Watching movies is a fantastic way to supplement your language learning and improve your listening. Lucky for Spanish learners, Netflix keeps churning out films en español.
One of our most popular posts on the Spanish blog last year was about all the binge-worthy Spanish-language shows on Netflix and how they can fit into your language learning routine. In that post we stressed the importance of exposing your brain to masses of linguistic data in the form of speech and writing, and trying to integrate that data into your down time so you can enjoy interacting with your target language while your brain works to make sense of it.
Movies aren’t quite as bingeable as television shows, but they challenge your language muscles in a different way. For starters, since they’re generally longer, movies will extend your foreign language attention span and help you get used to thinking in the language for longer chunks of time. If YouTube videos are like little linguistic sprints and your average TV show is a long but relaxed jog, movies are getting into marathon territory.
Because movies are longer and their plots have more time to develop, there’s also a lot more room for nuance. Many of the important details of a film’s plot are conveyed outside of language — a character’s shocked expression, a dramatic change in the music, or a suspicious lingering of the camera. For learners who still don’t understand every word or sentence, this is exactly the kind of context that helps you figure out words and phrases in context: maybe you’re not sure what that word just meant, but these paralinguistic cues make it clear that it was good, bad, suspicious, dramatic, or alarming.
Watching movies in Spanish will present a different challenge depending on your level of Spanish listening comprehension, but don’t let imperfect language skills turn you away. Here are some pointers for turning passive couch potatoing into active language learning:
- Use subtitles as you need to, but use them right. Subtitles should be tools for helping you focus on the language you’re hearing, not a substitute for listening. You shouldn’t feel guilty switching on the Spanish subtitles if you need to, but do your best to avoid relying on captions in your first language.
- Create an environment conducive to listening and paying attention. Listening to a foreign language is hard. Before you switch on your flick, make sure you’re in a quiet room without much background noise. Even better, plug in some headphones.
- Stretch your language muscles with a warm-up. It might take Spanish a few minutes to wake up and stretch its limbs in the back of your brain. You can warm up with a quick Spanish YouTube video or reading a short news article in Spanish.
- Take an intermission to check for understanding. Movies are long, and even marathon runners stop for water breaks when they need to. Plan for a pause somewhere in the middle so you can look up difficult words and phrases or double check the movie synopsis to make sure you’re following. Whenever you’re feeling lost, pause and rewind are your friends.
And with those tips in mind, here are some movies to add to your list for your next Spanish practice session on Netflix:
The first Netflix original movie in Spanish, 7 Años is the story of four friends who together found a company and together must deal with the fallout of mismanagement and tax fraud. To salvage their dreams and friendships, one must take the fall for the other four before the clock runs out.
This black-and-white arthouse drama centers on the Mexican student protests of 1999 and has been one of the most highly acclaimed Mexican films in recent years. The entire film is laced with jokes that emerge from the comedic relationship between brothers, and the more linguistically savvy watcher may notice running themes of race and social hierarchy present even in the film’s title.
Y Tu Mamá También
Another Mexican film, this might be one of the most famous Latin American blockbusters among international audiences. Y Tu Mamá También is a classic coming-of-age tale that takes place over the course of a road trip, complete with a historical layer that contextualizes the story within a tumultuous period in Mexican political and social history.
This Chilean drama provides a poignant local look at one of the defining moments of the 20th century in Latin America: the coup d’état that ousted President Salvador Allende and installed the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Part war movie, part historical drama, it’s an action-packed film with a plot that’s all the more grandiose for being based on a true story.
Sin Nombre may be fiction, but this drama is based on what might be the most dramatic human crisis taking place in the Americas. The film follows the journey of two young Hondurans attempting to escape the conflict and gang violence that envelops much of northern Central America, and the film’s title, meaning “nameless”, conveys how migrants like the film’s main characters are systematically dehumanized and slip through the cracks of global society.
Take a look at these five films and see if you can incorporate one of them into your Spanish learning strategy this week using the tips above. For more Spanish-language movies, browse Netflix’s Spanish movies and Latin American movies sections.
Do you have a favorite Spanish-language movie or a great hack for learning Spanish with movies? Tell us about it in the comments!
About the Author:Jakob Gibbons
I write about language and travel on my blog Globalect. I often share my experiences with learning languages on the road, and teaching and learning new speech sounds is my specialty.