The Telenovela Method of Learning Spanish
What follows is my general method for learning Spanish that I personally put together over the years and recommend for everyone. It was originally inspired by a guy I met in university a couple of times who told me how he would learn Spanish from telenovelas he had recorded. That encounter stuck with me and years later when I decided to start learning Spanish I looked into the concept a bit and found that people have been doing this for hundreds of years (there are records dating back to at least the 1700s of language teachers using media in the language they were teaching such as music, books, and plays to help their students learn the language)–neither I nor the guy who was doing this with telenovelas invented this basic concept, it’s been around forever. It’s just that I’ve adapted it to modern times by incorporating the internet into the idea thereby allowing us to do it more effectively, efficiently, and cheaply than ever before.
You can learn Spanish, online, from anywhere you can get internet access, entirely for free (there are some things I recommend that cost a very little bit of money, like movies on DVD, but they’re entirely optional), and you can have fun and genuinely enjoy yourself while you’re doing it (because you’ll be using popular media you are interested in such as TV shows, books, movies, etc.).
Why I love this method
1. Most importantly: it’s fun, it doesn’t feel like work. I can’t possibly emphasize 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 paying attention, it keeps you coming back, it keeps you from giving up, it keeps you from getting bored (which inevitably leads to you giving up). Don’t overestimate your self-discipline, even the most determined and disciplined among us would be helped enormously by making the process fun versus not. At the very least, you’ll accomplish a lot more in a lot less time and with a lot less stress if it’s fun and you will therefore do it whenever you can (because, of course, you enjoy it), even when you don’t have to, which means that you learn more, faster. 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 don’t learn as much, it takes longer, and you’re much more likely to give up before really accomplishing much of anything, least of all your original goal, which for many of you is to become fluent in the language. Make it fun. I thought this was so important that I wrote an entire post about it called The Most Important Factor in Learning a Language Is… that I highly recommend you check out when you have the time.
2. You learn Spanish as it’s currently used right now by native speakers, that is: you learn modern, contemporary Spanish, precisely the kind you want to learn if you want to be able to converse with native speakers and you want to sound and talk just like they do. You learn to speak exactly as they do. You don’t learn anything outdated, obscure, or restricted only to more formal environments such as textbooks. You’re not taught to be ‘overly correct’—yes, you can be ‘too correct’ in that nobody actually talks like textbooks are written, no one obeys all the official rules of grammar for their native language when they speak it and if they did they would sound very strange indeed. You don’t want to sound like that. There’s a balance to be struck between sounding intelligent and educated and sounding just plain weird by speaking in a very stiff or overly formal manner.
3. In relation to the previous point, you learn common slang and curse words: you need to know these regardless of whether you intend to use them or not because if someone else uses them when speaking to or about you, then you’re going to at least want to know what they said, now aren’t you?
4. Because it uses material that you, personally, are interested in, you remember what it is that you learned. You learn much more than if it weren’t entertaining, and you do so much easier. If you watch a TV show or movie that someone else has chosen that you’re not the least bit interested in, how much of what you saw will you remember later? You don’t pay attention to it, do you? Now, how about if it’s a movie or show that you like and want to watch: how much of that will you remember later? See what I mean?
5. Availability, cost, quantity, and quality of resources. This one just makes this method so awesome. You’ll be using DVDs, television, and the internet (any one of the three will work or any combination of them). Also, honestly, if you don’t have cable TV that’s not really a problem if you’ve got either a TV/computer with a DVD player or a computer with internet access. In fact, as long as you’ve got just one of these three (cable TV, or a TV/computer with a DVD player, or a computer with internet access), you can do this. A lot of the resources are free. Did you get that? F-R-E-E, as in you don’t have to pay for any of it, that’s like getting a college course where you don’t pay for tuition, room, board, or books. And the stuff that does cost money is not only entirely optional but also fairly inexpensive (e.g. DVDs and books). Plus, it’s more fun and, believe me (I’ve taken Spanish and Russian in college and French in high school), a lot more effective than a college course, too. You can’t beat that.
6. It gives you something to talk about with native speakers. People always know about and love talking about current events and contemporary movies, TV shows, and music that they personally like. People do not know about nor wish to speak with you about how you learned to say “I’m allergic to shellfish.” or “Where is the library, Juan?” in your textbook. This is massively important and useful when you start talking to natives via language exchanges, which is the last part of the learning process where you take everything you’ve learned and apply it—it’s what truly turns you into someone who’s fluent in the language and can talk like a native speaker. I’ll tell you all about them, how to find them, the best ones, and how to use them.
Bonus: Not sounding like a doofus when you actually try to speak the language. One of the many strengths of this method is that when you’re using popular contemporary media like movies and books you’re learning popular contemporary language, you’re learning the language the way that people actually use it, not the outdated or overly formal manner that you find in most textbooks and even a shocking amount of lessons in various costly ‘Spanish learning systems’. Most of you are learning a language in order to be able to actually converse with native speakers and therefore this is precisely the sort of learning that you want to do, and making 100% of the language you learn precisely the sort of language that you want to learn makes for fantastic motivation for actually doing that learning.
The Core Principles of The Telenovela Method
What follows are the general core principles of The Telenovela Method that will help you understand why it works so well and what you must keep in mind while using it. It’s just three simple things: make it fun, be active, and let the language tell you what you need to learn. That’s it. These are not steps or procedures, these are the philosophy, these are overarching principles that are the heart of the method and which truly drive it and allow it to function. You don’t need to memorize them, but you do need to understand them and be aware of them going in to this.
1. Make it fun and/or interesting. I’ll go into more detail a bit later in the chapter about this but what it amounts to is that you want to choose material to learn from that you will like and enjoy by virtue of it being fun, entertaining, and/or interesting. This is why I love using things like movies, TV shows, books (Harry Potter in Spanish is one of my top recommendations, for example!), comics, news stories, web sites, YouTube videos, and the like. Everyone can find something interesting given that kind of selection to work with.
2. You must be active. A requirement of my method, one of its core concepts, you’ll notice is that it requires the learner to be very active, that is you’re not just sitting there getting information spoon fed to you by some book, teacher, or computer program. This is unlike many such teaching devices in that it requires you to look up nearly everything for yourself, it requires you to actively learn whatever Spanish (word definitions, grammar explanations, etc.) that you need to in order to understand the material that you’re working with (movie, book, etc.).
In my opinion this is far better than passively sitting there and hoping your brain will absorb what you need to know sufficiently such that you can remember it later when you need it (it won’t, I’m telling you right now, it won’t, that doesn’t work). Not only is it much more effective to be actively looking things up and learning them but it’s even better when you take this a step further by applying them later on by attempting to use them to communicate with a native speaker. Doing that as a learning technique is so extraordinarily effective, I can’t even convey it to you, you have to try it. Apply what you learn.
You must be an active learner, that is an absolute core concept of my technique, it’s the exact opposite of sitting in class and listening and maybe taking a few notes, or just reading a learn-Spanish type of book, or just sitting there in front of your computer as some Spanish-learning software “teaches” you the lesson. As a side note, I’m aware that there are many good classes, software/online courses, and books out there that make you engage in the learning process and do a fantastic job of it, I’ve recommended some of them in the past (I particularly like workbooks that make you write all the exercises in them and have space for it) but they very much seem to be the exception to the rule.
You have to find material you want to listen to, watch, or read, you have to look up all the Spanish in it that you don’t know, and you have to apply it later. This is a very active learning method, and a large part of the reason it’s so effective is because it’s a very active learning method. When you actually take action to learn and then, even better, apply what you’re trying to learn, you’ll learn it far more effectively and remember it for far longer than if you had attempted to learn it passively.
3. Let the language tell you what you need to learn. With most methods, you have a course or series of lessons telling you to learn this concept or that rule, these words or those words. They have chosen all the Spanish that you’re going to learn, you will learn the Spanish they tell you to learn and that’s it.
This is a terrible idea.
A) It’s boring as hell.
B) Why should you learn those words/concepts now? Shouldn’t you learn things in order of importance, which is dictated by how frequently they’re used right now by actual native speakers?
Let’s let the language, as it’s currently spoken, tell us what we need to learn. Here’s what I mean by that…
If you see a word used, especially if it’s used repeatedly, in something that’s intended for modern native speakers to understand, then guess what that means? You need to learn that word. If you see a certain verb conjugation used, especially if you see it multiple times in multiple sources, guess what? You need to learn it. Conversely, if you don’t see a certain verb tense used very often, if at all, then guess what that means? Don’t bother with it, no one uses it! By the way, there really are several verb tenses like this that are used so rarely that you really shouldn’t bother with them until you’ve got almost everything else taken care of and are at a fairly advanced stage.
Take modern, contemporary media of a type that interests you, and then look up and learn the language that’s used in it. Simple. If it’s used in a modern, popular source of media such as a movie, book, news story, or TV show, then you know for an absolute fact that it’s currently in use by most native speakers and therefore it’s something you need to know.
This is so obvious it’s almost silly, but it’s something that’s only now just beginning to catch on, and so many people seem to have never thought of it, so many people are still learning languages the way that some class or book tells them to instead of just letting the language as it’s currently used right now by native speakers tell them what they need to learn.
Look, let me put it to you this way, very simply: look at the Spanish that’s used right now in modern, popular media such as movies, books, and TV shows. You see that stuff? Those words and the grammar they use to put them together so they make sense and form coherent thoughts and concepts? Ok, that’s the stuff you need to learn because that’s what native speakers actually use.
Let the language (as it’s currently used) tell you what you need to learn. We’re going to take contemporary popular media that’s in Spanish and then we’re going to look up and learn whatever is necessary in order for us to be able to understand as well as use it ourselves in the same way that it was used in the media where we first saw it, the way we saw or heard those native speakers using it. We want to be able to understand them and we want to be able to communicate with them the way that they communicate with each other, and this is how we’re going to go about doing that. Isn’t it just so simple and obvious?
First of all, you’re going to need certain resources in order to perform the Telenovela Method: obviously, a dictionary of some sort, something to look up verb conjugations, maybe a grammar reference, stuff like that. I actually decided to make this a separate post for two reasons:
- It would make this post ridiculously long if I included it here, and it’s already going to be pretty long to begin with.
- I’ve been meaning to put together a post on my favorite Spanish-learning resources that I actually use every day anyway.
So what you need to do is open it in another tab and refer to it when you start doing the Telenovela Method. Note that I’ve also included several instructional videos showing me demonstrating the resource in question. Here it is: Spanish Learning Resources & Tools: These Are My Top 9 Most Used, Most Valuable, and Most Recommended.
The Actual Method: How to Do It
Please note that not only have I included a video below each step demonstrating it for you but I’ve also linked to a backup video hosted on iPlayerHD for those people who live in countries where YouTube is blocked.
Choose material in Spanish to learn from with preference given to something you will find fun, interesting, and/or entertaining. Examples may include movies, TV shows, songs, radio broadcasts, comics (yup! I talked about those here, my personal favorite is Garfield), books, newspapers or other news articles, podcasts, or native speakers you talk to in person. The way the Telenovela Method works is by using popular Spanish-language media, that you would otherwise enjoy consuming if it were in English, to teach you Spanish by making you learn the Spanish that’s being used in order to figure out what’s going on. Being that this (the movie, song, or whatever) is something that you’d like to understand in the first place (because it’s something you would enjoy if you could understand it), you’ve got good motivation to learn whatever is necessary in order to understand it, plus the fact that it’s something you enjoy (e.g. a movie or song you like) makes the whole process fun and interesting which keeps you engaged and holds off boredom and any feeling that what you’re doing is “work”.
With regards to movies and TV shows: they need to have subtitles (preferably Spanish) and/or you need a transcript of what was said. For music, get the lyrics from sites like AZLyrics or similar (just google “[song name] lyrics”). For books, you want to actually have two copies of the book: the Spanish version and the English version (that way we’ve got a perfect contextual translation of the Spanish: sneaky, huh?). For newspapers and magazines and such we can just use Google Translate to translate the whole website for us into English which will give us our translation to work off of.
The best type of subtitles/transcript/lyrics to get is a word-for-word transcription in Spanish, it’s actually preferable to an English translation of what they said because although an English translation will give you the meaning of what was said and it will give you clues as to what exactly was said (word-for-word), it won’t come right out and tell you, whereas a direct Spanish transcription will, and we want to know precisely what was said word-for-word in order to learn it. This is why we want Closed Captioning (for the hearing impaired) turned on when we watch our TV shows and not the English subtitles, it’s why we want our Spanish movies to have Spanish subtitles available and not just English ones.
For a long list of websites where you can watch Spanish-language TV shows (with Spanish subtitles!) and other such things online for free, check out my list here: List of Websites Where You Can Watch Spanish Videos with Spanish Subtitles or Transcripts Online for Free.
Expose yourself to that material, either by reading, listening to, or watching it, depending on the type of media in question, and then look up everything you don’t know and learn it. We’ll use various resources covered in the aforementioned post such as Spanish dictionaries, Google Translate, Spanish learning forums like WordReference, and even Urban Dictionary which I’ve found is by far and away the best reference for Spanish slang. You will not only learn the meaning but also learn how to understand it as it’s spoken, when applicable (when there’s audio involved), as well as how to speak it just like the native speakers in the original media did, e.g. you’ll learn how to say a line just like the character in the movie you’re learning from did.
Note everything you’ve just learned for later review and so that you’ll have a reference to refer to when you go to apply the Spanish you’ve learned recently in the next step. I highly recommend you use Anki for this, but there are many different ways to do it including paper flashcards, a notebook, or a note-taking program like Evernote.
Review what you’ve learned. Again, you’ll likely use Anki for this, but there are many different methods that will work well. I recommend that you practice speaking the words and their example sentences out loud for every single card–say it until you can do so correctly at full speed, or at least as close as you can get in a reasonable amount of time (if you start to get tired or frustrated, move on).
Get the Telenovela E-book (includes over 7 hours of video of me demonstrating the techniques!) and Learn How to Teach Yourself Spanish Online for Free, Have TONS of Fun While You’re At It, and Ensure that You’re Learning Modern Everyday Spanish As It’s Spoken by Native Speakers
You use a fun and interesting source of Spanish such as a TV show, movie, comic strip, song, book, etc. just like above, learn Spanish from it, and then immediately go and apply what you just learned by talking to native speakers online (who will be more than happy to help you because you can help them with their English)
As I said in the last video, I have an e-book available on Amazon.com for just $9.99 that is an entire guide for learning Spanish using free online resources combined with popular media (movies, books, TV shows, etc.)–the Telenovela Method itself is just part of that book, I’ll not only go into much more detail than above but I’ll also teach you how to apply it to specific media sources such as movies, TV shows, books, comics, and more (note in the Table of Contents for it below that each media source gets its own chapter) as well as how to then immediately take what you just learned and utilize it in the single most effective language-learning technique known: actually using it to communicate with native speakers. Not only that but I’ll give you an enormous amount of free online resources (the book contains over 400 links!) and teach you precisely how to use them.
You do not need to pay for a course, class, tutor, or insanely overpriced computer program. You need this book and and you need internet access (obviously you already have that), that’s it.
You can download and read it from any type of device (Amazon offers free software that will allow you to do this if you don’t already have some) as well as via your web browser. What you just saw above was essentially a summarized excerpt from that e-book, what you just got was only a tiny portion of what I teach in the book, and a shortened and simplified version of it at that (it’s not that the above isn’t effective and immensely valuable, it is, it’s just that I’m saying the book goes into much more detail). I’ll give you the link to it on Amazon right now and then immediately below that link will be the table of contents from the book with some short notes from me detailing precisely what’s contained in each chapter or section so you can see exactly what you would be getting–here’s the link:
The Telenovela Method: How to Learn Spanish Online for Free Using Spanish TV, Music, Movies, Comics, Books, and More
Here’s the Table of Contents so you can see what it’s about!
Why this method, where it came from, and how to use this book and the resources it contains
Where this method originated, the 6 reasons I like it and why it’s so effective, and how to use all the links (over 400!) and videos (over 7 hours worth!) contained in this book.
Section I: Method
Chapter 1: How My Method Works, Why It’s Awesome, and Why Most People Who Try to Learn a Language Fail (and How to Prevent that)
How the Telenovela Method works, the basic principles behind it.
Chapter 2: Resources You Need
The resources you need to do this: the websites to use for reference, where to watch telenovelas and other Spanish-language TV shows online for free, DVDs and books you can use, where to ask questions about anything that might confuse you, where to find Spanish-language newspapers and magazines online for free, etc..
Chapter 3: The Telenovela Method
The actual Telenovela Method. This is where I actually explain, step-by-step, how to do it. Mind you, this guide is a general one and we will need to modify the method slightly depending on whether this is our first viewing of a movie or TV show or not, and also based on the material being used (movie, book, comic, newspaper, etc.)—I will cover how to apply the Telenovela Method to specific forms of media (movies, books, etc.) in later chapters.
Chapter 4: Reviewing the Material with Spaced Repetition Systems
What spaced repetition systems are, why they’re so useful (they essentially allow you to ensure that you never forget anything you’ve learned by spending just 15-20 minutes per day, max, reviewing with them), how to use them to effectively review what you’ve already learned and noted, and which one I recommend and why.
Section II: Sources of Popular Media and How to Use Them
Chapter 5: Kids’ Stuff: Why It’s a Fantastic Resource (especially if you’re a beginner) and an Example of How to Use It
Why I’m such a huge advocate of using Spanish-language children’s resources (cartoons and fairy tales in Spanish that you can find online for free in large quantities, for example) and an example of me demonstrating how to use one of my favorite ones.
Chapter 6: Telenovelas and Other TV Shows
How to specifically work with telenovelas and other TV shows. This will include where you can view them online for free in addition to where to get them on DVD, and I even managed to find websites where you can not only view full episodes for free but also which have Spanish and English subtitles on all of them.
Chapter 7: Movies
Movies! My favorite. I’ll tell you how to use them and why they are my personally preferred choice of material to work with, plus I’ve got a huge list of movies you can get off of Amazon that are in Spanish and have Spanish subtitles for you: that list alone is worth the price of this book.
Chapter 8: Music
Music, how to use it with the Telenovela Method, where to find Spanish-language music online, and where to find the Spanish lyrics and the English translation of them for free.
Chapter 9: Written Material: Books, Magazines, Newspapers, Comics, and Children’s Books
Books, Magazines, Newspapers, Comics, and Kids’ Books. I’ll teach you how to use the Telenovela Method with written material, and I’ve got a fantastic little trick that I use with books where you get a Spanish and an English version of the book (this is known as using “parallel texts”). Additionally, I’ll show you where to find books online for free to read as well as all the other sources such as newspapers, comics, and magazines.
Section III: Using It with Native Speakers: Where the Real Learning Happens
How to immediately start applying what you’re learning by using it to communicate with native speakers.
Chapter 10: Lang-8
You can do this using only written communication via a fantastic website called Lang-8…
Chapter 11: Language Exchanges
Or you can do it by speaking during what’s called a “language exchange” where you practice your Spanish with a native speaker who helps you with it in exchange for you helping them with their English. You’ll use a free program called “Skype” (you’re probably already familiar with it) that allows you to make free phone calls via the internet to anyone else with a Skype account (accounts are free), you just need a microphone and speakers or headphones (if you both have webcams you can see each other in real time during the call, very cool—yes, Skype supports video conferencing).
Section IV: Bringing It All Together and Getting Started
Chapter 12: Creating the Best Method for YOU
How to put together your own person method that is the most effective one for you. Everybody has different needs, preferences, and a different optimal learning style. I’ll show you how to adapt what I’ve taught you to yours.
Chapter 13: Some Step-by-Step Examples of How to Get Started Right Now
Also, I’ll give you some specific examples of systems that you can use to get started right now, and those examples are designed by me to be the most likely to suit the most people as well as possible, so they’re specifically designed to be immediately adopted by the reader and put into service straight away–you can later modify and tailor them to you specifically which I showed you how to do in the previous chapter.
In the appendices I’ve included some extra tips and additional resources including a list of movies in Spanish that have Spanish subtitles which are available on Amazon, a list of websites where you can watch Spanish videos that have Spanish subtitles online for free, and a list of free online Spanish lessons and courses that you can use to help get you started and/or as a reference to look up anything you don’t know (I show you how to incorporate these into your system in Chapters 12 and 13!).
Appendix A: List of Websites Where You Can Watch Spanish-Language Videos With Spanish Subtitles or Transcripts Online for Free
Appendix B: List of Spanish-Language Movies with Spanish Subtitles Available on DVD from Amazon.com
Appendix C: List of Telenovelas You Can Find on Amazon.com with English Subtitles
Appendix D: Free Online Spanish Lessons and Courses
Again, here’s the link to the book:
I really hope you at least check it out, and if you do buy it and like it can I ask you to do something for me? If you want to help me or say thanks at all, by far the best thing you could do for me would be to leave a review for the book on Amazon – books now live and die by their Amazon rating and reviews, so I can not tell you how much I would appreciate this. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I genuinely hope you not only learn Spanish but enjoy the process and have fun while doing it, that’s the whole point of this method and how I do language learning in general. Please don’t hesitate to contact me here with any feedback or questions you might have.
Get my list of the internet's top 33 FREE Spanish-learning resources here!I put together a list of the internet’s Top 33 Free Spanish-learning resources, my favorite language exchanges and Spanish chat rooms, and more. I’ve spent a great deal of time putting together a 3-part series of articles for you on the internet’s best free resources for the Spanish-learner that you’ll get when you sign up for my newsletter–in addition to all of what you get below, I’ll be sure to send you any updates about cool new sites, resources, and learning tips and techniques that I come up with (I’m currently putting together a whole series that will teach you in great detail precisely how I go about learning a new language):
Part 1: A very long list of my favorite Top 33 free online Spanish-learning resources (tools, references, sites with free lessons, articles, blogs, forums, etc.) that’s far too long to include here, especially with all the other stuff I’ve got here that’s available just on this site alone, and I’d like to offer it to you (completely free, you don’t have to do anything other than sign up) right now.
Part 2: I explain what language exchanges are (essentially they allow you free access to an unlimited number of native speakers to practice your Spanish with), why they’re absolutely essential if you’re teaching yourself (I’m serious when I say this: it’s impossible to get fluent without them if you’re learning a foreign language on your own), how to use them, and which ones are the best.
Part 3: I cover chat rooms which are specifically devoted to connecting you with native Spanish speakers who want to learn English so you can chat with them in Spanish (and they’ll help and correct you) and then you do the same for them with their English (these are completely free to use, but rather hard to find, but I’ll tell you where the best ones are!). Sign up below!