Time travel in Spanish!

Netflix will soon open their first European production hub in Spain, dedicated to producing original content. The current Spanish-language options – the ones found on Netflix UK – are pretty limited, although some are big hits. These include the heist show Casa de Papel (Money Heist), about a bank robbery going wrong, as well as the syrupy-sweet period drama Chicas del Cable (Cable Girls), about 1920s telephone operators.

I did not stick with those shows very long, but the bank heist premise could be kind of fun and Chicas del Cable could be a Downtown Abbey stand-in – maybe try them out if you haven’t already. What I would recommend is the bonkers Spanish TV show El Ministerio del Tiempo (The Ministry of Time). Two seasons were made for the broadcaster RTVE, and the final third season moved to Netflix.

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Image: Radiotelevisión Española

It turns out that Spain has a secret ministry which controls a series of portals in time, which have been guarded by dedicated civil servants (!) for centuries. It is like watching a Doctor Who for adults, except the TARDIS can only go backwards. The heroes (a trio assembled from the 16th, 19th, and 21st centuries) get assigned different tasks in each episode, such as saving the life of a Spanish Shakespeare (Lope de Vega).

The characters feel like actual humans, the stories are lots of fun, and I am even being forced to learn a tiny bit of Spanish history. I also appreciate a show in which they use Spain-Spanish, so I can balance it out with all the Latin American Spanish resources. I am more likely to need or use the Spanish of Spain, but of course we should all be aware of both.

Also this week I have been listening to season 3 of the podcast series Coffee Break Spanish. It is a step up from season 1-2 beginner level and involves more listening practice aimed at an A2-B1 level. I love the Scottish presenter Mark, he is a talented linguist, teacher and all-round language nerd. The season 3 song/jingle is dorky as hell but will put a smile on your face, I promise.

6 Podcasts for Language Nerds

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  1. Coffee Break Languages
    A well-established series covering major European languages as well as Chinese. The format puts a learner alongside the teacher and concentrates on useful phrases as well as speaking confidence and key grammar points. Great stuff.
  2. The Fluent Show
    The German presenter Kerstin, based in Britain, has interesting guests from the world of languages to get the perspectives of both teachers and students. Chill chat for anyone interested in languages.
  3. Duolingo Spanish Podcast
    If you’re a beginner to intermediate Spanish learner, this is a brilliant tool for practising your listening skills. You can revise the different past tenses and hear interesting real-life stories from Central and South America.
  4. Rough Translation
    This is a fantastic NPR podcast which showcases projects from international correspondents, delivering interesting stories from around the world. The first one I heard was about a surprising change which took place on an Argentinian talk-show.
  5. The Europeans
    The show is presented by two Brits – a reporter working in Paris and opera singer living in Amsterdam – who tackle European news and culture with humour and heart. One of their interviews was with the poor people who work as Trump’s interpreters for German television, and the struggle to translate his unexpected language.
  6. The Allusionist
    Have I snuck an etymology podcast into this list? Yes. Yes I have. There’s a fabulous episode on the Rosetta Stone, another on the Welsh-speaking part of Argentina, and another on a made up language (Toki Pona).

8 apps for language learning irl

Here are the apps I use all the time for German and Spanish:

  • The Dictionary Linguee is multilingual and lets you download whole dictionaries – more informative than simple translation
  • The Translator Google Translate is always useful for speed and translating simple phrases (and getting better all the time, as long as you have the editing skills to correct the results)
  • The Conversation iTalki gives you free access to other language learners from around the world – and has the option of paying for a Skype tutor (inexpensive and reliable)
  • The Classroom Babbel is one of the paid subscription courses which is helpfully structured (including grammar sessions) and provides a quality which is hard to find for free.
  • The Conjugator Conjugador has complete conjugation lists for every Spanish verb – the most reliable way to clear up tense confusion. Find one for your language!
  • The Flashcards Memrise is all about memorisation. For free you can choose your language, your level, and work your way through the vocab. It reminds you of the words you need to revise (often at first, and then less frequently) and keeps track of your ‘streak’. The vocabulary is focused on every day language, and provides audio and video examples from native speakers.
  • The Classic Duolingo offers quite random vocabulary but they understand gameified learning and its appeal – brings many people back to languages or introduces them to new ones.
  • The Audio Podcasts offer a mixture of real conversation and shows targeted specifically at learners, and are perfect for your listening practice.