I was advised that a fun and simple way to learn a language was to watch TV!
Easy peasy. What better excuse was there to put down the textbooks and settle down with some snacks to watch a bit of Netflix?
Of course, it requires mucho concentration to watch anything juicy with subtitles, but scrolling through the range of kids shows and comedies on offer, the opportunity to binge-watch the highly-acclaimed ‘Narcos’ and ‘La Casa de Papel’ was hard to pass up.
After all, what better excuse was there?
But there is a process to follow if I am to gain any benefit from this seemingly easy language-learning method…
Uno: I must watch in the language I am trying to learn to attune my ear and listening skills, whilst reading the subtitles in English. OK, got it.
Dos: The next step is to progress on to watching in Spanish AND reading Spanish subtitles. Por favor, give me time.
Por ultimo: watch sin-subtitles of course. By which point I will be practically fluent. Hurray!
Let’s press pause just for a second. Even in step one, there is so much to think about! I find myself fixating on every word spoken, and obsess over identifying accents, by which point not only have I lost the plot, but also the context, and my concentration!
My first (and so far, only) trip to the cinema in Madrid was a Friday afternoon showing of Tarantino’s ‘Once upon a time in Hollywood’. No longer just a rainy-day activity, this was a different yet surprisingly pleasant way to escape the sizzling summer heat.
Most cinemas here show films dubbed in Spanish and trying to find one showing versión original was harder than you might expect…
[“Dubbing” is a quirk – perdón, whole industry – pretty unique to Spain. Someone told me that they grew up believing that Harry Potter was Spanish. Well you would, wouldn’t you? If all your life you had only watched movies in your own language. And there are dubbing artists whose job it is to be “Spanish Brad Pitt” for example, which I think is fantastic.]
Anyway, despite listening in English, I was so busy trying to learn new vocab from reading the subtitlos that I can barely remember the film itself.
What struck me though, was that not everything translated directly. Of course, there were cultural factors at play, like hearing Leonardo DiCaprio say something really American like “Jeez!” and seeing “Madre Mía!” pop up on screen reminded me exactly where I was.
The other difference was humour. At times, we were the only ones in the cinema laughing, but when the whole Spanish audience erupted, I looked around convinced that I must have missed something! Tarantino’s movies can have that effect I suppose…
Day to day, I have the news on in the background too. I don’t know how much it actually helps me improve, but there is nothing quite like listening to the unmistakable voice of a newsreader while sipping that first morning café to really immerse yourself. It’s also a fantastic way to trick myself into believing that I am effortlessly learning at every given opportunity!
Of course, most nights it is tempting to switch over to watch something “easy”, or at the very least, comprehendible. TV time is supposed to involve an element of unwinding, and there isn’t much relaxing about being permanently perched on the edge of your seat squinting at subtitles, scared to blink for fear of missing that major plot twist.
Crucial is my concentration.
But being able to follow even a fraction of 50-minute show makes it all worth the “effort”. And I am noting some progress. Sometimes I feel emboldened enough to avert my eyes from the subtitles and glance away – like taking my hands off the handlebars for the first time. Only managing a split second at first, but gradually I become more confident (and now for my next trick ha…)!
And so, I settle down in my zen-den ready for another tough night of watching ‘Valeria’ in a bid to progress. I light a candle, even though it is far too hot, and no sooner has the flame flickered than the air-con has blown it out! Smothered in a thick layer of tan-preserving moisturiser, I flake out like a sticky starfish, and give my glasses an extra wipe, so those subtitles are crystal clear.
Whilst there is definitely more distraction than progress at times, it really is a small sacrifice to make.
Warning: must be practised alongside other tried and tested study techniques.