If you’re a native English speaker, you’ve pretty much got it made when it comes to the world of television. The vast majority of popular series are in your first language, and you can easily pick up on all the bits of humor and colloquialisms. While it may seem like a hassle for non-natives to have to put on subtitles, it’s actually a blessing in disguise. They get to learn English while watching TV, without even realizing it! It may seem frustrating at first, but what it forces them to do is improve their English, naturally.
Not surprisingly, there are also loads of Spanish shows to learn Spanish. You may be wondering, why can’t I just sign up for a course and study grammar to learn Spanish? What really works about watching shows in Spanish is that you get to hear it spoken by natives, with the convenience of doing it whenever and wherever you want. By watching Spanish TV you can start to build vocabulary and get a better understanding of grammar and pronunciation. But what’s unique about learning Spanish through TV is that you also gain more insight into the culture and get to learn cool slang and expressions. And let’s face it, watching TV shows beats having to listen to those cliche audio clips of basic conversations in a classroom. Yawn…
If you’re a beginner, you might want to start with English subtitles but it’s important to switch to Spanish subtitles once you get more comfortable. This way you can recognize new vocabulary words and read and listen simultaneously, which will really help you to grasp the pronunciation from natives.
To give you an idea, here’s a list of the hottest Spanish TV shows to learn Spanish.
If you’re just starting out or have a lower level of Spanish, this show is great for beginners. It’s easy to find on YouTube and has been designed for the purpose of language learning. Thankfully, there is a Spanish version. The plot is quite similar to “Friends” in that it revolves around a small group of friends in the city of Barcelona. The protagonist is Sam, an American guy who has recently come to spend some time in Barcelona and stays with two Spanish girls, Ana and Lola. The show focuses on their friendships and Sam’s quest to learn Spanish.
The nice thing about “Extr@” is that the characters speak slowly and clearly and often repeat themselves so that Sam understands. Like any other language learner, Sam makes mistakes at times and it provides a good opportunity for viewers to learn from his mistakes, which Ana and Lola correct. And every now and then the characters review the parts of Spanish that Sam is learning, making it very straightforward for viewers. The show is probably not going to win an Emmy, but it makes for a great tool for beginners or even intermediate to advanced level students who would like to review grammar and vocabulary.
2. Gran Hotel
Set in Spain in 1905, “Gran Hotel” revolves around the lives of a wealthy family who owns a luxury hotel. The set of characters is quite diverse, ranging from maids to rich guests, to detectives that are always trying to solve a new mystery. You never quite know where the story is going to take you next, as romances spark between characters and secrets start to uncover–a perfect combination and excuse for a binge-watch over the weekend!
Since the show is set during the early 20th century, there is less slang used as the Spanish is more formal and classic, making it easier to understand and more suitable for intermediate level learners. And in case you get confused with all the connections between the characters, the channel that broadcasts “Gran Hotel”, Antena 3, has created a guia interactiva on their website that explains how all the characters are related. But be warned that there may be some spoilers that could reveal who dies!
3. Vis a vis
Tired of having to wait at least a year for a new season of “Orange Is The New Black” to come out? Well, this show could be more than just a temporary solution. Some would say that Vis a vis is almost like an “Orange Is The New Black” + “Breaking Bad” hybrid, but the storyline has its bits and pieces that back up the series with originality. The protagonist of “Vis a vis” may seem like a Piper Chapman at first, but you will quickly learn that her story and circumstances are completely different once she gets to prison. After falling in love with her boss, Macarena gets sucked into his criminal activities involving financial fraud and consequently gets sent to Cruz Del Sur prison, where she unwillingly becomes good girl gone bad. The first season starts with the murder of an inmate who had ties to 9 million euros and creates competition among inmates for who can get to it first. Macarena’s family gets involved with the prison drama and do what they need to do to keep her safe from Zulema, the show’s main villain.
“Vis a vis” would be more appropriate for intermediate to advanced level learners. Although most of the main characters speak clear Spanish, some of the others come from different parts of the country and have accents that make it a bit more challenging to understand. But the show’s drama-filled scenes will definitely keep you enthralled throughout and with the help of subtitles, “Vis a vis” is one of the most thrilling Spanish shows to learn Spanish.
4. El Hormiguero
In the English-speaking world, we are so used to turning on the TV late at night and having to choose from a long list of talk shows filled with celebrity guests, concerts, and an endless amount of jokes. They are a huge part of our late night culture. Luckily, in the Spanish-speaking world there exists an epic talk show called “El Hormiguero” (“the anthill”). Of course, with such a name, two of the show’s recurring guests are puppet ants, Trancas, and Barrancas, whose names come from the Spanish expression “a trancas y barrancas” (meaning “in fits and starts”). The two puppets will come out from time to time to interact with the guests, like when they popped out and gave a short quiz to a confused yet amused Taylor Swift–a MUST-see clip on YouTube!
The show brings on not only Spanish celebrities but also Hollywood celebs that are promoting their movies in Spain. The host, Pablo Motos, invites guests to take part in dance-routines and songs in Spanish, and sometimes even scientific experiments. Will Smith just so happens to be a big fan of the show, as you can see him having a blast learning a Spanish song with the host in the video below. “El Hormiguero” is recommended more for advanced level students, as the host can be pretty quick with the jokes and even though a lot of guests are English-speakers, the show still remains at a more colloquial level in Spanish.
5. Just about ANY telenovela
The great thing about telenovelas is that you can find them in just about any Spanish-speaking country. While they can be a bit dramatic for some people, telenovelas can actually be quite entertaining and your knowledge of them could potentially impress natives by showing them that you care about their culture. They provide great conversation starters and an effective way to bond with your host family or locals while studying abroad. Furthermore, as you learn more about the Spanish language, you will notice that it is very rich with formal expressions and vocabulary. Watching telenovelas will expose you to these expressions through all the craziness and drama between characters.
If you’re just starting out with learning Spanish, there is one telenovela that is perfect for beginners. The show is called “Destinos” and its purpose is to teach Spanish with a telenovela theme. “Destinos” was one of the most popular Spanish shows to learn Spanish in the early 1990s and still today provides a very effective way to build vocabulary and practice grammar.
This show has turned into one of the most popular game shows on Spanish TV. “Pasapalabra” has two phases to the game. In the first, contestants are put into teams and battle against each other in order to earn seconds through various challenges. Then in the second phase, contestants use their seconds to answer questions in “el rosco” (the doughnut). They call this part of the game “el rosco” because contestants have to go through the alphabet in a circle of letters and guess the word that starts with the letter and matches the definition given by the host. Some of the vocabulary can be difficult even for native Spanish-speakers, so don’t feel bad if you don’t understand some of the words…just use it as a fun opportunity to build your Spanish vocabulary!
We all know that long episodes of any show can be a bit overwhelming, and even more so when they are in your second language. What makes this web series more convenient than other shows is that its episodes only last about ten minutes each and can easily fit into a busy schedule. “Malviviendo” (“Bad Living”) revolves around the lives of a group of friends in a fictional neighborhood in Seville. The friends find themselves smoking lots of marijuana and experience some rough times together throughout the show. You will notice lots of parodies of other shows while watching “Malviviendo” and it will teach you lots of vocabulary related to drugs and relationships. The show is meant more for advanced level students as the characters speak quickly and have different accents.
8. La que se avecina
Who doesn’t love a good sitcom? They make us laugh, cry, and question different aspects of our culture. “La que se avecina” is a classic when it comes to Spanish sitcoms and is the epitome of Spanish barrio life. The show follows the lives of inhabitants in the outskirts of Madrid and you will quickly pick up on all the conflicts and humor involved in the relationships between tenants of the apartment building. The plot is centered on the housing bubble and the effects it has on the lives of young Spaniards. The advantage of watching a sitcom like “La que se avecina” is that you can gain insight into the stereotypical personality types of Spanish culture and learn useful vocabulary to describe character. The characters also tend to use a lot of catchphrases, which will be easy to memorize from constant repetition. Luckily there are ten seasons so there is plenty of hilarious material to learn from!
We all know that speaking and listening comprehension can sometimes be the more difficult components of language learning. Watching TV in a second language doesn’t come easy at first, but getting used the way natives speak is a crucial step in becoming fluent. Using Spanish shows to learn Spanish is a more fun and informal learning method that you normally won’t experience in the classroom. Furthermore, television has become an important part of culture in the 21st century, so you will definitely impress native Spanish-speakers by showing them what you know about their shows!