Movies and TV Shows for Spanish Learners | Winter/Spring 2017 Edition

I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix in between the classes I’ve been teaching, my conversation meet-ups,聽and my French class (not to mention trying to take a stab at a social life). As you’ll see below, I am not necessarily particularly discriminating in my tastes when it comes to watching television and movies in Spanish (same holds for French). If it is available in Spanish, it gives me a good excuse to indulge 馃檪

Still, if I really didn’t enjoy something, I wouldn’t bother sharing it with you. Below is a list of some things I’ve enjoyed while watching Spanish and Latin American movies lately. Let me know if you have any other suggestions!


It’s cheesy. It’s oh-so-cheesy. But it’s three seasons (four if you’re lucky enough to find free access to the fourth) of cheesy, sappy, romantic comedy goodness. And if you’re learning it to learn/practice some Spanish, you get to feel good about watching it. It’s guilt free! Think a light-hearted Mad Men in 50s Madrid subbing the fashion industry for the advertising industry.

Off Course

Another lighty here. Many young people are leaving Spain for job opportunities elsewhere. This movie focuses on the lives of a few young people who went to Berlin in search of economic opportunities. For the most part, it’s light-hearted, so don’t expect it to change your life or world concept per se. But still, it’s an easy watch.

Spanish Affair

I’m on a roll with cheesy here. 聽A young woman needs her father to believe she’s still getting married (although that relationship ended) and convinces a man she barely knows to pretend to be her fiance. The farce ends up going further than expected. What makes this more than a simple cheesy romantic comedy? She’s from Spain’s Basque region and he’s from Andalucia. If you’re interested in Basque culture at all, this is a light-hearted (albeit clich茅) glimpse into it.

Retribution/El Desconocido

Oh, I’m a sucker for a good action movie. This is the kind of movie you’d imagine Denzel Washington in. A father/husband has forgotten what’s important to him until he suddenly finds himself in his car with his children and a bomb. Lots of action. Lots of screaming. It’s not a movie you’re going to discuss at dinner parties, but it’s a solid hour and a half of entertainment.

Amores Perros

Many years ago, back when I was a young, idealist college student, our Spanish teacher told us we should watch Amores Perros. I did. And I remembered it being well done, but didn’t remember much else, so I watched it again. It certainly is well done, but ooph, this certainly isn’t a movie for children. It’s hard to watch the dogs fight; it’s hard to watch the brothers fight; there’s violence; there are sex scenes. And it’s a long movie. But I帽谩rritu is a master.

Coraz贸n de Li贸n

This movie was recommended to me by one of my students from Latin America. Again, there’s a love story (sorry, so much love in this post, but it is almost Valentine’s Day!), but this time the love story takes place between two people who are marginalized from mainstream culture in Colombia.


A friend and I took a trip to Kendall Square Cinema to watch the latest Almod贸var movie. I say the latest, but truth be told, I haven’t seen anything else by him other than Volver, so I’ve got a lot of work to do in this department.聽The performances and the scenery in Julieta were wonderful, but this movie won’t exactly leave you in a happy-go-lucky mood.

Juana In茅s

This series by Canal Once is amazing. I, sadly, hadn’t heard of Juana In茅s de Esbajo聽before finding this series. Her story is amazing. There have been genius women all along. We just haven’t had the opportunity to hear their thoughts and their stories. The costumes are wonderful. The acting, for the most part, is great. There’s only one short season, which is sure to be the last since she dies at the end (they show her dying at the beginning so that is not a spoiler!).

All right, I’m going to have to stop there! Please, please do let me know in the comments what you thought about any of the above or especially if you have any other suggestions for what I should be watching!

隆Que tengan un buen d铆a!

Celebrating Three Kings Day

Growing up, I only vaguely new about the holiday of the Epiphany/D铆a de los Reyes Magos/Three Kings Day. I had certainly never celebrated it. As an adult, the first time I really learned about how important the day was in Latin American and Spanish culture was during one of our trips to Puerto Rico. Still, I’ve never timed travel in these countries to coincide with January 6.

If you’d like to learn a bit more about the holiday, check out this article explaining the history, facts, and traditions of the Epiphany.

Since moving to Boston, I have been practicing Spanish with a conversation partner who’s morphed into a friend. She’s from Spain, so I ask her oodles of cultural questions that arise while watching Spanish movies and television shows. This means I asked her a lot about Three Kings Day, both the food and the traditions. Naturally, after these conversations, I was getting amped up to make the traditional cake. She and her husband were nice enough to put up with me in their kitchen for a few hours and have Jordan and I over to celebrate with some Spanish food.

Would you believe they even have an entire leg of jam贸n iberico in their apartment right now?! It was too exciting for me. I got to to a bit of the slicing myself, which was humbling. I now respect those people in Spanish restaurants or at Spanish weddings that are in charge of this duty a lot more.

A little manchego cheese and salchic贸n into the mix! We also had salad, quiche (okay, not so Spanish, but tasted great!), croquetas, and picos (those little, tiny, crunchy breadsticks you are served at tapas bars). I was also introduced to calimochos (or kalimotxo), a mix of red wine and Coca-Cola. I’d rather stick to a good Rioja in most cases, but it was fun to try one 馃檪

The bakers:

If you didn’t take a gander at the article above, it’s traditional to eat a king cake, or rosc贸n (rosca in Latin America) for the holiday. Much like in France or Louisana during Mardi Gras, a token is inserted into the cake. However, in this case, there’s a lucky token (we used a small toy) and a not-so-lucky token (a dry garbanzo bean). When eating, you must bite carefully into your piece, just in case the tokens happen to be in your slice. The lucky winner gets to wear the king crown for the night (Jordan won, so please imagine him wearing this headband–he won’t let me share the photo with you :)); the unlucky winner is required to pay for the cake. In our case, no one was unlucky, since it was homemeade. We happily dipped our slices of cake in hot chocolate.

The food was fun, the conversation more so. We had a lovely night and learned a bit more about Spanish culture. We even got to take a bit of the rosc贸n home!

Did anyone else celebrate last night or the night before?

In case anyone is wondering, we followed a recipe from the site Javi Recetas. I’ll be spending more than a little time browsing for other recipes…

I Didn’t Become Fluent in Spanish and Here’s Why I Don’t Feel Bad About It

I just returned from a nearly three-month trip in South America. It was the stuff dreams and dinner party anecdotes are made of.

quebrada de cafayate

I think it’s pretty safe to say that we found our way off of the Gringo Trail, excepting the touristy stops on our trip, at least for quite a while. Once we even heard someone say, 鈥淲e never see gringos on this trail鈥 as we hiked by a group of Argentinos.

DSC_1335 (2)

I returned to North America with a deeper understanding of biology, a greater appreciation for the creatures that share this planet with us, a solid grasp on Argentine wines, and a love/fearful respect relationship for the Chaco region. And a newfound respect for the accordian. I got a lot out of the trip.

But did I return to North America as a fluent Spanish speaker? Am I wowing everyone with my near perfect Argentine accent?

Oh, heavens no.

Yeah, I could be a bit disappointed in myself. I can’t even understand entire movies without subtitles, especially if it’s coming to us from Buenos Aires or Chile (驴Jaja?) My Spanish-language exchanges still tend to be halting, awkward as often as not, and there’s a whole lot of 鈥溌緾贸mo?鈥 coming from both sides. So, there you are. I’m proof that just being in a place where people speak a language isn’t enough. It’s not a simple osmosis thing.* It’s not magic. Learning a language still has to be intentional.

Why didn’t we reach fluency? Why am I not disappointed in myself? That wasn’t our goal.

We never set out to learn Spanish to the point of fluency on this trip. In fact, we never set actual goals for attaining a specific level of Spanish. Sounds awful? Maybe, but read on.
For neither the husband nor I, improving our Spanish wasn’t the primary purpose of the trip. He was there to get into the field, concentrate on a paper he’s working on, and work with research collaborators. I, on the other hand, went with the intention of writing (eek, could have done more), reading to my heart’s content, assisting in his research (I am queen of the GPS now), eating empanadas like crazy, and improving my Spanish. Learning Spanish wasn’t the only reason we were there and we never made a point to decide what level of Spanish we wished to obtain before leaving. When your objective is as vague as 鈥渋mproving my Spanish,鈥 it’s hard to measure and certainly not conducive to obtaining fluency.

We also didn’t purposely seek out in-depth language practice. Other than walking to the lab for internet and ping pong and going on research trips (and a wee bit of vacation), we only left our hermitage once per week. I am only a little bit sorry about this. When your hermitage is a gorgeous park with hiking trails and new flora and fauna, it’s hard to justifying leaving it too often. If I’d been more ambitious, I could have taken the bus into town, paid for classes, or tried to set up some sort of language exchange around our trip schedule.** But that would have changed the entire nature of our trip.

No, I’m not fluent in Spanish. Still, my Spanish most definitely improved.

How do I know?

Let’s travel through time about ten months to a Montreal cafe. I was trying to deoxidize my nine-year-old Spanish in a conversation with a Spanish-speaking friend. This friend (with whom I normally spoke in French) laughed and told me I sound 鈥渇unny鈥 in Spanish. Later, he admitted to Jordan what he meant by 鈥渇unny.鈥 Apparently, I sounded like a robot when I tried to speak. A really, really slow one. I was pretty bad.

Fast forward a bit. On the flight to Argentina, I really strained to grab words from the flight attendants’ announcements. On the return flight, that same seemingly incomprehensible announcement was pretty manageable.

Reading articles doesn’t seem painful anymore. Sure, I look words up. But a news article no longer takes 30 minutes鈥攐nly 10. 馃檪

Last night, I chatted with that same Spanish-speaking friend who said I sound like a robot. My words seemed to come easily. He noted it early on in the conversation, saying that he could tell I had learned a lot (and this was unprompted…promise I didn’t fish!).

Finally, I type this from a Vancouver cafe (not the trendy, hipster one your picturing鈥攂ring your expectations down a bit). Guilty as usually charged, I’m eavesdropping on approximately four conversations at one time. One of these happens to be one-side of a Spanish-language Skype call. I certainly am not understanding everything (he’s speaking pretty quickly), but I’m able to understand the overall subject of his call, can seize some details, and picked out his accent.

I don’t want you getting the wrong idea. Even these improvements didn’t come easily or automatically.

Improving took work, intention, and awkwardness.

I wasn’t intentional about leveling up in a language. Instead, I was intentional about practicing a little every day.

My goal was a process goal, not a product goal.

When out and about, we often were left with no choice but to speak Spanish with vendors or locals. On our trips with other researchers, I made a point to speak at least a little amount each day and listened to their exchanges with intent. From these conversations and I scrawled down new vocabulary words to practice later, plugged them into my Anki (flashcard review) sets, and reviewed when home.

While tucked away in Horco Molle (the aforementioned hermitage), I still fulfilled my commitment to practice a little per day. A little per day probably averaged around fifteen active minutes. I reviewed grammar lessons at least two times per week, logged in for a DuoLingo session a couple times per month, and listened to podcasts for Spanish learners. We watched some movies in Spanish during our stay. I read from YA books or articles in magazine a couple times a week. Sometimes, I even squeezed tiny five minutes conversations in with others.

These three months taught me that learning a language isn’t the same for everyone. And that’s great. If you’re goal is about leveling up and you’ve got a test to pass, by all means, strive for the next level, strive to pass. Please do. Let’s remember, though, that focusing on results might not be the only way to improve. I found focusing on the process way less intimidating and way more inviting.

I focused on the habit, not my level or how to label it. Worry about your level and fluency if you need to or really want to.

When I was really in the throes of French learning, I was constantly stressing about my level. It was easy to succumb to this pressure when my main motivation for learning French was to put it on my CV and find work. Was I maintaining? Was I improving? In a moment of frustration, I told a friend I felt like I was actually digressing. Her response would become my language learning mantra:

If you’re practicing and really making an effort, you can only get better.

I’ve come to find that to be true. Sure, you might be able to be more efficient. But if you’re putting in time and keep challenging yourself, you will get better.

For me, right now, that’s the goal.聽Move ahead a little bit each day and occasionally look back to see how far I’ve come.

salinas grandes jujuy, argentina



*I know, you’re thinking about how children 鈥渁re like sponges鈥 and just absorb language. Except that your mom probably spent precious time with you pointing out colors, shapes, and playing games that make you repeat words over and over.

**Skype lessons weren’t exactly easily feasible either. We had no internet in the house. When I went to the lab for internet, it was shared internet with people who needed it to work, and there wasn’t a place to Skype that wouldn’t disturb others.

Open a Torrent茅s or Malbec and Sing Along | 6 Spanish-language Songs We’re Loving Lately

spanish-language sing along
Where we’re staying in Tucum谩n (Horco Molle), we don’t have Internet or television in the house. I’ll admit that part of me finds the lack of Internet very frustrating. For example, cooking is much easier when we can simply google what we have and find a recipe by some other person who had the same things and made it work.

chat's wine bar

Still, the other part of me really enjoys not having Internet or television. Our nights generally consist of cooking (something we either know how to make or have saved a recipe for), eating, reading, chatting over a glass malbec or torrent茅s, and/or listening to music (or sometimes pre-downloaded podcasts) while working. You already know some of the songs that are on our French-language playlist, and since I’m still in the sharing mood, I’d thought I’d share some of our favorite Spanish-language songs as well. There are a couple more of these since the husband is also learning Spanish. 聽None are new; some are old; all are good for listening to while sipping Argentine wines.

Join me, won’t you?

Todo Cambia | Mercedes Sosa

She is the queen.

El Avion | Jose Conde

I always end up dancing like a fool.

Diablo Rojo | Rodrigo y Gabriela

Okay, I’m cheating. There aren’t words, but you won’t feel cheated in the least.

Chacarera del Violin | Nestor Garnica

This is definitely going to make you wish you could play the violin.

Lento | Julieta Venegas

Okay, this one’s mine, not Jordan’s. She sings just slow enough so that it feels like you might actually understand. (Perfect for a song named Lento, huh?) And you were beginning to think we were opposed to pop here. Nope.

And because I said I wasn’t opposed to pop…

The 驴D贸nde 茅stan las ladrones? Album聽| Shakira

What? At least it’s old school Shakira, right?聽It takes me back to the 1990s and it is in Spanish! I mean yo quiero que vuelvas–that’s subjunctive, folks. That’s grammar 馃檪

As always, I want suggestions for music! Let me know what I should be listening to in Spanish!

Spanish Progress! | DuoLingo Challenge

screenshot of duolingo spanish

As you probably know, I started studying Spanish in January this year. I admit that my progress is a bit slower than I had hoped, as I haven’t put in the time I had hoped to. Still, I’m plugging away. I’ve reached the end of my DuoLingo Spanish Challenge! If anyone is looking for a free way to learn some vocab or grammar structures in a new language, I highly recommended starting here. (Currently, they offer Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, ESL, and a bit of Russian).

Of course, I plan to go back and do a lot of review (I still use DuoLingo from time to time to brush up on some French grammar and spelling). And finishing the DuoLingo program doesn’t necessarily mean that I can use all of the skills and vocab in an actual conversation, but it’s a great starting place. 聽Time to reward myself by watching an episode of Las Guapas 馃榾

screenshot of duolingo spanish

Feel free to add me if you decide to join! I’m listed as lemoine and you’ll be able to see my pic. Happy studying!