There are loads of great ways to learn Spanish, and you will need to find the best one for you in order to learn the language effectively.
Often the best approach encompasses a number of different studying methods which are coupled together.
Thus, in parallel with your Spanish lessons, you will often be advised to try to get full immersion in a Spanish-speaking environment. You can for example start by watching movies in Spanish in their original versions with or without subtitles. This is one form of learning Spanish without outside help.
After all, Spanish cinema has plenty to boast about.
From Pedro Almodóvar to Alejandro Amenábar, Spanish filmmakers have won the appreciation of film critics and audiences internationally, with a handful of Oscars to crown it all. So, if you are planning a weekend on your sofa watching Netflix, why not check out some of the Hispanic titles that are on offer.
Here is a selection of 20 films to start learning Spanish well!
In the last 10 to 15 years, Latin American cinema has produced films of a rare strength and captivating intensity. Undeniably, The Motorcycle Diaries, released in 2004, falls into this category.
Directed by Walter Salles and starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Rodrigo de la Cerna, this Argentinian film is a road movie set in 1952. It tells the story of an Argentinian medical student, Ernesto Guevara, more commonly known as Che Guevara.
The Motorcycle Diaries charts Che Guevara’s trip across South America
At the age of 30, he decided to cross Latin America with his friend Alberto Granado. An initiatory journey that would allow Che Guevara to become one of the most emblematic characters of the 20th century.
An exciting, historical and fascinating road movie that will allow you to work on your Spanish through South American words and expressions, as well as Argentinian and Chilean accents. A must in Spanish-speaking cinema that will help you distract yourself between two Spanish courses.
Selected at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, Pan’s Labyrinth is a fantastic oddity signed by one of Mexico’s most illustrious directors, Guillermo Del Toro. And if Spanish-speaking cinema is above all famous for its social and psychological frescos, Pan’s Labyrinth is the perfect opportunity to try a more fantastic touch!
The film by Del Toro takes place in post-war Francoist Spain and features a little girl named Ofelia. The latter is designated as the princess of a subterranean world. The film doesn’t stop oscillating between telling a fantastic story and being a war film.
Pan’s Labyrinth navigates constantly between a childish universe, a little in the manner of the World of Narnia, and an agonising and heavy atmosphere. It’s success has attracted viewers from all over the world. Obviously you’ll need to watch it in its original version, or with subtitles, to totally immerse yourself in a completely original universe, populated by soldiers and monsters.
Warning: this is a horror movie! Why not after all… Nothing prevents you from considering REC as a way to work on your Spanish language comprehension.
Tips for beginners learning Spanish are varied, but improving your vocabulary and listening skills are both always near the top of the list. The simplistic vocabulary used in this film means that watching it with subtitles could be a great way of tuning your ear to the Spanish accent whilst picking up one or two new Spanish words.
Directed by Spaniards Paco Plaza and Jaume Balagueró in 2007, REC has since become a saga, with 4 movies. When it was released in 2007, the feature film was a real success.
Why? Because it (re)launched a genre; that of the horror movie in embedded camera. This is also known as “found footage”, a genre created by The Blair Witch Project.
Here the action is located in Barcelona, accompanied by a journalist and a cameraman following night firefighters. The news report will bring them to a building where a strange virus is raging. They find themselves quickly quarantined by the authorities…
Spanish cinema is also (and above all) Pedro Almodóvar. The Spanish director is so well known throughout the world that he sometimes comes to personify the Iberian cinema on his own. It must be said that the cinema of Almodóvar, through his many films, still sticks in many people’s minds.
You either love it or hate it, but either way it is recognised as a special alchemy between absurdity, psychological thriller, sex, social comedy, drama… Talk to her is a mix of all of this.
Hable con ella is a classic of Spanish cinema
Directed in 2002, the film tells the story of two men who form a bond whilst they are caring for two women who are both in a coma.
Of course, the original version or the subtitled version will allow you to deal with more intense and dense dialogues. This film is perfect for intermediate and advanced Spanish speakers.
And yes, this film is worth the detour. You will understand better that it is important to learn Spanish. Notably for your cinematographic culture and to help you during Spanish lessons.
We are once again in the world of Pedro Almodóvar, with one of his most famous movies: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown! But while the previous film pours more into anguish and doubt, Almodóvar delivers a real comedy here. Directed in 1988, the film stars two of the most famous faces of the Spanish director: Antonio Banderas and Carmen Maura.
Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is above all a totally wacky comedy, in the dialogues, as well as in the costumes. The rhythm is sustained. The original version or the original version with subtitles will therefore allow young linguists of intermediate or advanced level to try out their Spanish ear to the humorous and energetic Almodóvar.
Lets go back to the thriller genre. Cell 211 is an excellent example of the health of Spanish cinema, as well as its ability to export some of its films.
Released in 2009, Cell 211 tells the rather terrible and anguishing story of Juan, a newly employed high security prison officer. Eager to do well, the main character, Juan Oliver, decides to go to the prison a day before he is due to start his new job. However, it is the exact moment in which the prisoners choose to carry out riots and mutiny.
Wounded and abandoned by his future colleagues, he finds himself locked up with the criminals, who obviously do not know him yet. To save his skin, he must pretend to be one of their own.
Cell 211 is a very good thug movie, as they say.
By watching it in original version or with subtitles (ideal format for Spanish courses), you will also discover that the dialogues are quite easy to understand.
The film uses some colloquial vocabulary, so you will be able to learn something a little bit different than if you are using some of the best books for learning Spanish, which generally tend to stick to more formal forms of Spanish expression.
Again this is a Thriller. The Secret in their eyes is a highly thought of film. Not only was it voted as one of the BBC’s 100 greatest films of the 21st century in 2016, but it also won the Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film in 2010.
This shows what a cinematic masterpiece it is. In this work by Jose Juan Campanella, we find this intensity in the emotions that we regularly find in Argentinian cinema.
Besides, it’s more or less the common theme of the film. Benjamin Esposito, a policeman, has spent 25 years investigating an unsolved murder. He is obsessed by the non-resolution of this affair, which deprived a husband of the “pure love” of his wife. A story that will remind him constantly of his own, as he is the lover of his work colleague.
The Secret in Their Eyes won widespread praise from critics in both Europe and America
25 years later, new elements will allow him to finally track down the murderer. Played masterfully by Ricardo Darin and Soledad Villamil, The Secret in Their Eyes is a crime and love thriller that will leave you breathless.
One great reason to learn Spanish is to visit Colombia, a country with almost unparalleled levels of biodiversity and geography. In this documentary, the director Mike Slee gives you an insight into the wonderful Colombian Amazon which is home to a huge number of different birds, animals, and plants.
It shows Colombia as you have never seen it before: diverse, vibrant, and colourful. This natural paradise is captured perfectly through great shots which will appeal to travellers and nature lovers alike.
Tune your ear to the Colombian accent as the narrator explains what is going on in a surprisingly clear way, making it not only a fascinating and educative watch, but also giving you the chance to practise your Spanish listening skills.
One thing is guaranteed, after watching this documentary film, you will be desperate to book your flights to Bogotá to explore more of what Colombia has to offer.
This Spanish film, released in 2004, is directed by Alex de La Iglesia. He directed Guillermo Toledo, Monica Cervera and Luis Varela. The Perfect Crime tells the story of a shopkeeper in a department store who kills one of his colleagues by accident. One of the saleswomen of the perfumery department witnesses the scene and takes advantage of the situation to blackmail the seller, especially on a sexual level.
This dark comedy can also couple up as a Spanish lesson. For the eagle-eyed amongst you, you will notice that ferpecto is actually spelt incorrectly as it should be perfecto. The inversion of the letters in the title of the film is done on purpose and you will understand the reason why, when you watch it.
You will have the opportunity to practice a very good Castilian by listening to Guillermo Toledo who plays the role of Rafael, the shop’s top seller and irresistible seducer, who conquers all the sellers of the ready-to-wear department.
We move from comedy to drama with this Spanish dramatic film directed by Alejandro Amenabar, and starring Javier Bardem, Mabel Rivera, Celso Bugallo and Clara Segura in the main roles. Mar Adentro (The Sea Inside) deals with the true story of Ramón Sampedro, played by Javier Bardem, who became quadriplegic after an accident. This Spanish film was awarded the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.
Javier Bardem is poignant in the role of Ramon Sampedro, now quadriplegic and wishing to end his life.
It also received 14 Goyas, Cinema Awards awarded annually by the Academy of Arts and Sciences of Cinematography of Spain since 1987 . They are the equivalent of French Cesar or American Academy Awards.
Why should you watch this movie? For the strong story between Ramón, who can only move his head after the accident, and Rosa, a young worker full of joy and life who wants to help Ramón. A story about the end of life that is particularly resonant today where the debate about euthanasia and assisted suicide is often in the public eye.
Film directed by Pablo Berger, this drama released in 2013 tells the story of Carmen, a beautiful girl whose childhood was marked by her mother-in-law. The action is located in the 1920s in southern Spain. Carmen meets a travelling troupe of dwarf bullfighters who will integrate her in to their troop and give her the nickname Blanca Nieves or Snow White in English.
“Sparkling visually, this film is declared as a lightly cruel poem, punctuated by the energetic flamenco of Alfonso de Vilallonga.” One can read about a review of Metro. In black and white, without dialogue, this Andalusian and silent version of Snow White remains to be discovered for its intensity, especially its gaze on the bullfight.
This is a film by Julio Medem, who was named Best Director by the Goya at the beginning of his career. After the death of her boyfriend, Lucia, who is a waitress in Madrid, disappears. She takes herself off to a Mediterranean island in order to recharge her batteries. In the calm of her exile, she rediscovers the troubled aspects of her former love relationship.
The main actress, Paz Vega, won the the Goya award for Best New Actress in 2001 for her role as Lucía in this film. It also marked a turning point in her career as she was subsequently noticed by a certain Pedro Almodóvar who gave her a small role in “Speak With Her”.
This Spanish-American film was written and directed by Woody Allen, and was filmed in New York, Asturias and Catalonia! Do not hesitate to put it in original Spanish version to listen to Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz. For Anglophones, you can also see it again in its English version and fall under the spell of Scarlett Johansson.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona: a three-part love story told by Woody Allen, in the Catalan city.
The story of Vicky Cristina Barcelona (VCB) is located in Barcelona, where 2 Americans, Vicky (the beautiful brown actress Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are on holiday.
It is in the Catalan city that they fall under the spell of Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), playing the role of a painter who invites them to spend a weekend of fun in his beautiful house in Oviedo. Add the return of Maria Elena, Juan Antonio’s ex-wife, played by the dark and beautiful Penelope Cruz, and you get a very sensual film. VCB received a Golden Globe Award in 2009 for Best Comedy.
A Franco-Spanish film by Pedro Almodóvar made in 1999, Todo Sobre Mi Madre will allow you to discover the Spanish of the Madrilenians. Manuela is a nurse in Madrid who takes her only son, Esteban, to the theater to watch A Streetcar Named Desire. Shocked by a revelation about his father, Esteban is the victim of a fatal accident.
The film is a tribute to this woman who will do everything possible to find the father of Esteban, who in the meantime has changed sex. The story of a woman ready for anything to overcome the death of her son.
Poor, amoral and atypical like many of Almodóvar’s films, Todo Sobre Mi Madre is a hymn for life and women, to whom the director dedicates a limitless passion. This great Spanish film was rewarded at the Festival of Cannes by the staging Award and by an Oscar for Best Film in a Foreign Language.
By now you are probably starting to see a pattern; Pedro Almodóvar is an extremely important figure in Spanish cinema. Volver is another of his great films, featuring an actress that he has worked with many times, Penelope Cruz. This feature was part of the official selection of the Cannes Film Festival in 2006.
Volver is the story of Raimunda, played by Penelope Cruz, who lives with her companion Paco, and her 14-year-old daughter. In the company of Soledad, his sister, Raimunda returns to her native village to look after their parents’ graves and visit their aunt Paula, who is starting to lose her head. On their return to Madrid, Raimunda’s husband attempts to rape Paula, and she attempts to defend herself accidentally.
The magnificent Penelope Cruz is the star of Volver
Volver is a declaration of love to all women, and the dialogues between the characters will be interesting for all to see.
Teaching yourself Spanish can be tough at times, and getting an opportunity to practise can be difficult if you decide to go it alone. But Almodóvar’s films give you a great chance to practise your listening skills, a key component of learning the Spanish language.
The latest film on the triptych devoted to Almodóvar, The Bad Education features Enrique and Ignacio, two friends who have been raised in a religious school and who have been subject to the ill-treatment and abuse of a paedophile priest, Father Manolo.
Pedro Almodóvar is one of the greatest Spanish directors. His films are marked by the omnipresence of love.
The film takes place entirely in Spain, mainly in the cities of Madrid, Valencia and Alella. It depicts the young Gael Garcia Bernal, a Mexican actor, who has to assume a triple role of a brother mythomaniac, revengeful and a homosexual. This actor is also in the film Babel, alongside Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, directed by Innaritu.
This is a good film to watch with the subtitles on so that you can fully understand what’s going on. Just like learning Spanish with an app can focus on vocabulary, watching films with the subtitles on will allow you to learn new Spanish words.
Let’s put dramatic comedies aside and go for a thriller directed by Alejandro Amenabar, also writer, actor and producer. In fact, it is the first feature film directed by Amenabar, which caused a sensation at the Berlin Festival, and which won 7 Goyas in 1996.
Angela, a film student preparing a thesis on audiovisual violence, discovers in the course of her investigation that the snuff movies (films in which people actually die) exist and that their authors are not very far from her…
Tesis often features in lists of the Top 25 best Spanish films.
Directed by Oriol Paulo in 2016, this a film which will truly keep you engaged right until the very end. When Adrián Doria, a successful young businessman, is in a car crash on a deserted country road with his mistress, and the driver of the other car dies, they are faced with a question of what to do next. They decide to dispose of the body, but a series of subsequent events lead Adrián down a path of lies and deceit.
Upon going to a hotel to pay a bribe to someone who claims to have information on the car crash, he is hit over the head and wakes up with his mistress dead in the hotel room. He is arrested by the police, and placed under house arrest. His lawyer arranges for a witness preparation expert to come to his house to prepare him for the upcoming trial, but not everything is as it seems.
Learning Spanish online is becoming increasingly popular, and with availability on Netflix in various parts of the world, Contratiempo could contribute to your online Spanish education.
We will finish this selection with a second Spanish film directed by Alejandro Amenabar. Open Your Eyes (1998) has been the subject of an American remake that you may have already seen: Vanilla Sky with Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz.
Are you attracted by Spanish culture in movies?
In Open Your Eyes, you will find Penelope Cruz in one of her best roles to date. A thriller worthy of the title of one of Almodovar’s greatest films.
Watching movies and series in Spanish has some assets:
Never forget that Spanish is an accessible language for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you want to help a dyslexic child learn Spanish, or if you just want to help your children with their Spanish homework. You will find great TV shows and films that can help you learn the language of Cervantes.