You don’t need to meticulously study the dreaded ‘subjuntivo’ to get a dose of Spanish: Spanish cinema is much more entertaining.
There are several different ways to practise Spanish: talking to native speakers, reading news in Spanish, changing your language preference on your social media accounts, signing up for classes, or just plain old immersion. If a trip to Spain or Latin America is not in your foreseeable future, don’t fret. There are ways that you can practise Spanish without even having to put on pants. Get those minds out of the gutter, friends, we’re talking about Spanish films.
How can watching a film help me learn a language?
- There’s visual context, so you can pick up on clues such as facial expressions and body language.
- If you’ve already seen the film, then you’ll know more context. But even if you haven’t, you can watch the preview or trailer to know what the plot is about.
- The characters speak naturally, quickly, and use a variety of expressions that aren’t limited to: ‘Hello, How are you? I’m fine thank you, and you?’
- Actors are dramatic. They over-exaggerate, so again, it helps you to associate certain words and expressions with specific moods, situations and contexts. If a man screams: “Esto no es mi hijo! Mi hijo está muerto!” Well, you know they’re not singing happy birthday.
- You can stop, pause, rewind, and watch it again without feeling pesado for asking people to repeat themselves.
- If you’re like me, you may get the nervous sweats. So, by practising Spanish at home, watching films, not only are you entertained, you’re free to awkwardly repeat what you hear aloud, sweat when you mess up or don’t understand, pause the film and scour the interwebs for a translation, and most of all, you can do this from the comfort of your couch or bed (pants optional).
Top 10 films to learn Spanish
Below, I’ve listed 10 Spanish films to help you learn a second (or third) language. I chose them because they’re genuinely good films, but also because their plots vary in terms of difficulty level and for the variety of accents. It’s important to train your ears to recognise the nuances in the Spanish language. Just as Americans can tell a Texas accent from a New York one, there’s a huge difference between Colombian (from Bogotá) and Cuban accents, or between Spanish spoken in Andalucia, Barcelona and Madrid.
El secreto de sus ojos
It’s a crime drama/mystery filled with suspense, plot twists and winks at the Argentinian Dirty War.
La lengua de las mariposas
This is a story about the sweet relationship between a young Spanish boy and his teacher, and as the story develops we see just how the Spanish Civil War comes in and changes their lives forever.
Chico y Rita
Country: Spain (takes place in Cuba and US)
Genre: Animated film
This adult animated film is for lovers of jazz music. It’s about a Cuban musician that falls in love with a singer. Their love story spans decades and changes with the times.
También la lluvia
Country: Spain (set in Bolivia)
It’s a star-packed film about a group of filmmakers who set off to Bolivia to make a movie about Colombus’ landing and conquests in the New World; however, history repeats itself as we see the striking parallels between the original people of Bolivia and the locals hired to ‘act’ in the film (within a film).
La virgen de los sicarios
Country: Set in Colombia (Medellín)
Genre: Crime, Romance
This film is heavy, and it’s based on the novel of the same title by Fernando Vallejo. It deals with homosexuality, love, drugs, and violence.
La mala educación
This film is for the thinkers and the creatives. Its main themes include: drug use, transsexualism, sexual abuse within the Catholic church, and 1980’s Madrid sub-culture. Did I also mention it’s a murder mystery?
This story is so heartwarming and relateable. It’s about a nine year old boy with curly hair who is obsessed with making it straight like the images of singers and celebrities that bombard his television. This would all be fine if not for his scared, paranoid, working-class mother whose crippling homophobia causes her to react harshly towards her confused and lonely son.
Genre: Crime Drama
This story is based on true events. It focuses on a beauty pageant contestant in Baja California, Mexico, and shows what happens when the line that separates police and criminals gets blurred and spills into the daily lives of citizens.
A petty thief tries to clean up his life upon learning that he has a terminal illness, all the while caring for his children and making sure their futures are as secure as possible. Javier Bardem is magical.
Como agua para chocolate
When tradition prevents her from marrying the man she loves, a young woman discovers she has a unique talent for cooking.
There are so many more films to add to this list, but hopefully it’s a great starting point for learning Spanish. Which movies would you add?