Here's the snippet of dialogue and subtitles taken off Money Heist which I'll use as an example to demonstrate the techniques I used for language learning, below.

Another month, another season of Money Heist!

To be honest, this is a slightly late post (exams, life stress, preparing for an overseas trip, all part of the learning curve of blogging). At the time of writing, I'm actually already midway through the 3rd season, mostly because Money Heist is such a damn good show. However, the things I share below were noted down after finishing the second season.

The context

In the first post/month/season of Money Heist I shared my thoughts on the importance of establishing a routine for learning a language. In the month since, I've been building on that principle by learning Spanish through Season 2 of Money Heist. In that post I shared some early ideas I had to ramp up my learning compared to the first season, including exploring the extension's (Language Reactor) full range of features and my own ideas such as using the Spanish script as a prompt for speaking practice.

What ended up happening? Well, I went for the latter approach and decided to hold off on exploring Language Reactor in favour of exploring new techniques to deepen my Spanish learning. There was nothing revolutionary about what I did but I managed to distil the techniques I came up with into 3 distinct approaches:

*Note: for each of the graphics below, the white text is the learning cue that I used, while the corresponding orange text describes my thought/speaking process (i.e. what I actively did to learn).

Method 1: (Verbal) Repetition

Verbal repetition: repeating the speech of a native speaker, which includes not only the words but also the inflexion, rhythm and flow of the speech. An excellent, low-energy way to practice your speaking.

This involves simply hearing the dialogue before repeating it out load without looking at the subtitles. It's one of the my favourite ways to practice speaking if you don't have a regular practice partner.  Aside from pronounciation, another awesome thing about this technique is that it builds your sense of flow, rhythm and emphasis of speech. If you've ever correctly spoken a phrase in another language but it still sounded off, it might've been because the inflexion or emphasis of syllables within that phrase was wrong. So it's a subtle but important detail to be aware of. Another key point I realised with this method is that it's relatively low effort, meaning that it's a practical technique to still learn if say, you've just come home from an exhausting day of work and have little energy.

Method 2: Blind listening

Blind listening: relying on audio to decipher and translate meaning in your head. A great way to build your listening skills.

Blind listening is how a native speaker would watch a TV show: i.e. watching the show and hearing the dialogue without referring to any subtitles, Spanish or English. This means I'm leaning very heavily on audio, context and translating dialogue in my head for meaning. Having both audio and visual (text) input is a lot easier than only audio. Not just twice as easy, but a lot easier. So going into 'native speaker mode' is a very fun challenge, and obviously a better mimic of how real-life language works. Something very interesting I've noticed is how this contrasts to how I process Cantonese which is essentially my language of birth (as I explain here). In Cantonese I find understanding things from just listening relatively easy, speaking relatively harder, and reading/writing by far the hardest. In Spanish, I find understanding things from reading the easiest, listening a little bit harder, and speaking the hardest. I guess it goes to show the importance of training all 3 of those language muscles together: listening, speaking, reading/writing.

Method 3: Reverse translating

Reverse translating: Using the English subtitle prompt to translate it to Spanish, then checking your interpretation against the Spanish dialogue of the TV show. Great practice for your speaking skills and building your vocabulary. 

This technique involves using the Language Reactor app to read the English subtitle only, then pausing, then trying to guess with accuracy how to say the corresponding phrase (and therefore line of dialogue) in Spanish. This is the most interesting of the lot because it closely mimics how language learners often think (or at least, how I do). In other words, I think about what I want to say in English, then translate it to my target language (with or without inaccuracies), then say it. It's that middle translation-to-English step that can make speaking that much slower than a native speaker, and that much more exhausting. Unsurprisingly, this was the most challenging technique I tried, as it is very much limited by your pre-existing vocabulary, knowledge of grammar, and speed of thought/fluency. However, as Ali Abdaal nicely explores in his blog post [1], this is the technique that most strongly utilises active recall - a well-known technique of learning in which you recall knowledge without any (Spanish subtitle) cues - i.e. testing yourself based solely on your memory. So while I honestly don't know the exact evidence behind active recall for language learning, it would be reasonable to expect that this is a technique that would bring great results long-term. The best thing about using this technique with an extension such as Language Reactor is that you don't just get to practice translating and speaking Spanish, you're also able to get instant feedback about your translation by checking your answer with the Spanish script.

Takeaways and what's next

Hopefully this summary gives you some ideas on how to turn something simple and accessible such as a TV show into a language learning opportunity.

Of course, since it's only been 2 months, it's impossible to attribute exactly how much I've improved and how much each technique has contributed to that improvement. So that leads me onto my next goal.

The challenge for the next month is simple. I've achieved my first goal of making exposure to my target language a habit, now I want to take that next step of building some more formal plans and ways of studying and tracking my progress.

The last key point: none of this learning and technical sounding stuff comes at the expense of enjoying the TV show! I think that's super important to remember as building a habit out of language learning is that much easier when it's also fun.

I'll be updating my Spanish progress after the next season (season 3) of Money Heist. Until then, happy language learning!

[1] Ali Abdaal: How To Study: Active Recall - The ‘High Utility’ Technique You Should Be Using