Trying to pick up the basics of a new language is difficult, and made more so if practicing with a native speaker is not possible. But having abilities with a second or a third language, especially Spanish, is an excellent asset in today’s world, especially in the United States where a huge population of residents hail from Latin America. More and more employers and universities seek applicants with foreign language skills, and, luckily, getting started doesn’t have to be as daunting or as tedious as it may seem
Of course, attending classes and studying vocabulary and grammar books are crucial parts of learning a new language. However, bear in mind that hearing the language, not just speaking it, is essential for understanding sentence structure and pronunciation. Renting foreign films and listening to Spanish-language radio programs is a great way to practice, and satellite TV subscribers have access to news and shows from Spain and Latin America.
Telenovelas are a fundamental part of Latin American life, running miniseries-style up to 6 days a week for several months at a time. Such intense immersion in this type of show could easily get Spanish students lost in the hyper-dramatic story lines, not even realizing that they are practicing the language. Columbia, Mexico, and Venezuela have long-running telenovela traditions, some of which have been adapted for American television, such as the popular ‘Ugly Betty’, while others, such as the Mexican ‘Fuego en la Sangre’, are aired around the world via satellite TV, with subtitles for dedicated non-Spanish speaking fans in Eastern Europe, Russia, and Asia.
Tuning into foreign sports events is another great way to learn new thematic vocabulary, given you can keep up with the motor-mouth announcers. Latin America is obsessed with soccer, and following the best teams gives interesting insight into Latin sports culture and will likely hold your gripped interest throughout the season. Of course, new fans may forget to pay attention to the language and be more interested in investing in a new high definition TV to better keep track of their favorite Boca Juniors players.
Of course, foreign films are another excellent way to pick up some language nuances and new words, as well as introduce movie-goers to some international music. ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ is an excellent Spanish-language film and also shows some of the magnificent and diverse landscapes of South America that will have viewers packing their bags and booking plane tickets before the ending credits. Pedro Almodovar’s ‘Volver’, starring Penelope Cruz, is a visually rich Spanish melodrama with a somewhat twisted, surreal story, while ‘Amores Perros’, set in Mexico City, follows the multiple story line formula of Hollywood hits ‘Crash’ and ’21 Grams’.
So keep your grammar guide and dictionary on hand, but try using some alternative materials as aides in learning a foreign language. Not only will TV shows, sports, and films involve viewers in another culture, they will also help tremendously with certain aspects of language that cannot be read in a book.