loud to yourself in Spanish.

By taking such an in-depth look at one piece of dialogue, the vocabulary and grammar that underpins the dialogue start making their way into your brain.

And by coming back to it, you give yourself a much stronger chance of remembering what you’ve learned.

Let me know if you try this and how it goes if so. 

Don’t forget to check out the new YouTube video here: Spanish with Netflix: Improve Pronunciation, Intonation, Comprehension


P.S. In case you’re looking for something more, here are three ways I can help you:

  1. The Confident Spanish Pronunciation Workshop: The clear, step-by-step system for developing a clear, natural-sounding accent in Spanish in 5 minutes a day.
  2. Roadmap to Conversational: Build the skills you need to become a smarter Spanish learner and confident Spanish speaker. For upper beginners. Opening soon, sign up for program notifications or email me if interested. 

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Hey there, I'm Connor. I help motivated learners speak Spanish without slogging through grammar books or tapping through every new app. I started Breakthrough Spanish to give more people the confidence and focus to learn effectively Spanish from home. Learn more about me here.

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