Watching telenovelas, or Spanish soap operas, is a great way to learn Spanish. Via telenovelas, or just novelas for short, you get access to everyday, real Spanish, which is way more fun than studying grammar books.
Where to get access to telenovelas
If you live in the United States, there are two major networks here that provide Spanish language programming: Univision and Telemundo. Both show telenovelas, usually in their evening programming. Most of these programs have subtitles in Spanish that you can turn on if your television is capable of viewing closed captioning for the hearing impaired. If you have multiple captions, then the Spanish subtitiles usually would be viewed on CC1. Some novelas on Telemundo are even captioned in English on CC3. This requires a more modern television with multiple closed captioning channels.
If you are unable to view the novela in its usual time slot, you can also go to each network’s website to view the video. These videos, however, are not captioned, which may make it more difficult if you are still learning.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if you are not in the United States, you may be blocked from viewing the novela online. It is becoming more common for internet video providers to block viewing from outside of the originating country. For example, since I live in the United States, I cannot usually view novelas online from, say, Mexico or Columbia, via the network’s website.
However, there are video providers online that have content, both free and paid. Novebox.com is one such provider that has both free and premium (paid) content.
How to learn Spanish by watching novelas
The best way to get started is to find a novela that is subtitled, either in English or Spanish. If you are just starting to learn Spanish, the rate that native speakers talk will be challenging and, at times, frustrating. Having the subtitles will help.
Start out watching a short segment (for example, one scene) with no captions, to see if you can get the gist, or general sense of what is going on. Then replay with captions. If the captions are in Spanish, you may need to pause and use a dictionary to look up unknown words. When you pause the video, take advantage of this time to also repeat the phrases to work on your pronunciation. You may not understand completely what you are saying, but you will get your tongue accustomed to making new sounds.
In the beginning, this process will be very slow. But over time, your comprehension and pronunciation will improve, and you will spend more time watching and enjoying the novela instead of pausing it to look up words.