Watching TV series and films is a great, informal way of learning a language or keeping up a language that you already know. Watching series and films is obviously a great way to improve your listening skills and expand your vocabulary, but it also has some less obvious benefits. For example, it also exposes you to the culture(s) of that language and a variety of different accents. As well as that, it lets you experience authentic conversation. That includes everyday expressions, varied language, real-life speed of speech and slang or colloquial language. Most importantly, it’s an enjoyable and motivating way to learn!
How to Change the Language
If you’re trying to watch something on Netflix that’s also available in your native language, it may automatically play in this language. To change this, click the dialogue button in the play bar at the bottom of the screen (see below). This will bring up the available options and you can select Spanish. You can also change your default language and subtitle preferences in your account settings. By doing that, you won’t have to change the settings every time you watch something.
It may seem daunting at first to watch something in a foreign language, but one way of making it easier is to turn the subtitles on. The dialogue button shown above also houses the subtitle settings.
Don’t be ashamed to put the subtitles on, even if you’re an advanced speaker of the language. Studies have shown that using subtitles helps when learning a language. However, make sure you set the subtitles to Spanish. It has been shown that using subtitles in your native language actually has a negative effect on language acquisition. This is because they take your attention away from the foreign language.
If there’s a word that you don’t understand, try to infer the meaning from the context and jot the word down. That way, you can check its meaning later without interrupting your viewing.
The following series and films are available on Netflix in the UK:
Set in glamorous 1950s Madrid, it tells the story of a fashion house and the escapades of its owners, employees and customers. It can be a little cheesy and predictable at times, but with plenty of drama, love, humour and friendships, what more could you want? It’s a real feel-good programme and I love it! There are 4 seasons with 55 episodes in total, so there’s plenty for you to get your teeth into.
IMDb rating: 8.1/10
This spin-off of Velvet follows some of the original team plus some new characters as they set up a store in Barcelona in the 1960s. It’s not quite the same as the original, but it certainly filled the Velvet-shaped hole in my life! There are 2 seasons with a total of 20 episodes.
IMDb rating: 7.2/10
Partly in English and partly in Spanish, this is a good one to watch if you’re not feeling up to a whole film or episode in Spanish. This series gives an insight into the criminal underworld of Colombia from the 1970s right through to the 1990s. Based on true life, the story centres around drug lord Pablo Escobar, the US DEA agents sent to capture him, and eventually, his successors. There are 20 episodes across 3 seasons. Expect plenty of blood and gore!
IMDb rating: 8.8/10
Another one for Narcos fans! This dramatic series recounts the life of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the notorious Mexican drug lord who allegedly ran the Sinaloa Cartel. The story spans from his lowly beginnings in the 1980s, through his rise to power in the 1990s, right up to his downfall in 2016. There are 3 seasons with 34 episodes.
IMDb rating: 7.8/10
This is another series by the producers of Velvet. It’s a period drama set in 1920s Madrid that focuses on the lives of four women from different backgrounds who all work as operators at the National Telephone Company. Over the course of 42 episodes, it tackles themes including women’s rights, sexuality and domestic abuse.
IMDb rating: 7.5/10
I couldn’t write this list without mentioning this global phenomenon. The 41 episodes tell the story of a mysterious criminal mastermind who calls himself the Professor and the gang of outcasts that he assembles to carry out a record-breaking heist on the Royal Mint of Spain. The plot is developed through frequent flashbacks with many clever twists and turns and even a second seemingly impossible heist! Alongside the expected action, gunfire and bloodshed, there are unexpected emotional, political and humorous sides to it, which are really the key to its success. It is now the most-watched non-English-language series on Netflix and one of the most-watched series on the platform overall. A spin-off called Berlin is due to be released at the end of 2023.
IMDb rating: 8.2/10
This gritty drama is set in the summer of 1978 in Girona and tells the tale of a bullied teenager who gets drawn into a world of delinquency. It’s based on the novel of the same name and is heavily influenced by cine quinqui, a Spanish film genre from the 1970s and ’80s that focused on the lives of young, working-class criminals in the outskirts of Spanish cities. With equal doses of action, coming-of-age drama, nostalgia, humour, romance and realism, this film really has it all.
IMDb rating: 6.9/10
Alfonso Cuarón’s award-winning Roma depicts life in Mexico City in the early 1970s through the eyes of a middle-class family’s housekeeper. Critics have hailed it as one of the best films of the 2010s, and it was the first foreign-language film to win Best Director at the Academy Awards. Interestingly, it also features some dialogue in a variety of Mixtec, a dialect cluster spoken by the indigenous Mixtec people.
IMDb rating: 7.7/10
This miniseries made up of 8 episodes is based on the novel by Harlan Coben. The story begins nine years after the main character, Mateo, accidentally killed someone during a bar fight. We see that he has started his life over and found love, but one phone call brings it all back again. This gripping mystery thriller will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.
IMDb rating: 7.8/10
This is a classic of Spanish-language cinema that every Spanish learner should watch. It even makes IMDb’s Top 250 Movies list! It’s a kind of dark fairy tale written, co-produced and directed by Guillermo del Toro and set in post-Civil War Spain. The narrative combines historical events with fantasy elements, blurring the lines between reality and a mythical underworld. The main character, Ofelia, is a young girl living with her pregnant and sickly mother and her cruel, fascist stepfather. She finds an escape in an ancient stone labyrinth where she meets a faun who sets her three tasks to complete.
IMDb rating: 8.2/10
If you run out of original Spanish content, don’t forget that many other shows and films are also available with the soundtrack dubbed into Spanish. For example, the majority of Netflix originals are available in a number of languages, including Spanish. Watching series and films dubbed in Spanish can be good for low-level learners. This is because you can watch something that you have already seen in your native language, which makes it easier to follow and understand. You can find a list of series and films available with Spanish audio here.
Updated October 2023