I started watching these soap operas for a fun way to "kinda study" but quickly realized my Spanish comprehension was improving rapidly!
I am a lover of languages! I started studying Spanish in middle school and it quickly became my favorite subject. I entered poetry competitions and bought extra books to study. I nerd-ed out on the language and studied the culture. I was fascinated!
In high school I found out that there were only 5 levels of Spanish offered and I had already completed levels 1-3 in middle school. I couldn’t imagine doing two consecutive years of Spanish then being finished with Spanish until college, so I decided to take level 4 my freshmen year, have two years without Spanish class and then take AP Spanish 5 my senior year.
Going two years without a formal Spanish class then jumping into a college level AP Spanish course would mean I’d have to discipline myself to do personal study during those two years in between.
Like any average high school student, it was hard for me to create homework for myself and study in my free time. At that age, my free time consisted of going to dance class, drawing pictures, baking muffins, swim practice, and watching TV.
So here’s the GOLDEN TIP- watch TV!
I can’t remember exactly how I stumbled upon the beautiful world of telenovelas (Spanish language soap operas/ dramas) but I did. I started watching these soap operas for a fun way to “kinda study” but quickly realized my Spanish comprehension was improving rapidly! It wasn’t easy at first, there were times when the dramatic faces and music portrayed to me that something big had just happened but I didn’t have a clue what was going on. Between slang and fast pace conversations, some scenes were quite a struggle for me. At those times I would turn on the subtitles, I’d use subtitles for episodes on end! But then I’d challenge myself to watch a few without subtitles.
Before I knew it, I was super invested in the lives of the story characters and I looked forward to my new and improved study time!
Watching a series, especially a soap opera, was a great way to study because I began to learn the way each character talked and I learned new vocabulary around the topics they spoke about. The repetition that happens in soap operas is great for reviewing vocabulary and sentences structures.
Watching the series without purpose is not going to be as beneficial as having a plan of action. Below are the tips I have used for watching telenovelas along with other movies and shows in multiple languages for the purpose of language acquisition.
- Keep a dictionary tab open! – I usually watch all my shows and movies on my laptop. This is extremely helpful because I can keep a tab with a translation dictionary open, pause the show, and look up an unknown word. If the word is a key word and I cannot use context clues to understand the general meaning, I look it up right way. For other words that strike curiosity and have less immediate importance, I type them on a blank doc and return to them after the show is over.
- Keep it current – I recommend watching a fairly recent series. This would mean steering away from historical dramas. While those can be informative culturally, if your goal is to be fluent and speak with people of today, using the equivalent of “How art thou?” will make for an awkward conversation. It takes courage to speak in a foreign language, so I try to keep things simple and focus on learning vocabulary I can use currently.
- Understand the general idea – Don’t get hung up on every word! In the beginning you won’t catch it all! Try to get a general idea of what’s going on in the scene. Use context clues, look at those dramatic facial expressions, you want to get into the series. The reason why this worked so well for me is because I enjoyed my TV study time. Pause, rewind, use a dictionary but not obsessively, allow yourself to enjoy the show and don’t get frustrated. Learning a foreign language does take time.
- Watch it AGAIN– Watch the episode first with subtitles and then a second time without. It is a great way to understand what’s going on and train yourself to really hear those words without worrying about what’s going on.
- Watch a familiar movie– If you aren’t into soap operas, or you want to switch things up, one great tip I learned from my university professor in Egyptian Arabic was to watch a children’s movie you’ve seen a couple times before and re-watch it in your target language of study. Disney movies are a great way to do that because many of us already know the lines and songs by heart! I personally have watched the movie Tangled a bunch of times and challenged myself by watching it in Arabic (one of my majors in university) and Spanish (my other major and first love).
Tips 1-3 I used during my two years without Spanish classes back in high school. Although I knew my Spanish fluency had increased, I still was nervous about jumping into AP Spanish 5 after a couple years without formal class. To my relief and surprise, the class was a breeze. Okay, not a breeze but very do-able! At the end of the course we had the option of taking an exam to receive college credit for the class. The highest score was a 5 and not to brag, but your girl here received a 5!
Getting that score and receiving max college credits proved to me how powerful watching TV for study can be! Since then I always have a go-to telenovela series to watch. Sitting down and watching a 45 minute show can be time consuming so nowadays I just watch every so often as a re-fresher and test. With 150+ episodes in some telenovelas, I can easily spread out one series for a long time and still feel like I am progressing in the story and in my language learning.