Learning Spanish – The Telenovela Method

fun1Here at UniSpain, we love to provide you with great tips on your Spanish language learning journey. Take a read at the advice from today’s guest blogger Andrew, who spent the last several years teaching himself Spanish from home with free online resources and media such as TV shows, movies, music, books, etc.

This a great and fun way to complement a Spanish language course in Spain.

Here is Andrew:

Why it needs to be FUN and how we’re going to do it
I can’t possibly overemphasize how important this is, even though it might seem like it’s not, even though it might seem like a trivial or silly requirement.  ‘Fun‘ will do more to actually make you succeed at learning a language than any other factor, bar none.  Why? Because it keeps you interested, it keeps you coming back, it keeps you from giving up, it keeps you from getting bored (which inevitably leads to you giving up–trust me, I know, I’ve done it…several times…I’ve learned the hard way, ok?).  Don’t overestimate your self-discipline, even the most determined and disciplined amongst us would be helped enormously by making the process fun and interesting versus not.  At the very least, you’ll accomplish a lot more in a lot less time and with a lot less effort and stress if it’s fun and therefore you’ll do it whenever you can (because, of course, you enjoy it!), even when you don’t have to. This is in contrast to when it’s not fun, when it’s just more work, and therefore you only do it when you absolutely have to and you’re a lot more likely to get sick of it, get discouraged, and quit.

 Bonus: It’s cheap and frequently even free!

The materials you’re going to be learning from that I mentioned above are available in essentially unlimited quantities, all of which are either free, cheap, or you already pay for them (such as TV and internet access).  You’ll be using television and/or the internet.  Also, honestly, if you don’t have cable TV that’s not really a problem if you’ve got either a TV and DVD player or the internet.  In fact, as long as you’ve got just one of these three (cable TV, or a TV and DVD player, or a computer with internet access), you can do this.

The DVDs that are my favorite material to use can be had from Amazon.com for, typically, less than $10 a piece, and just one or two Spanish-language movies can easily last a beginner several months, especially if they’re also supplementing it with other things you can get online for free such as Spanish-language TV shows, newspapers, and magazines.  And, of course, Spanish-language books (such as the Harry Potter series, one of my favorite recommendations) can be had for very cheap on Amazon, typically less than $5 each for both the Spanish and English language versions (we’ll need both, the English language version will be our translation that we’ll use to learn the Spanish in the Spanish-language version).

How to do it: The Telenovela Method
I call it the Telenovela Method because I got the idea for it from a friend of mine from college many years ago who learned Spanish from scratch to fluency entirely and only by taping, watching, and re-watching Telenovelas (Spanish-language soap operas)–he did this while he was a cook at Applebees because the majority of the people he worked were native Spanish-speakers with little to no English-language abilities. I’ve significantly improved and refined the method over the years such that it actually has little in common with what he was doing, though I feel I should give credit where it’s due and he was the inspiration for it.

Media Logo

Now, I’ll tell you right now that when you’re looking for video media (either TV shows or movies or random videos online), the most important thing to look for, the holy grail, is Spanish subtitles–yes, subtitles in Spanish for a video that’s also in Spanish.  Why do we want Spanish subtitles instead of English? Because the speakers are talking way too fast for you to figure out what they’re saying without help, and isn’t it so much easier to figure this out if you’ve got an exact word-for-word transcript of what they said?  Of course, that’s the ideal situation–if you’ve got an English translation (which is what English subtitles are) then it’s not word for word, that wouldn’t make sense, so in order to learn the Spanish you’ve got to go look up the Spanish translation of the English words in the subtitles and then try to use that to figure out what they’re saying.  It’s much, much easier to just have the word-for-word Spanish version of what they’re saying, which is what Spanish subtitles are.  When we’ve got that, we can just look up the words, learn them, and then re-listen to what we heard/saw and we’ll now be able to understand them because we know all the words that they’re using!

I currently maintain a list on my website of places online where you can watch Spanish language videos that have Spanish subtitles for free, that list is the very first place I’d recommend you go to look for such videos.  I keep it constantly updated by adding new sites as I learn about them and removing any that no longer work.  My top recommendation for a beginner would probably be Mi Vida Loca, a fantastic Spanish-learning program made and maintained by the BBC that teaches Spanish through a TV show that takes the learner on a series of adventures that they’re required to participate in by using their newly learned Spanish.

Here’s a basic step-by-step guide on how to do The Telenovela Method:
1. Play a short (one or two sentences’ worth) clip of the show, song, or movie, with the subtitles on if we have them.  If it’s a song then we want to have the Spanish transcript and the English translation of it at hand (both of these can be very easily found online for nearly every song in existence).
2. Pause it after each line. If you don’t understand precisely what was said, then you go to the next step (if you do understand everything perfectly, then skip to step 6).
3. Read the subtitles/transcript to determine what was said.
4. Look up the meaning of everything you see there (I highly recommend you refer to this list of my favorite resources.  Do not go on until you understand everything that was said, that means: the pertinent definition of all words, the grammar, why each verb is conjugated the way it is, and any expressions, idioms or slang.  Make sure you understand precisely what is being said and why the speaker is saying it the way they are.
5. Enter all words you don’t know onto flashcards or Anki (basically digital flashcards, highly recommended) for later review–this is very important and will make the learning process go much, much faster and will prevent you from ever having to look up the same word twice. After you have done this you may now go to the next step.
6. Repeat aloud after the native speaker, rewinding, replaying, and repeating what they said as many times as is necessary to get us to where we sound exactly like them: that is, we pronounce everything as they do and we say it just as fast as they do (this will take some work to get yourself up to this speed and if you can’t do it initially, that’s fine), and we understand precisely what it is that we’re saying and why it is that we’re saying it the way that we are.
7. Replay the scene: can you make out every word that they’re saying and understand them? When you can understand precisely what they’re saying and make out every word, you’re ready to move on. You should improve enormously in just a few weeks if you’ll do this for 30 minutes a day or so every day.  It really shouldn’t take long before you can understand 90% of what they’re saying after using this technique.
8.  You have just learned more spoken and written Spanish in the 30 minutes it took you to do that with a half dozen lines than you would in a week’s worth of Spanish classes in most colleges and high schools.  Why?  Because you had to learn everything about those few sentences to really understand them, you had to cover a lot of different grammar and vocabulary, you had to learn slang and expressions, and you had to learn how to comprehend what they said at full speed, and you had to learn how to not only say what they said exactly the way that they said it (and therefore forcing yourself to learn fantastic pronunciation) but you had to do it just as fast as they did (normal conversational rate of speed).  You’ll learn a lot more by doing this with just a few sentences per lesson (each ‘lesson‘ you give yourself should probably be about 30-45 minutes, then you should break for 10 or 15 before coming back if you’re going to do so) each day than you will by glossing over a bunch of Spanish or trying to stay awake through a dry and boring lesson from a home study course or a class.


And that’s it, that’s The Telenovela Method in a nutshell.
Read on for  a more detailed description of it and how to do it.

Thank you, seriously, for taking the time to read this, I really hope that I’ve helped you towards your goal of learning Spanish–learning languages is something I’m more passionate and enthusiastic about than nearly anything else, and I really love it when someone else feels the same way and especially when I can help them.

Cheers, Andrew.

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