When I was new to Spanish and everything was completely fresh or me, I wanted to advance as fast as possible. I did my sentences (still doing them), listened to Spanish rap 6 to 7 hours a day (maybe it’s 4 – 5 hours now), read some simple EsParaLeer books with notes in Spanish and a limited vocabulary, etc., etc. But the thing I really wanted to do was watching movies, in Spanish. Original movies. Movies unknown to most people outside the hispanosphere. Movies that gave me an insight into the culture of the Latin-American countries.
Yes, that would be awesome, but next to impossible with my comprehension level at that time. “Man, I hate myself. Why can’t I understand a simple movie? Why does it have to be so haaaaard?!” I asked myself. I *had* to find a way in, there had to be some enterence into understanding Spanish movies. But HOW?
Living in the Netherlands, almost all – if not all – movies are subtitled (except for the Dutch ones, of course). This leaves a population with quite some English language skills, but it also breeds a hate for everything that’s being dubbed.
In the east there’s Germany. And the Germans are known for dubbing everything. Sometimes I watch German television (we have about 5 – 6 German channels), but when it comes to dubbed movies and shows I turn it off. I just can’t (or should I say couldn’t?) stand dubbed movies and shows, it’s just unnatural to me.
Just ask a random Dutchman, and he confirms what I feel. It’s just weird… So I tried dubbed movies in Spanish, but I hated it, I really hated it. I couldn’t stand the somewhat unnatural voices, I couldn’t stand it that my favorite characters in The O.C. now seemed to have more or less the same voice.
But, back to the story. I needed an enterance to Spanish movies. Of course, I could turn on the subtitles, but at that time I thought that even exact Spanish subtitles would do more harm than good (in fact, later I came to the conclusion that exact Spanish subtitles are a great shortcut to watching movies). I could also just watch a movie, although I wouldn’t understand most of it. But that turned out to be another mistake, as I was bored as ****. So then what?
I HAD to get input, I WANTED to watch movies in Spanish. But HOW? The simple solution, again: dubbed movies. Like I said before, I hated dubbed movies with all my guts, but it was something that had to be done. So I’d pick a movie which I had seen countless times and get the dubbed version. For example Toy Story.
When I was little I got Toy Story on VHS for Christmas. I loved the movie and watched it over and over again. So when I grew up, I watched it now and then to get that nice feeling again. I knew the dialogues, I knew the funny parts, I knew the songs. So I got the dubbed version in Castillian Spanish on DVD and started watching it. Not once, not twice… No, every day, 2-3 times a day. Just looping it, enjoying it. Listening carefully, singing along with the songs. And it worked. I could understand a huge chunk of the dialogues the first time, and every time I watched it again I picked up more. More words, more grammar, more… just Spanish. It was great.
But still, an animated movie that’s being dubbed doesn’t look like a dubbed one. Most of the time, it’s perfect. You don’t look at the mouth, you don’t care that much with animated movies. So my next ‘project’ would be a ‘real’ movie. But which one? I’d seen American Pie countless times in English, and although some jokes are rather bland, I like the movie.
So again, I picked up the dubbed version and started watching. I watched it one time in the afternoon, and one time in the evening. Next day, I did exactly the same. Although it was weird to hear other voices, the dubbing was incredibly accurate. 9 out of 10 times the words and movement of the mouth and everything were matching perfectly.
Contrary to the German dubbing, Spanish dubbing is some kind of art, it’s almost perfect. So I watched, and watched, and watched. After a while I knew all the swearing of Stifler (cara culo, gilipollas, etc., etc.) and I loved it. So I decided to try The O.C. another time, and weird enough: I could stand it! I even liked it. Something happened: I could stand dubbed movies and was able to enjoy them! So this was the enterance I was looking for. And after a while I was able to watch movies like Volver and Las 13 Rosas.
I was able to understand original movies, in Spanish, without a sweat. So I’ll give you guys the same advice as I’ve given to other people who wanted to boost their Spanish skills.
To sum it up:
1. Get the dubbed version of a movie you really like in English (in the dialect you’re studying)
And I mean, you have to reaaaaaly like it and seen it so many times that you forgot to count. This is important, because you get bored easily if you can’t understand anything. But because you’ve seen this movie so often, you know most of the dialogues and this way you simple absorb all the Spanish vocabulary. Also, it’s important (especially in the beginning) that you focus on one dialect/accent. Want to get a Castillian accent? Get the Spanish version. Do you like hearing usted all the time and want to speak like a Mexican (which is cool, but not everyone wants to talk like that)? Get the Mexican version. Do you like… oh well, you get the point.
2. Don’t watch it once or twice, but again: countless times!
You watched it over and over again in English, right? Why wouldn’t you do the same thing with the Spanish version? Just watch and watch. Even better, look up some words during the movie. Not too much, but some. Every time you watch the movie, and look up – let’s say 5 words – you will boost your overall comprehension. The main learning factor is – of course – the dialogues you auytomatically memorized before. But looking up some words now and then isn’t a shame.
3. Take it with you
Yes, you heard me: take the movie with you. Do you commute a lot? Rip the audio and put it on your MP3 player (just ask Google for something like “DVD audio ripper”). Do you have an MP4 player? Convert the DVD to MP4 so that you can switch (listening when you want, or watching when you want) (again, Google is your friend).
4. Memorize it
Most of the memorization is done automatically because you watch the movie over and over again. But adding cool phrases you want to remember to your SRS is always a wise thing to do, so do it. I recently added some slang and really weird sentences to Anki, and I laugh every time Anki shows them to me: it really makes doing reps more fun.
There, this should get your television addiction up and running (which is good, but only if it’s in Spanish, hehe).