Tips for how to use video to teach Spanish at different levels.

In this post, one of my favorite educators shares how to use videos to teach Spanish. Spanish Playground is pleased to welcome Spanish Mama.

Videos are a great way for children to learn Spanish. Check out all our Spanish videos for kids.

Videos are one of my favorite tools for teaching Spanish. They get a bad rap sometimes: feeling lazy and don’t feel like teaching? Turn on a movie!

That can happen (two days til winter break, anyone?), but today I’d like to talk about smart, intentional use of screen time to learn a new language.

Elisabeth is a Spanish teacher and mom to two bilingual kids. She’s the creator of Spanish Mama, where she writes about Spanglish living and teaching Spanish, to all ages. Elisabeth and her family currently live in Peru. She loves connecting with Spanglish families and teachers through Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Used judiciously, videos are big plus for teachers and parents. They give us:

  • Access to native speakers, with a variety of accents.
  • Attention-grabbing visuals and story lines.
  • Insight into different cultures and places.

It can be confusing to know how to use videos to teach Spanish, though. Do you just hit play and sit back? Do you pre-teach every single word so they understand all of it?

The answers really depend on your students and the videos themselves. Let’s look at three different situations!

Comprehensible Videos to Teach Spanish

Sometimes– between the students and the video– everything is comprehensible. You don’t have to do much except show it, while the students get absorbed in the story. In this case, use the videos to deepen fluency or listen to native speakers. Some examples:

Semi-Comprehensible Videos to Teach Spanish

This is the mostly likely situation, because most of us are working with novices or intermediate learners. They can catch words, but won’t understand everything. We don’t want to use our precious teaching time to provide “noise” to our students, of course. But we can use some tricks to make videos more comprehensible.

(One recommendation: choose short films or clips for teaching. Short videos allow you to replay, pause, and work through the content in bite-sized portions.)

Here are some of my favorite tools and tricks for adapting videos to teach Spanish:

1. Adjust the Audio

If you are using YouTube, you can actually slow down the audio! You can start very slow, and gradually work up to normal speed. Here’s a screenshot of how to do it:

Using videos to teach Spanish is more effective if you slow the speed of the audio in some cases.

2. Pre-teach important vocabulary.

Prepare your students with some key words that come up in the film. Maybe you have been studying food, and would like to show an authentic clip showing how to make arroz con leche. If your students already know the foods, teach the new phrases they’ll see (stir, add in, etc.) so their overall comprehension goes up. Talk about the context of the video if that’s not clear, before showing it.

3. Pause and clarify/pause and replay to develop listening skills.

You probably have a mix of levels in your room. If you show an authentic clip, there will be varying levels of understanding. Pause the video frequently to re-state what was said or what happened. In this way, your students are really getting a mix of input: from the video itself, and from you.

You can treat this one like a game, too. Choose a small clip and play it once. Then, go back and explain (in simple Spanish) what they are saying, part by part. Play again, and see if they understand more. Repeat until they can understand most, if not all. They will feel such a sense of accomplishment!

4. Work on getting the main idea.

Most of the time, I try to be 100% comprehensible. But getting the main idea is an important real-world skill, for learners. Sometimes you might show a video and let them practice listening intently, to “grab” onto recognizable words, and see what they can understand overall. Just make sure to tell your students ahead of time that this is your goal, so they don’t feel frustrated.

5. Build up to a video at the end of a unit.

Let’s say you have a short video you know your students will enjoy and fits into your units. Watch on your own, and write down key phrases to understanding the video. Then work backwards and design a unit that builds up to the language in the film.

Examples of videos semi-accessible to novice learners:

Not-Comprehensible Videos to Teach Spanish

Sometimes videos are just too complicated for learners to understand, no matter how many supports we give. But wait! There are actually many ways to these use videos to teach Spanish. We can still use the visuals or story line of a movie as a compelling language tool. Here are some ideas!

1. Do a MovieTalk

Developed by Dr. Ashley Hastings, MovieTalk is an incredible tool for using videos to teach Spanish. With MovieTalk, you utilize the visuals from the video, but turn down the sound and provide the language yourself. Here’s a good background explanation, and here’s the gist:

  • Select a short video that tells a story.
  • Show the film (without the sound) and narrate the story, yourself.
  • Pause to ask questions, make predictions, and discuss.

There are many, many variations on this one. With older students you can create readings or more activities. You can use nature videos (caterpillar to butterfly, for example), commercials, short films, cultural clips– the sky is the limit! The most important part is choosing an attention-grabbing, and that you can tell the story using comprehensible language. Here’s a short video explaining more:

2. Use Screenshots

Similar in idea to a MovieTalk, except that you simply show a picture and talk about it. You can take screenshots from the video, and use those pictures as you describe a scene or tell the story. It’s fun to do this and build up suspense, then stop right before showing the ending. Then you can show the entire video! You should consider using a projector, such as these from unclutterer, which will help to create an effective learning atmosphere and promote better assimilation of material.​

3. Story Surprise

If you have a short film that tells a good story (especially something with a twist ending), you can re-write the story in simple language your students understand. Then, tell it to them. You can draw or act out as you go. When you are done, show the film and let them watch it come alive!

You can check out my new Pinterest board for short films to get some ideas for easy-to-use story videos:

What other ideas do you have for using videos to teach Spanish? I would love to hear what’s worked in your classroom or home!

Try these strategies to use videos to teach Spanish to children.

Spanish Photo Challenge for Kids
Spanish Movement Cards for Preschoolers