Learning about cultural features is just as important for a comprehensive language learning as reading or doing grammar exercises. and Spanish is no exception. And one of the best ways to do it is watching films in the original language.
Here are some advantages of this approach:
- films are produced in all Spanish speaking countries which means you have an opportunity to choose an accent you are interested in. TV series deserve special attention: a big number of episodes allows us to get used to actors' pronunciation and the way they speak, so eventually understanding them gets faster and easier. Modern TV shows keep you on your toes, and it's important when learning a language.
- you learn to understand native speakers' humour, and it's an inherent part of everyday communication.
- you get to know customs and traditions of Spain and Latin America; you learn more about the mentality of native speakers.
-as actors are from Spain or Latin America, you hear good pronunciation and natural speech tempo.
- you increase your active vocabulary with idioms and modern Spanish slang which is essential for real everyday communication.
- you study Spanish and have fun at the same time!
Tips from Skype-language:
- Pick a film you are interested in. Dividing them into levels is quite suppositive. If it's difficult for you to watch a film in one go, separate it into parts and watch one every day.
- while watching try catching the whole idea of the narrative. Don't expect to understand each word you hear. Are there still some questions after you finished watching? Not a problem! Just get back to the unclear moments, write down new words and look them up in a dictionary or on the internet.
- your goal is to learn to understand as much as you can without looking at the text, so turn off subtitles! Quite often they turn out to be your false friends because it's much easier to perceive visual information than audio. With subtitles, watching a film will quite quickly turn into reading, and there will be no listening practice.
- there is a lifehack for beginners and intermediate level learners: the first time you watch a film in Russian, and the second time in Spanish. You'll be surprised how much clearer original actors' speech will get.
Let's start our movie marathon!
Spanish sitcom Habla con Eñe level А1/А2 (2015)
One morning Julio and Maria wake up in the same bed, and this is how they meet. On the same day, Fernando, a language school principal, introduces Julio to a new teacher Maria in the presence of a squabby secretary Josephina.
It’s an educational Spanish course from the language school Habla con Eñe designed as a TV series. It's a great way to learn modern spoken language. Each episode covers different areas of vocabulary and grammar for A1/A2 levels. The course content is approved by Instituto Cervantes.
EXTR@ levels A1/A2 (2004)
Two friends, Lola and Anna, rent a flat in Barcelona. They have a neighbour named Pablo who is hopelessly in love with Lola. The thing is Anna likes Pablo but he doesn't even notice her. One day Lola gets a letter from her old penpal friend from America who is coming to Barcelona to improve his Spanish. And this is where it all begins!
Extra is an educational comedy show created for A1/A2 learners. Real everyday language and incredible Spanish humour are the advantages of this course. The licensed version has Spanish, English and Russian subtitles. You can turn them on and off as you wish. Each episode also has exercises to work on vocabulary and grammar.
Gran Hotel, 3 seasons (2011–2013), level А2/В1
A young man comes to an idyllic place Gran Otel where he is going to conduct an investigation by disguising as a waiter. There he meets a young woman who is going to be the only person helping him to uncover the truth. And of course love sparks between them. The problem is that Alicia is a family member of the hotel’s owner, and she is also engaged with an ambitious young man Diego who’s ready to do whatever it takes to take over the position of the Gran Otel’s head.
The series will remind you of Jane Austen's novels. The film is set in 1905, it's full of magnificent costumes and decorations. Characters’ speech is rather slow. and the way they speak is quite simple. The narrative is smooth, and sometimes it even seems too slow, but it might be an advantage for language learners because it gives some time to get into dialogues.
Son del mar (2001), level А2/В1
A new literature teacher, Ulises, comes to a small town near the sea. He meets a local girl who he charms with fascinating stories and old poems. But Martina is also loved by a rich businessman Alberto, but she chooses Ulises. The belved get married and love story continues until one day when Ulises just vanishes somewhere in the sea. And many years later, after Marina seems to have accepted her loss, she gets a phone call...
It’s a romantic melodrama based on Manuel Vincent’s novel, with smooth narrative and simple dialogues. It’s highly recommended to all sea lovers as it has its own role in this film.
El internado. Laguna Negra
«Black lagoon» 7 seasons (2007-2010), level А2/В1
‘Black Lagoon’ is a private boarding school for children from the richest and most influential families in Spain, And this is where Marcos and his younger sister Paola are sent after their parents die in the sea. Quite soon Marcus learns that he and his sister are in this school not by simple accident; ‘Black lagoon’ is full of scary secrets and everything happening there is somehow connected with their parents’ disappearance. He and his new friends are trying to get to the truth.
There is also a new maid, Maria, who ran away from a mental hospital. She is looking for her son who was stolen from her many years ago.
It’s an incredibly engaging series with sharp plot twists. There is something for everyone: detective, love story, relationships between parents and children, mystery. I still remember how I started watching it for my didactic purposes and then just couldn't stop. Not for nothing, it's the second most expensive series on Spanish TV. I spent night glued to my computer screen just watching until the end. Then I also learnt that there is a Russian version. Well, 15 minutes were enough. It wasn’t even a weak copy, more like a bad parody.
As for the original. acting is just wonderful. You can hear different accents of Spanish. Some dialogues can be complicated, but if you listen a couple of times, everything gets clear. There are a lot of everyday routine words including some swear words. To sum up, I highly recommend watching it.
«Wild tales» (2014), level B1/B2
Gabriel Pasternak was hurt by many: his girlfriend, music teacher, a professor from the conservatory, dentist. And now all of them are on the same plane…
In a sideroad cafe, a waitress recognises a man who caused her father’s suicide. And the cook, who spent some time behind bars, has rat poison...
A city dandy in a new Audi on a deserted road decides to overtake an old and slow Peugeot, but the man doesn’t seem to let him do it…
A calm, good, honest citizen is whipped into a frenzy with absolute lawlessness of authorities. But when he has enough. he takes measures to deal with this bureaucratic machine in his own hands.
A rich boy commits hit-and-run on a pregnant lady. His wealthy parents will do absolutely anything to help their son avoid the punishment he deserves! And when everything seems settled, the results of their manipulations come out in some unpredictable ways…
At a wedding, a bride learns that her groom has been cheating on her, and he even had the guts to invite his mistress to the ceremony. The woman craves for revenge…
While watching this drama with some comedy elements I couldn't help thinking how similar our reactions and behaviour can be regardless of nationality.
The film touches upon some burning topics in Spain, well, maybe not only in Spain.
3 metros sobre el cielo
«3 meters above the sky» (2010), level В1/В2
Babi is a young and naive woman coming from a rich family. Hache is a street thug, rebel tending towards risk and danger. Young people live in parallel worlds, but as the genre goes, their meeting is unavoidable.
This Spanish melodrama by Fernando Gonzales Molina is based on a novel ‘3 Meters above the sky’ by Federico Moccia. It’s a touching first love story of modern Romeo and Juliet.
A young talented sex symbol of Spanish cinematography stars in the film. I think the film is going to be interesting for younger audience.
«Cleopatra» (2003), level В1/В2
Cleopatra is a daughter of a provincial theatre director obsessed with Shakespeare. She is in her sixties, children already left the nest, and her dream to become an actress hasn’t become true. After failing screentests once again she is crying in the Tv studios toilet. This is where she meets Sandra, a famous series star, tired of living a doll’s from a magazine cover life. Having talked all night, the women make a decision to have a trip with a lot of funny adventures waiting for them.
It’s a funny and touching Argentinian drama with some comedy elements which leaves a very warm feeling after you watch it. One of the main roles is played by Natalia Oreyro. famous in Russia for her roles in the series ‘Wild Anger’ and ‘The rich and the famous’. From the language point of view, this film is interesting for learners because characters speak Argentinian Spanish. So if you are used to Castillian, feel the difference, so to speak.
La piel que habito
«The skin I live in» (2011), level В1/2
Roberto Ledgard, a world-famous plastic surgeon, creates an artificial human skin. He tells his colleagues that he has been testing on mice. However, on his secluded estate, he secretly keeps a young woman named Vera captive. Where does she come from? Why is she the subject of his experiments?
This Spanish psychological thriller is based on Thierry Jonquet’s novel Tarantula. The film is not as rough as the book and doesn’t contain some really shocking details.
Just like in other Pedro’s fims the plot in this one is multilayered, and characters’ actions are ambiguous. A free variation on the theme of Pygmalion and Galatea in the modern world.
Ocho apellidos vascos.
Eight Basque Surnames (2014), level B2/C1
Rafa from Sevilla Andalusia has never left his beloved home. What’s the point when he has everything there? Andalusia gives him everything: good wine, food, hair gel and beautiful women. But after he meets a Basque girl named Amaia he decides to go Euskadi to prove that he is worth her love.
It’s a melodrama and comedy about Spain and its culture. For all language learners, this film is a real treasure chest full of useful information about the country, its customs and traditions, and it illustrates a significant difference between different Spanish regions.
Knots (2003), level В2/С1
Silvia is a young attorney working for an insurance company. She is given the case where she has to investigate an accident which resulted in the death of a fisherman. That’s how she finds herself in a poor area of Barcelona filled not just with a lot of labour and sweat, but love, harmony and tenderness. And there is also a lot of hope. This world is completely different from the one this beautiful woman is used to. During her investigation she is faced with a dilemma: should she make some interesting details of the fisherman’s death public, which will affect the final insurance payment, or should she just keep quiet and give a devastated widow, selling fish every day at the market, a chance for a better life?
The film is a drama and detective. Knots is the main character’s nickname, an old man telling about his life and death, and about what will happen to his family in the autumn when he passes away. It’s a kind and warm film about eternal values.
«Volver» (2006), level В2/С1
A young woman living with her unemployed alcoholic husband has to work several jobs to provide for the family. And once, having come back home late from work she witnesses the husband tryimg to rape their daughter. She came just in time to save the child! Even though Raymunda is strong and willed, she is just as vulnerable as any woman. And there is a secret in her past she is trying to leave behind, but that disgusting scene in her own house lets all her inner demons out.
This film - detective, drama - is another Pedro Almodovar's masterpiece. The film tells a story of three generations of women in a bustling Spanish city. The main character is played by the director’s favourite actress Penelopa Cruz.
Everybody knows that the fastest way to master a language is to be the language environment. But if you don’t have an opportunity to spend two or three months in Spain or Latin America, watching films can be a great alternative.
This method will help you to improve your Spanish while having a good time. Basic everyday situations, jokes, authentic anecdotes, swear words and words of love - you’ll find it all in the films suggested by the school Skype-language.
All photos used in the article are public.