Learn Spanish for Free by Watching TV

Quick Answer

Are you looking for a way to work on your Spanish on a regular basis in a way that’s fun, entertaining, and that will keep you coming back for more? Maybe you live somewhere where there aren’t Spanish speakers you can practice with on a regular basis, but you’re not going to let that stop you, right? If you use any sort of streaming service, there’s a good chance that at some point, you’ve binge-watched something or other, and maybe afterward you felt blissful and satisfied, or maybe you found yourself feeling like you’d done the mental equivalent of eating an entire vending machine’s worth of junk food. No judgment. We all need to take a lazy Saturday sometimes. But...what if you could do just that, only at the end of it, you’d acquired some of the freshest Mexican jerga(slang), or a tried-and-true refrán(saying) from Colombia?

Streaming in Spanish

The number of series, or shows, being produced in Latin America and Spain has exploded in recent years, and this is good news for you, Spanish learner. Not only have Spanish-language TV shows become numerous and improved in production quality, but they’ve also become more diverse, so that it may be easier to find something that’s to your taste and also exposes you to varieties of Spanish that you may be particularly interested in.


You may be familiar with telenovelas, especially if you had Destinosas part of your Spanish curriculum in school. Also called simply novelas, this type of show is often translated as soap opera. While soap operas and novelas have much in common, such as cliffhangers, episodes that extend into the hundreds, and a central romance, what counts as a novela is much broader than what we think of as a soap opera in the United States. The style of production isn’t quite so specific, and the subject matter is more varied. While US soaps often focus on wealthy characters with extravagant names, heavy-handed melodrama, and an overall serious tone, many novelas depict the struggles of everyday or working-class people, and often feature, along with some heavier themes, plenty of lighthearted comedic moments. Some novelas, such as La reina de Indias y el conquistadorand Bolívar, are period pieces, or novelas de época. Other subgenres include narconovelas, where the plot revolves around mobsters and drug lords, including Sin tetas no hay paraíso; Pablo Escobar, el patrón del mal; Señora Acero; Narcos; and Falsa Identidad. Others may touch on social themes, such as the Colombian show La niña, which tells the story of a young woman who is determined to become a doctor, but must overcome the stigma of being an exguerrillera(ex-guerrilla fighter). Of course, we can’t talk about novelas without mentioning Yo soy Betty, la fea, one of the most popular novelas of all time, which has been adapted and redone in numerous countries, including in the US, as Ugly Betty.


While the line can often blur between what’s a serie and what’s a novela, the former, like shows in the US, tends to feature shorter seasons and have less of a penchant for melodrama. For example, there's the slick, stylish heist thriller La casa de papelfrom Spain, Colombia’s Distrito salvaje, Mexican political thriller Ingobernable, and Cuatro estaciones en La Habana, a noir murder mystery and possibly Cuba's biggest-budget show to date. For a thriller with a mystical, supernatural element, check out Frontera verdefrom Colombia. If teen drama is more your thing, consider adding Spain’s racy Éliteor Chile’s gritty El Reemplazante(think Dangerous Minds) to your list. For irreverent, cringey comedy, look no further than Mexico’s La casa de las floresor Club de cuervos.

Reality TV and Docuseries

There’s plenty to choose from in the category of Spanish-language non-fiction these days as well. These range from outrageous reality TV shows such as Made in Mexico, which gives a window into the lives of fresas(Mexico’s rich and powerful), to the serene yet majestic Andes mágicos, and the mouthwatering Taco Chronicles and Street Food: Latin America, from the creators of Chef’s Table, which also features several episodes mostly in Spanish.

Make Your Streaming Work For You

If you’re really serious about improving your Spanish, diving into the world of Spanish-language television is a great way to go. A movie is usually little more than two hours, and after that, you have to decide what to watch next. If you’re the kind of person who likes to watch a show from beginning to end, you commit yourself to dozens, if not hundreds (especially with novelas) of hours of Spanish listening practice just watching one show! What’s more, you get that much more used to the individual characters, their accents, and the types of vocabulary and phrases that they use. Learning Spanish requires a lot of repetition and reinforcement, and short of living in a Spanish-speaking country, TV is a great way to get that.

A Few Final Tips

Many platforms now have an extensive library of movies and shows in Spanish, and they often allow you to watch this content with Spanish subtitles, so that what you read matches what you’re hearing. This makes picking up new vocabulary that much easier, and you can always switch the subtitles over to English if you come across a certain phrase that leaves you scratching your head. Of course, you can always just have your phone handy with your SpanishDict app ready to go when you need to look things up! You have downloaded the app, right? You can even make custom vocab lists for your favorite shows and quiz yourself to see just how much you’ve learned. ¡Disfruta!(Have fun!)