Here are our recommendations for language resources, online course providers, and Spanish-language shows to stream on Netflix during quarantine.
Are you in quarantine alone or with other non-Spanish speakers? Worried that you might backtrack on all of the language progress you have made living in Colombia? For better or worse, you likely have the internet at your fingertips, which means you have seemingly infinite language learning resources at your disposal, like our online Spanish archives. You just have to know where to look.
Improve listening comprehension through these binge-worthy series on Netflix
Just as for those learning English, consuming Spanish-language media is a great way to improve your skills. Depending on where you are in your Spanish-learning journey, I’d recommend you start by watching with English subtitles if needed. Then upgrade to Spanish subtitles, and then finally remove them altogether. With an unknown but seemingly long quarantine ahead, you definitely have the time.
(Season 1 available on Netflix)
This Mexican Thelma-and-Louise-style road trip story is the ultimate quarantine binge (besides Tiger King, obviously). In an attempt to escape their not-so-serious fresita* issues, best friends Vera, Rocío, and Carlota go off on a spontaneous weekend road trip to Oaxaca. They have barely made it out of Mexico City when they are intercepted by Marcela, a woman with much more serious issues, including getting her little brother away from a dangerous drug lord.
In a move of desperation, Marcela pulls a gun on the women and demands that they give her a ride. This is where the adventure really begins. From witnessing a home birth during a tropical storm to revelling in a psychedelic party on the shores of Puerto Escondido, the women have some wild experiences during unplanned stops. While funny and addictive, the show is also sharp and smart. It questions the role of class in the third-wave feminist and anti-femicide movement currently raging in Mexico. Fortunately, the series also most certainly passes the Bechdel Test.
*Fresa or fresita: a term widely used in Mexican slang to describe someone who is upper-class or perceived as upper-class or stuck up. Similar to the term ‘gomelo’ in Bogota.
(Whole Series available on Netflix)
For a highly stylised look into Colombian colonial and revolutionary history, Caracol’s telenovela, Bolívar, recounts the life and times of the libertador himself, Simón Bolívar. The show is a full biopic that tells Bolívar’s story starting from his childhood. Netflix released the series internationally in June of 2019 and on Caracol in Colombia in September of 2019. All 63 episodes are currently available on Netflix.
Yo soy Betty, la Fea
(Whole series available on Netflix)
If there is one Colombian telenovela that you have to watch, this is it. Ask any Colombian out there and they will have something to say about this iconic series that defines a culture. If you’ve never seen the Colombian version, you’ve probably been exposed to one of its many remakes, which include American adaptations like Ugly Betty and Betty in New York, as well as other spinoffs in 19 other countries. Yo Soy Betty, la Fea, starring Ana Maria Orozco as Betty, is the real deal original. It premiered in Colombia on RCN 1999 and ran through 2001.
From “Don Armando!” to “Desgraciado!”, this telenovela will bring you up to speed on common Colombian cultural references. It’s also a great opportunity to practise listening comprehension for the rolo accent. You’ll also learn some late-nineties and early-00s slang while you’re at it.
Disclaimer: The show does not age well. Take the misogyny with a grain of salt and reflect on how far Colombian society has come.
La Casa de las Flores (The House of Flowers)
(Seasons 1 and 2 available on Netflix)
This is another one of my Mexican favourites available on Netflix. The family dramedy and telenovela-like premise are sure to get you hooked from the start.
The series is about the de la Moras, an affluent family that lives in Los Lomos above Mexico City and that owns a well-respected boutique flower shop in the neighbourhood. When a suicide takes place in the shop, the family uncovers their father’s life-altering secret. The family’s three adult children each have their own juicy subplots, which get increasingly exaggerated and salacious as the show goes on, just like any good telenovela.
Two full seasons are available on Netflix and a third season is set for release later this year.
Other resources for listening comprehension
Stay up-to-date on the Cinemateca’s virtual offerings, which may include access to Colombian or Latin American films as the quarantine continues.
Podcast: Radio Ambulante
One of the most popular Spanish-language podcasts in the U.S. is Radio Ambulante from NPR (National Public Radio). Though it is produced by an American station, the show features Latin American stories in Spanish from all over the region, including Colombia. For example, we recommend “La noche más larga” parts 1 and 2 for excellent reporting on the historically significant capture of the Colombian Palacio de Justicia in 1985.
The producers of Radio Ambulante realized that many non-native Spanish speakers were using them as a resource to improve their listening comprehension. In response, they decided to launch Lupa, a companion language-learning app for the podcast. The app helps learners track new vocabulary words, control the speed of the recording, and provides access to real-time translation.
Language-learning apps and online course providers
Babbel, a German language learning website, is offering a free month of learning to students currently enrolled in K-12 education or in a higher education programme. The site offers instruction in 13 different languages including Spanish. After the free month, you can choose from Babbel’s several different subscription packages. You can pay USD$12.95/month, USD$8.95/month for a 3-month commitment, and so on.
Duolingo came onto the ed-tech scene in 2012 as a language learning app, allowing users to improve their language skills through their smartphones. Duolingo’s original platform has always been free, so you can create an account and get started free-of-charge. Just be aware that anything that’s free usually means that there are plenty of ads involved: the app will blast you with ads between lessons and is not available offline. Duolingo’s paid premium version, Duolingo Plus, offers an ad-free experience and downloadable lessons, so you can keep learning when you do not have internet available. The site offers coursework in 36 different languages, from the popular Spanish to more obscure options like Hawaiian and Welsh
Type the word “Spanish” into the Coursera search box and 941 search results will appear. This MOOC provider, which partners with universities and companies to offer courses, has Spanish-learning and maintenance opportunities for anyone at any level. You can brush up on utilitarian and conversational Spanish with “Basic Spanish” or dive into the intricacies of copy-editing and grammar with “Corección de estilo”. Some courses are completely free and make all material available free of charge. Others are free for initial basic coursework but require that you pay a fee for full access. Additionally, some courses offer professional certificates, which come at an additional price (typically USD$50).
EdX is an ed-tech company founded in 2012 by MIT and Harvard. It offers thousands of MOOCs by partnering with hundreds of universities to offer exclusive content. EdX offers three levels of Spanish free of charge and gives members the option to pay USD$50 to earn an official certificate.