Through with Destinos and Extr@ Spanish and raring to step up your Spanish comprehension game? Here’s something crafted just for someone just like you who can read and write Spanish way better than a beginner but whose listening skills are still not up to snuff. It’s called Sol y Viento. Sol y Viento is a Spanish learning program cleverly masquerading as a feature-length movie. If you liked Destinos for its simplicity and focus on Spanish comprehension, you’ll love this one all the more because of how smoothly it challenges you to upgrade your comprehension skills while at the same time doing away with the often redundant recaps and summarization, the only aspects of Destinos that made it a tad too slow to chug along with. Sol y Viento is Destinos on steroids.
Meet the Creator
The name is Dr. Bill VanPatten. A casual online search would bring up dozens and dozens of articles discussing Destinos. Surprisingly, the same isn’t the case with Sol y Viento which is a shame given its quality of production and efficiency. Don’t let this lack of spotlight fool you though. Sol y Viento comes from the same guy who gave us Destinos, Bill VanPatten. When it comes to packaging up a Spanish learning product as an entertaining movie worth watching even for non-learners, nobody does it better than this guy. So, please have no doubts about the efficacy of the movie and dive right in.
Sol y Viento (literally, “Sun and Wind”) came out in the 90s but remains relevant to this day, and will continue to until mankind conjures up some kind of an AI that makes learning foreign languages redundant. Its maker Bill VanPatten is a professor and also the Director of Applied Linguistics and Second Language Studies at Texas Tech University. Given his credentials, you can take it for granted that when it comes to language learning methodologies, his opinions matter. Sol y Viento is not his only brainchild. He has also authored or co-authored books like Making Communicative Language Teaching Happen, From Input to Output: A Teacher’s Guide to Second Language Acquisition, Theories in Second Language Acquisition: An Introduction, and a few more. Also to his credit is a rich repertoire of works like Vistazos, ¿Sabías que…?, and of course Destinos.
All About Sol y Viento
The title of Sol y Viento comes from the name of a fictitious bodega (winery) that serves as the pivot point of the story. It’s a family-owned business located in a place called Valle del Maipo (literally, “Maipo Valley”) in Chile. It also happens to be the bone of contention for an American company based in San Francisco. The company is planning a massive construction project in the region for which they must first acquire the winery and its property. As the family is unwilling to sell its property, let alone negotiate with the gringos, the company calls upon Jaime Talavera to cut a deal for them. Jaime, owing to his Latino heritage, is seen as someone who can negotiate better with fellow Latinos despite his reluctance to travel all the way to Chile at such a short notice.
The story follows Jaime’s travel to Chile where he runs into Maria, an anthropologist with a deeply-seated love for her roots. As the story develops, Jaime starts falling for Maria but there’s a twist: Maria also happens to be the daughter of Isabel, the matriarch who runs Sol y Viento! Jaime must convince the family to accept his employers’ offer and sell the winery. But he must also convince his employers to can the plans and prove his loyalty to Maria. That right there is the proverbial Catch-22 to spice up your experience. Which of the two routes he takes and whether love wins over business forms the theme of the movie. Although that doesn’t sound much of a cliffhanger, the movie is still fun and easy to follow and deserves applauds for its production quality. Since the plot takes place in Chile, which is one of the locations the film was shot in other than Mexico and the United States, you hear a lot of Chilean Spanish. That should means a lot of voseo and elided d’s. Surprisingly though, these key traits of the local dialect have carefully been done away with in favor of a more closer-to-standard Spanish. So basically, no vos for you here, sorry. That doesn’t disappoint you, does it?
The movie opens and closes with some pearls of wisdom by the narrator, a Mapuche Chief named Machi. The Mapuches are one of the original inhabitants of Chile and like most Indian peoples across the Americas, have endured years of oppression and decimation at the hands of foreign settlers. They hold their lands and everything else in nature sacred and this relationship serves as one of the recurring themes of Sol y Viento. Their plight is worth understanding and gives an interesting insight into Chile’s history and way of life. The Mapuches speak Quechua which is where the name comes from. Mapu means land and che means people; thus, the Quechua name literally means people of the land. How cute.
How I Used It
Sol y Viento is a movie running about an hour and a half, give or take. However, that’s not the originally planned format. It was actually created as a tightly-knit ten-part series with a prologue and nine episodes. Although there are some excellent learning activities available to go along with the show, both official as well as independent, I didn’t really bother with them.
The way I used Sol y Viento was pretty straightforward and no-frills. Pretty much like I use any audio-visual material for listening practice. My goal was to train my ears, not to learn Spanish. You cannot learn a language watching movies. That calls for a more thorough system that includes studying, writing, reading, and a whole lot more. But training your ears for the new sound-patterns of Spanish should be a big part of your program. And that’s where watching shows like Sol y Viento are a big aid.
Do you despise spoilers? Please don’t. Because if you wanna do what I did, you’re gonna have to first read the entire script in order to familiarize yourself with the story right down to its finest details. Read it twice over if need be. Once you thoroughly understand what the plot is all about, play the movie. Watch the entire thing in a single run – without subtitles and without pauses.
Once you have watched the movie in its entirety, you’ll have a thorough understanding of its storyline. You will also be able to pick up a lot of Spanish along the way. You’ll be able to recognize quite a few Spanish words even if not all. This is fine. Don’t lose heart. Now is the time for some super-intensive engagement and studying.
Starting day 3 (ideally, you’d have spent day 1 reading the script and day 2 watching the movie), you will start a deeper level of engagement with the movie’s content. First things first, divide the entire video into segments of five minutes each, rounded up to the scene. Make a note of the time-markers for these segments. You will be dedicating no less than three days to each segment. Given the movie is 90-minute long, you’ll end up with about 18 segments in total. Giving three days per segment means a total of a little shy of two months for the entire project. This might sound awful long and drawn-out but remember what they say about the slow and steady. This pace will give you enough time to soak up all the Spanish in the movie without overwhelming yourself. Yes it will take long, but training your ears to a new language was never a quick process.
Now that you have your segments in place, you will start watching them, one segment at a time. This time, with subtitles. Watch it and try to catch as many words off the subtitles as possible. Don’t bother with the grammar or vocabulary at first. Just focus on hearing everything you read. Play it again. And again. And again. Until you can catch everything in the subtitles with your ears. It might take you a dozen-odd replays which means about an hour of viewing time for a five-minute segment. Once you’re able to comfortably make out everything you hear in the segment, start writing down all the words you heard used but didn’t understand. Look up their meanings. These would go to your Anki® deck as flashcards.
On the second day for this segment, you would be watching it again, this time without subtitles. Still can’t make out everything? This might feel like the exact opposite of progress but don’t panic. This is perfectly normal. Just replay it over and over again, straining your ears all the time trying your best to make out the words. You will not be using the subtitles during these replays. Once you have played it enough number of times and think you’ve got everything you could without subtitles, play it one more time with subtitles.
Focus on the bits you couldn’t make out without subtitles and try to connect them with written words this time. Watch out for any elision or contractions. Are multiple words being run together, such as gonna and wanna? Is the speaker chopping off parts of a word, e.g. cumple for cumpleaños? Make a note of all such situations. They all go into your deck. Also add to deck any kind of grammatical novelty you come across. These could be a new construct you didn’t study until now, or could be some regional quirk. Either way, learning them is going to be a good idea. Use mnemonics and other mind-tricks to internalize any new vocabulary. And use regular revision to reinforce the newly-acquired words.
On the third day, you will repeat the no-subtitle routine in order to reinforce your ear-training. Today, no subtitle no matter what. Even if you still can’t make out the entire scene by ears, you’ll be able to hear most of it. That’s all that should matter. Of course, I am assuming you are reviewing your flashcards everyday, goes without saying. You will be following the same routine for every subsequent segment over the next couple months.
I can, with reasonable certainty, promise you that by the time you finish the entire program, you’ll be amazed at how good you have become at listening. In fact, you will find your Spanish listening skills improve with every passing segment. It’s going to be a very gradual process. Until it’s suddenly not. You will have that eureka moment when you’ll suddenly feel you can understand almost everything! I cannot promise you when you’ll hit that point because it differs from person to person. For some, it may come pretty early on, for others it might be a tad delayed. But come it will.
Where to Get It
There are many places you can purchase the movie from, one of them obviously being Amazon®. But in the spirit of free learning, the entire thing is also available for streaming on YouTube®. Depending on your preference, you could either watch the entire movie as a single video or follow one of the several channels offering it as a series of smaller, bite-sized episodes. In order to draw even more juice for the squeeze, there’s also a companion textbook available for purchase on Amazon. It offers grammar lessons, exercises, and a whole lot more, making it integral to a complete Sol y Viento Spanish-learning experience. It’s a 1,120-page tome published by McGraw-Hill Education® and is packed to the brim with stuff that matters to every Spanish learner. Alas, it’s only available in the dead-tree format which renders your Kindle® useless for this one. But then, who doesn’t like the smell of an actual book, something Kindle can’t offer?
Buying the book off Amazon is not a terrible idea – if you’re willing to spend a fortune on something that’s great yet overpriced. The last time I checked, a brand new copy was running for $172. That’s a wee bit more than an arm and a leg for most of us independent learners. Not all of us are as financially well-endowed as Amazon would like to believe! You can, however, get hand-me-down copies for as low as $26 if you’re lucky but that’s not the road you want to go down if you’re generally fussy about the physical condition of your books like I am. A cheapskate like me would instead do something slightly different. I just relied on YouTube for the movie and Google for the ancillaries. In case you’re too lazy to sift through Google results, here’s a treasure trove of goodies in MS Word and PDF formats free for you to download and use alongside the video. Please do remember to thank the good man who did all the heavy lifting for you with no expectations whatsoever in return. If it’s just the script you’re looking for, you can find it hosted on a server at the Gordon State University here.
So that’s Sol y Vielto for you. A dishearteningly underrated product that can do wonders to your Spanish comprehension skills. Just treat it as what it is and you’ll save yourself a lot of disappointment. It’s not a Spanish learning program in and of itself, not even close. All it does is expose you to a lot of real-world Spanish in a structured and entertaining way – rapid enough to not sound like a studio-recording, yet slow and dumbed-down enough to keep you hooked and on track. Let me know what you think about the movie in a comment below. Anything in particular that intrigued you? Or annoyed you? As always, we learners are eager to hear your take.