If you love Spanish and you love movies, watching films in Spanish is a fantastic strategy to make your way to fluency. In over a decade in teaching thousands of language learners from an array of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, I can assure you: nothing will get you to learn the language faster than additional positive associations to your experience. In other words, have some fun. So, if you do in fact love movies, here is how to make it part of your language journey.
The first time you watch a movie with subtitles, you might just focus on the subtitles. Unfortunately, this won’t be very effective. The best approach is to take a look at the bigger picture (literally): image, context, pronunciation and vocabulary. If you have enough knowledge of Spanish, definitely focus on grammar as well. This will require some multitasking, but if you are just reading the subtitles, you will not learn very much. Watching movies in Spanish with English subtitles is a fun road to cultural immersion without leaving your home, but a small step if we apply it to technical components of language learning, because it won’t improve your listening skills. A more proactive approach is…
This changes everything. With a regular movie, especially when you are watching it for the first time, you might be trying too hard: you are reading all the subtitles (anxiously, perhaps?) and trying to grasp the plot. But when you already know the plot, you can sit back and relax. You are reading the subtitles, but do not focus on them. This is a lot more organic, and will allow you to focus on pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar.
Whether you are watching your favorite English movie dubbed in Spanish or a Spanish movie, if you are an intermediate to advanced speaker, the subtitles must be in Spanish, or in the target language, if you are learning another language. When you reach fluency, you can phase these out as well.
The way natives converse in the “real” world can be significantly different from what you learned in a controlled classroom environment. What is the organic flow of the conversation? How are inflations used in sentences, particularly when asking questions?
In Spanish, one can switch up the order of the verb and subject, usually for questions, clarification, or emphasis. For example: “Los estudiantes son muy inteligentes” vs “Son muy inteligentes los estudiantes” both mean “The students are very intelligent.” Though the first sentence (the verb is preceded by the subject) is more standard than the second (the subject is preceded by the verb), both are correct, but the message is different. The order of the words, known as syntax, is important to communicate a clear message to your listener. Movies will give you a better sense of a more “natural” syntax.
It is helpful to watch a series of movies from the same country or the same director. This will allow you to pick up on common vocabulary. For example, if you are a Pedro Almodóvar fan, watch three or four of his movies before moving on to Chilean director, Alejandro Amenábar.
What new words can you learn from the film based on the imagery or the context? Try this without looking at the subtitles.
Are there any idiomatic expressions being used? Take advantage of that “pause” button and make a note of them.
The accents of Spanish speakers can vary substantially based on where they are from. Say you are watching one film a week. If you focus on the same country for a month, not only will you pick up on some of the vocabulary, you will also familiarize yourself with the pronunciation of that country.
Movies will also introduce you to new grammar points. Even if some of this grammar is too advanced for you and you do not know how to use it yet, if you familiarize yourself with its uses, you will be able to pick it up much quicker when it is time to learn it.
You might be able to find some of the older films on Youtube, for example. Not all movies will be dubbed or include subtitles in the target language. This will be an act of trial and error, but you might find a new favorite movie in the process. Also note that the vocabulary used in the dialogue from movies dubbed in Spanish can differ from the actual Spanish subtitles. Again, focus on the bigger picture, and enjoy! 🙂
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Irma is a trained linguist, native Spanish speaker, and teacher. She is the founder and CEO of Diáfano.
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