So it’s already been a while since you started with Spanish and are now at a stage where you can express yourself in Spanish with relative ease. You can chat with native speakers without resorting to English every five minutes and you can write a couple of paragraphs detailing simple thoughts and routines. Bingo! That’s quite a milestone you have scored; so go ahead, give yourself a cookie.
But there’s one little problem there. You still can’t hold a voice conversation without going “no lo entendí…repitelo, por favor” every time your partner says something. That’s disheartening, isn’t it? Well, don’t sweat. This is expected. Written and even spoken proficiency is much quicker to come by as compared to listening proficiency. Your ears need to be trained for the new sound patterns. The only way to accomplish this is to do what you did as a child with English: Listen to a lot of Spanish.
Notice, I said listen and not hear. There’s a difference and a big one at that. Just putting up some Spanish gibberish on loop while you’re going about your day is not going to do squat to your comprehension skills. You have to engage with it, study it. Yes, that does sound like a bit of a buzzkill but that’s the way it is. And what you listen to is just as critical. No matter how brave you feel, you’re not going to get much out of a modern telenovela or Mexican action thriller if your level of Spanish is only an A2. No, you must pick what’s appropriate for your level. As a beginner, animated shows are more your thing. Or something else that’s been dumbed down enough for you to make some progress with them. One such show is a popular series from the 90s called Destinos which I strongly recommend as your starting point. But once you’re through with it, try this show called Extr@ Spanish. Yes, that’s an @ instead of a – sounds funky already, doesn’t it?
Introducing Extr@ Spanish
Extr@ Spanish is basically a dumbed-down F.R.I.E.N.D.S. from Spain. I say dumbed-down because everything about it is meant to help you develop an ear for Spanish. The rate of speech is slow, the vocabulary used is simple, and the grammatical constructs employed are fairly basic. The complexity of grammar and vocabulary doesn’t, however, stay consistent but rather gets increasingly more challenging as the episodes advance. There are even brief moments of reflection where characters are shown to be talking to themselves as they write a letter or an email. These are there by design, cleverly placed to help you review all that you’ve learned until that point.
The series consists of 13 episodes in total with each episode running around 20-30 minutes. It’s formatted on the lines of a typical sitcom complete with canned laughter and goofy antics. Each episode has strategically placed moments of reflection that serve as review points for the Spanish introduced until that point in the episode. There is virtually no English spoken throughout the show; even the narration at the beginning of the episodes is in Spanish. The show is set in Barcelona which means the accent you hear is that of Spain.
Like any regular sitcom, Extr@ is shot almost entirely indoors; more specifically, inside an apartment. It follows the goings-on in the nutty lives of four friends living in Barcelona – Ana, Lola, Pablo, and Sam. Of these, Sam is the odd one out as he’s a clumsy American who barely speaks Spanish, that too with an American accent! Ana and Lola share an apartment and Pablo lives next door. As with similar sitcoms in English, Extr@ Spanish is a funny mess of love triangles and ensuing melodramas. Pablo has the hots for Ana and Ana has the hots for her American pen pal and guest, Sam. But Lola likes Pablo and Pablo comes to like Sam because the latter turns out to be a stinking rich lad. Incidentally, Lola also seems to have a thing for Sam and is, at times, even jealous of her roommate who has all the guys falling for her. Sounds familiar, right?
Personality-wise, Ana is a bit of a short-fuse and Pablo happens to wind up at the receiving end more often than the others. Lola, on the other hand, is a simple and impressionable girl who might even seem a tad goofy in the initial few episodes. In episode five, Lola gets a makeover that makes her seem a bit more bubbly and witty than before. Pablo is an extremely easygoing man struggling to become an actor. He is often too confident when it comes to his appearance and demeanor which often results in hilarious situations. What makes him quite endearing is his friendly nature and a knack for never getting offended no matter what.
Sam is the bumbling American who has just arrived in Spain after a seven-year-long online friendship with Ana. He would be staying with Ana and Lola in their apartment where, as per the landlord’s rules, night guests are not allowed. Sam knows very little Spanish which makes him sound very stupid as he tries to articulate his thoughts.
Concept and Presentation
Extr@ is a collection of language-education television series aimed at middle and high-school language students. Four series were made for four different languages – English, German, French, and Spanish – and were originally aired from 2002 through 2004. The idea was floated by Channel 4® of the United Kingdom and released in the United States in collaboration with multiple PBS® member stations.
The Spanish edition, Extr@ Spanish, has 13 episodes running 24 minutes each with little to no episode recap. In fact, Extr@ Spanish is not a single series but a group of three mini-series – seasons, if you will. The composition of these series’ is as follows:
- Series 1: Episodes 1 through 4
- Series 2: Episodes 5 through 8
- Series 3: Episodes 9 through 13
Since this show is much more recent compared to Destinos, you can expect to find copies in much better resolution. All episodes have been put up on YouTube by various channels making them easy to find for free. Isn’t that sweet?
Extr@ is entirely in Castilian or Peninsular Spanish and is set in Barcelona. This should cheer up those of you who are focused on the Spanish spoken in Spain as opposed to the one in Latin America. The rate of speech is slow and deliberate to aid comprehension as it’s aimed at beginners. The vocabulary is basic with a few fun idioms and colloquialisms thrown into the mix. One big way Extr@ differs from Destinos is that the latter is packed with narration and recaps that serve as lessons in comprehension; Extr@ doesn’t offer that. This is why I recommend this series after one has completed Destinos.
That being said, every episode consists of leastwise 2-3 small thought-sessions where a character is shown to be thinking aloud, typically while writing a letter or an email. During these sessions, the character’s thoughts are displayed as text on the screen to help you read in case you failed to comprehend the spoken words. These sessions are strategically placed and serve to help you review all you absorbed until that point. In my personal opinion, this is a much smarter way to go about revision than the one Destinos employs as it feels less instructional and hence, less boring.
Although Extr@ Spanish follows a very simple vocabulary and the rate of speech is reasonably paced for rookie learners, I would still suggest going through Destinos before you start with Extr@, the reason being Destinos offers far more hand-holding and spoon-feeding than Extr@. As a Spanish noob, you could use all that special assistance Destinos offers. With Extr@, you are expected to be a bit more autonomous and self-driven.
How I Used It
Extr@ episodes are already dumbed down enough for you to comfortably chug along with the show without much hiccups. However, I must remind you that you’re not watching it for mere entertainment. Your goal is to learn and you must act as such. Don’t watch passively. Engage with it. Don’t be shy of repeating the same episode several times in order to get completely thorough with it before moving on.
When I started with Extr@, I had a simple strategy. I would first watch the entire episode with english subtitles. This way, I would familiarize myself with the storyline and be able to focus better when watching it without subtitles. The next step would be to watch it without any subtitles. This time, instead of running the entire episode in a single sweep, I would go scene by scene. It might sound like a lot of work but I would write down the lines as I listened to them. This involved a lot of pauses and resulted in a frustratingly slow pace but that’s alright. Like I said, you’re here to learn, not to enjoy; although you can enjoy while learning as I did. So this is what you should do: Listen to a dialog, write it down, listen to it again, see if you were right, and move on. If you were right, that is. If you were wrong, listen to it again. Repeat every dialog until you can hear everything accurately. By the end of the episode, you will have a transcript of sorts, written by you! Now, review the transcript and highlight all the words and expressions that seemed alien to you. Look them up in a dictionary and add them to your flashcard deck.
Goes without saying, you must not just go hoarding cards in your pile; you ought to review them on a daily basis too. Those words and idioms are not going to memorize themselves, are they? Once you have hit the end of an episode one scene at a time, you should stop for the day. The next day, watch the same episode all over again except this time, do it in a single straight run. No pauses, no notes, just entertainment and absorption. See if you feel an improvement in your comprehension skills. Repeat one more time if you need to but that should be all for that day.
So you see, each episode should take you about two days to complete, given you’re giving yourself at least an hour a day on this. Do the math and you should be through with the entire series in about a month. Not bad, is it? Let’s see what the episodes teach you:
Episode 1: La Llegada de Sam
Vocabulary: Friends and family, meeting people, daily routine, receiving visitors, around the house
Grammar: Present tense, present continuous tense, imperatives, immediate future, modal verbs, negatives
Episode 2: Sam Va de Compras
Vocabulary: Appearance, fashion, clothes, shopping, health, compliments, offering help
Grammar: Preterite tense, perfect tense, personal pronouns, disjunctive pronouns, adjectives and order of adjectives, possessives, demonstratives, quantifiers
Episode 3: Sam Aprende a Ligar
Vocabulary: Meeting people, relationships, describing personality, chat-up lines, exercise and lifestyle, making a good first impression
Grammar: Imperatives, present continuous tense, present participles, demonstrative pronouns, passive speech
Episode 4: Sam Busca un Trabajo
Vocabulary: Restaurants and food, cooking, getting presents, job-hunting
Grammar: Impersonal verbs, radical-changing verbs, modal verbs, modes of address, adverbs, “lo + adjective”
Episode 5: Ha Nacido una Estrella
Vocabulary: Food and drink, recipes, weather and climate, answering the phone, home life, advertisement, media, leisure
Grammar: Preterite tense, imperfect tense, conditional tense, future tense, “ir + infinitive,” interrogatives, imperatives
Episode 6: El Día de la Primitiva
Vocabulary: Numbers, shopping, money, services, travel and navigation, hopes and plans, horoscope, lost property
Grammar: “ir + infinitive,” future tense, perfect tense, preterite tense
Episode 7: La Gemela
Vocabulary: Relationships, family and friends, travel and leisure, media and entertainment, recounting a story, predicting the future, health and fitness, magic terms
Grammar: Imperfect tense, preterite tense, imperatives
Episode 8: La Prima de la Dueña
Vocabulary: Media and entertainment, personal and social life, relationships, family and friends, food and drink, eating out, household issues, following instructions
Grammar: Imperfect tense, object pronouns, negative imperatives
Episode 9: Trabajos para los Chicos
Vocabulary: Recounting a story, work routine and problems, job preparation, job advertisements, relationships
Grammar: Negatives, interrogatives, imperatives, adjectives, ser and estar, modal verbs
Episode 10: Ana Protesta
Vocabulary: Asking and answering questions, misunderstandings, animals, events, introducing yourself
Grammar: Possessives, demonstrative adjectives, formal language, prepositional pronouns, direct and indirect object pronouns
Episode 11: Tiempo de Vacaciones
Vocabulary: Chat-up lines, clothes, using computers, holidays and travel, food and drink, work stress
Grammar: Reflexive verbs, lo que, prepositions, possessives, adjectives
Episode 12: Fanáticos del Fútbol
Vocabulary: Appearance, soccer, countries, relationships, using the phone, food and drink
Grammar: Telling time, prepositional pronouns, object pronouns, present tense, using more than one verb
Episode 13: Boda en el Aire
Vocabulary: Character description, relationships, using email, interviews, celebrations and leisure
Grammar: Reflexive verbs, subjunctive mood, adjectives, compound sentences, conditional tense, present tense
If you wish to further reinforce your learning, try mixing up your immersion with some clever vocabulary-acquisition techniques. Use flashcards or software-based spaced repetition programs, such as Anki® or Mnemosyne®. Try memorizing the words you picked off the show using some out-of-the-box thinking and techniques like word-association and etymology. Try writing down stuff in Spanish; it’s immensely helpful no matter what anyone says.
Where to Get It
Although episodes of Extr@ are available all over YouTube as several users have uploaded them to their channels, they might not always be around. Since YouTube is not fond of copyright violations, videos are often taken down unexpectedly. Given this uncertainty, your best bet is to check out the entire series on the Channel 4 website. You cannot download the episodes here and you must have Flash installed on your computer in order to play them but the website offers a lot of other interactive features like exercises, notes, etc. so I feel it’s well worth the pain. Another good idea would have been to buy a DVD off Amazon® but I just noticed that they don’t currently have it in stock. Even so, the item is listed only on Amazon UK so there’s that.
So that’s everything I have for you on the Extr@ series. Simple yet powerful and, above all, freely available on YouTube – What more could you possibly want? Have you come across any other similar show that you found particularly fun and appropriate for elementary-level Spanish learners? Please share your findings with the rest of us in a comment below. In subsequent posts, I will be reviewing more shows you can take up to challenge yourself out of the beginners’ level. So, keep an eye out!