Learn Spanish by Watching TV: Science Says You Can
Research

Learn Spanish by Watching TV: Science Says You Can

Ximena Lama-Rondon

Can you really learn Spanish by watching TV? If the idea of mastering a completely new language while enraptured on a murder plot feels too good to be true, then worry not: turns out linguistic research is completely on board with fun alternatives to grammar drills.

So before you google which ones are the best TV shows to learn Spanish, make sure you learn how it works and how to do it best.

The Basics: How Does Language Learning Work?

Before we choose which one is the best program to learn Spanish, it won’t hurt to review how language learning works. The video below provides a short, but tremendously insightful explanation of how learning happens at a neurological level. It uses basketball free throws as an example, but the principle stands for anything you would want to learn.

Learning Spanish is a lot like becoming a masterful basketball player.  Basketball requires learning the rules of the game, but to really play you will have to cultivate the muscle memory and reflexes for a bunch of different moves. With Spanish, the rules of the game will be grammar – but your main skills will be speaking, listening, reading and writing.

Every time you hear or read a phrase in Spanish, or whenever you try to speak it, you are basically performing a free throw with your linguistic muscles.

This is why learning a language is a long-term goal. You are training your brain to recognize new sounds and interpret their meaning. The more you do it, the faster and more automatic will these “linguistic muscles” get.

Can You Really Learn Spanish From TV?

In traditional language schools, you are usually required to spend active time in class doing grammar exercises, drilling vocabulary, or reciting stiff dialogues.  There are many different methods out there, and it would be impossible to choose the best program to learn Spanish offhand.

The important thing here is: can you really replace the classroom with a TV set?

According to researchers, you can – even if it takes a bit longer. This is something that linguists have known for a while.

For example, a few years ago, the New York Times interviewed a group of Venezuelan Major League baseball players who used “Friends” to learn English. They never got more than the very basics of English grammar while in high school, but they spent hours following the series on cable television.

This has even been tested by researchers: a study published in Turkey in 2019 examined a group of people from Kosovo, who had been consistently watching subtitled Turkish soap operas for 1 to 2 years. None of them had ever attended a Turkish language lesson, but they were able to pass an Intermediate-level listening and reading test.

Essentially, they were able to “land” on something that takes most people hundreds of hours of deliberate practice. The fact that they were having fun while doing it was not a happy coincidence, either – it was kind of the whole point, since it didn’t feel like studying at all.

Think of it as learning basketball by jumping into the court and playing!

Getting Started With Language Learning Through TV

There are two ways you can learn Spanish by watching TV. The first and easiest one is to use it as a complement to your regular language classes.

This method also applies if you took Spanish in school many years ago, but then gave up on it. After you start watching Spanish TV routinely, you will notice how your listening comprehension improves quickly after just a few weeks.

Alternatively, you can start completely from scratch and use only subtitled TV shows. This may take you a bit longer while you figure out the grammar "rules of the game".

If you go this route, the best TV shows to learn Spanish with will be children's shows, like Yoko's 3D world. Make sure you rewatch each episode a few times. You should also keep a set of flashcards or a notebook to keep track of your vocabulary.

Just like any other program to learn Spanish, doing so via TV series will be more of a marathon than a sprint. As soon as you are able, head straight to your favourite genre: the best shows to watch to learn Spanish are those where you connect with the plot and characters. This will make you pay more attention in “class.”

Putting Your Learning on Steroids

Learning Spanish by watching TV does have a major drawback: as great as it is for reading and listening comprehension, it can fall short when it comes to speaking and writing in Spanish.

But if you are really enjoying what you are watching, you can find creative ways to take this method to the next level.

via GIPHY

If you’re ready to spice things up and want to get a little bit of practice, try out any of these tricks:

  • Make sure you go through your flashcard sets periodically to review any new words you’ve learned.
  • Play actor a bit and repeat any sentences that you like. This will help you with your pronunciation.
  • Become a hardcore fan on other sites. Many foreign series have dedicated forums or subreddits where you can discuss fan theories or predictions for the next season. Just be mindful of spoilers!
  • Try your hand at fanfiction, and fix that terrible moment when your favourite protagonist said the wrong thing.

It all starts with getting really into a new series. Why not join Lingopie and check out what they have?