Foreign Language
Illustration by Elizabeth Wong, University of Rhode Island

9 Netflix Shows to Boost Your Foreign Language Skills

It’s time to stop limiting yourself to English television and start absorbing that language you’ve always wanted to learn with these binge-worthy shows.

Picture your life if you resided in the country you’ve always wanted to travel to. If you weren’t held back by the foreign language barrier and could navigate with ease and confidence, where would you go?

Maybe you’re in Paris, sipping espresso and munching on a croissant, in a quaint coffee shop by the Eiffel Tower as accordion music plays softly in the background. You could be learning the sensual tango from a dashing Argentinian dance instructor in a small studio smack dab in the middle of bustling Buenos Aires. Or perhaps you’re gripping the handlebar above you as you travel your morning commute by subway in Seoul, marveling at the sunlight hitting Bukhansan’s mountain peaks.

Wherever they take place, your international dreams don’t have to stay a fantasy. While you may have to take more steps to make the traveling happen, you can start learning that foreign language right now, the fun way by watching Netflix. The streaming service has a vast selection of shows in over 20 languages to get you started on your journey of mastering a new language. Keep scrolling to read all about 9 foreign language Netflix shows that’ll be sure to advance your abilities in whichever language you want to learn.

Arabic and Hebrew – “Fauda

The Arabic term “fauda” translates to “chaos” — the perfect word to describe this Netflix series. Military damage ensues as an Israeli military unit hunts militants in the Palestine-based thriller. The show features two Semitic foreign languages: Arabic and Hebrew. A 2018 BBC documentary reveals how closely “Fauda” parallels with reality.

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However, the show has received backlash for its politics in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Palestinian writer Yasmeen Serhan attests to appreciating the accuracy of “Fauda” in its portrayal of the brutal treatment inflicted upon the people of her nationality. Be on the lookout for the series’ third season on Netflix sometime in mid 2020.

French – “Call My Agent!

If you want to learn French and also just so happen to be a lover of workplace comedies like “The Office” and “30 Rock,” add “Call My Agent!” to your Netflix list. Pleasure and business mix in a neat cocktail as the series follows the hectic endeavors of four Parisian talent agents.

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Each episode features the fictional talent agents working industry magic for real French celebrities — all while balancing their own personal lives. Three seasons worth of this French comedy are waiting for you to stream now.

German – “Dark

Sci-fi, drama and mystery collide in Netflix’s original “Dark.” The show explores tried and true themes like time traveling, free will and predestination. Critics suggest that “Donnie Darko” meets “Stranger Things” in this German series; kids wander around their 1980s small town trying to get to the bottom of the bizarre happenings that are occurring, but with a plot full of twists and turns in its topsy-turvy timeline.

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Beware: The first episode may leave you so perplexed, you might just have to binge it all at once to solve its mysteries.

Italian – “Suburra: Blood on Rome

Inspired by real-life mafia investigations, “Suburra: Blood on Rome” prequels its 2015 film counterpart, “Suburra,” based off the original novel of the same name. The series focuses on the elaborate web of organized Italian crime, involving the church, politicians and local gangs, all swaying to and from either side of the law.

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NME goes so far as to suggest the show might be “TV’s next great Mob drama.” So, what better way to familiarize yourself with a foreign romance language than with Netflix’s first original in Italian?

Japanese – “Erased

Manga turned anime turned live-action drama: the plot of “Erased” proves too captivating to stay put in a sole story-telling form. This Netflix original features a 29-year-old aspiring manga artist on the daunting quest of time travelling to prevent his mother’s tragic death.

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He travels all the way back 18 years into his past. He walks the streets as a teenager, but still has his knowledge gained as an adult to guide him. Although only 12 episodes are available to stream, not a moment of your viewing time will be squandered.

Korean – “Kingdom

Netflix’s first original K-drama combines two unlikely forces: the political drama of medieval Korean royalty and flesh-eating zombies. Adapted from the popular webcomic series “Kingdom of the Gods,” “Kingdom” trails the Crown Prince as turmoil follows him in more ways than one, including the deceased king’s zombie return.

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The show renewed for a second season before it even aired, verifying its charm and thrill. Season 2 releases March 13, so you better get started on the first season now.

Mandarin Chinese – “Day and Night

“Day and Night” follows a pair of twin brothers — one is a police detective investigating an unsolved familicide and the other is the case’s top suspect. Although the detective can’t work his brother’s investigation, the captain working the case still seeks his help as a consultant.

The only problem is that one of the brothers has nyctophobia, a severe fear of the dark. This means that the the brother that works cases during the day isn’t the same as the one crime solving at night. Right after English, Mandarin is the second largest foreign language spoken in the world, so all the more reason to watch the 32 episodes on Netflix.

Portuguese – “3%

The first Brazilian Netflix original, “3%” proves dystopian plot lines don’t have to remain overbearingly depressing. Amidst the flawed world divided into two, the government is on a mission to create a perfect third world. 20-year-olds get removed from their life of poverty only to be thrown into a series of physically and mentally challenging rituals.

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The victorious 3% win access to the paradise of “Offshore.” But when is a dystopian show ever that simple? Netflix’s global viewers couldn’t get enough of the show in 2017, the year after it first released “3%” ranked at number two of the most binged shows for the year. Trust the stats and start watching.

Spanish – “Grand Hotel

Taking place in early 20th century Spain, “Grand Hotel” is one of Netflix’s hidden gems. It precedes the flopped American remake and successfully spans three seasons worth of heart-wrenching drama. The show focuses on the ongoings of the wealthy family that owns this fancy hotel.

For soap opera lovers, you’ll find a little bit of everything in “Grand Hotel” — love, lies, murder, backstabbing and more. Some reviewers even call it the “Spanish ‘Downton Abbey.’” So, what are you waiting for? Spaniard rich people problems beckon you to binge.

Victoria Acosta, Southern Adventist University

Writer Profile

Victoria Acosta

Southern Adventist University
English, Professional Writing and International Studies with a Spanish emphasis. Minor in music

I’m originally from Philadelphia, PA, and receiving my education in writing, one of my many passions. I spend my time singing solo or in choir, practicing yoga, studying astrology and spending quality time with friends.

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