Whether you’re earning foreign language credits, planning for a trip through Latin America or trying to add something new to your life, learning Spanish is a rewarding pursuit but can leave you feeling frustrated and confused. Even though Spanish is often considered one of the easier languages for English speakers to learn, the U.S. State Department suggests that it takes up to 700 hours to become fluent. One necessary component of learning Spanish is hearing the language spoken to improve pronunciation and enunciation — and binge-watching TV shows is the perfect way to immerse yourself in a new language.
Beginning learners might enjoy shows like “Destinos” and “Extra,” which were developed specifically for native-English speakers. Spanish is spoken slowly and the vocabulary is at the beginner level. These two shows are the perfect springboard for learning Spanish through television, but some viewers may find the plots a little boring or slow. When looking for more entertainment value, look no further than Netflix and other streaming services that provide ready access to new languages and better entertainment. Here are five binge-worthy shows in different genres on Netflix that provide a little something for everyone.
1. Reality TV: “Made in Mexico”
The show follows the Kardashians of Mexico. It takes place in 2018 and there is only one season available for binging. It’s perfect for a novice-level language learner as the cast bounces between English and Spanish. People from new and old money in Mexico City clash at parties, fashion shows, and holiday dinners that will leave viewers hooked. The nine characters in the show give viewers enough drama to keep them on the edge of their seats, eyes wide and jaws dropped. There is probably little to absorb as far as the culture of Mexico goes, but viewers will pick up phrases and idioms that are usually lost in academic classes. It’s very much as “real” as the Kardashians.
2. Romance: “Valeria”
This romantic drama takes place in Madrid. The vocabulary may be a little different to Latin American language learners, but that doesn’t stop viewers from being sucked into the drama. Valeria is a struggling Spanish writer whose marriage is on the rocks. She juggles her writing career with a job she doesn’t want to do, but it pays the bills. She has a fun group of friends, with one secretly sleeping with her husband! The show is comparable to “Sex and the City” because it is just as steamy and dramatic. Warning: This one is not safe for work! There are two seasons to binge with the third and final one on the way.
3. Historical Drama: “Bolívar”
“Bolívar” pays tribute to the South American hero Simón Bolívar in one season with a whopping 63 episodes. The show starts with Bolívar as a youth of only seven and covers his life all the way through to his death. While the show may not be entirely accurate, it still closely follows his journey from powerlessness to becoming El Libertador. Bolívar became a national icon for Columbia and a cultural icon in Latin America after he worked to liberate several colonies from the grip of Spain, so this show will give Spanish-language learners a look into one of the Western hemisphere’s most revered legends. Each one of the episodes is an hour long, so actively watching the show all the way through will give learners almost 10% of their needed hours to become fluent in the language.
4. Crime: “La Reina del Sur” (“Queen of the South”)
Protagonist Teresa Mendoza begins the series as a woman in love. After watching a drug cartel execute her boyfriend, she flees in search of a new life but finds herself right back in with the cartels. Unable to date anyone without them being murdered, and after a quick stint in jail where she meets her destiny, she’s transformed into a cartel boss running a successful drug business. Mendoza “girl-bosses” her way to the top and learns that while it’s easy to run an international crime syndicate, it’s harder to keep a boyfriend. This show is based on the writing of Arturo Pérez-Reverte and has even been remade for English speakers as “Queen of the South,” also on Netflix. The English version is great, but you can’t beat the original.
5. Comedy: “Guerra de Vecinos” (“The War Next Door”)
When a lower-income family wins the chance of a lifetime — the opportunity to live in a mansion in a posh, upscale neighborhood for six months — they take it! Unfortunately, they deal with the family next door that is not thrilled to have them living there. This comedy is overflowing with antics between the two matriarchs of each family and will have viewers chortling over their actions as each seeks revenge on the other and escalates their behavior. There are two full seasons on Netflix for viewers to binge.
Just having Spanish-language shows on will already give listeners help with their accent and pronunciation. Viewers can passively watch shows by adding in the English subtitles, which will help increase vocabulary and advance the plot. It’s best to actively watch the shows with no English subtitles on and listen for new vocabulary to increase understanding of the language. Another great tip is to rewind the shows to gain understanding and rewatch them to totally immerse yourself in the plot. Don’t expect perfection; learning a language is all about the quality of time spent actively learning. The more effort you put into it, the faster you will pick up the language.
There are so many quality shows made in Spanish for viewers to increase their fluency and vocabulary while learning. Netflix also provides dubbing for English shows so students can turn their favorites into a Spanish lesson. Binging shows in Spanish draws meaningful connections between words and actions, and listening to a new language either passively or actively contributes to learning. The key to learning any new language is consistency and immersion, so during your next binge session, consider listening to or reading Spanish.