Language Learning with Netflix

Like many others, I have tried to learn Spanish – and a few other languages – on my own, and I have dutifully spent hundreds of hours using Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, Babbel, Pimsleur and other language learning programs. I continue to struggle, and my understanding of spoken Spanish is rudimentary at best. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, I came across a wonderful tool to facilitate language acquisition, and I think other members of the Society of Media Psychology and Technology will find it helpful as well.

I have had a longstanding interest in movies, and I am especially interested in the ways in which people with mental illness and mental health professionals are portrayed in films. This interest has taken a tangible form in two books: Movies and Mental Illness and Positive Psychology at the Movies, both written with Ryan Niemiec. I am currently working on a new book titled Movies and Multiculturalism that will be coauthored with Fred Leong, Guillermo Bernal, and Lillian Comas-Diaz.

I’ve attempted to combine my love of movies with my desire to learn Spanish by watching Spanish language films; however, inevitably the pace of films is too rapid for me to follow the script in any language other than English. This problem was solved early in the pandemic when I came across Language Learning with Netflix (LLN). This program is available as an extension for Google Chrome, and it is easy to find and download. The range of languages available using LNN is remarkable: Arabic, Basque, Bengali, Catalan, Chinese (Mandarin), Danish, Dutch, Filipino, French, Georgian, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Tamil, Thai, Turkish, and Vietnamese.

Once installed, the LLN program is very straightforward. LLN provides subtitles in two languages, so, for example, one can simultaneously hear Spanish dialogue, see the Spanish subtitles, and compare the Spanish with the English subtitles that are shown on the same screen. The program pauses after each sentence or phrase, displaying subtitles in both Spanish and English; it only advances when the space bar is pressed. There is a pop-up dictionary available, and the most important words are highlighted. You also can click on individual words to hear them pronounced; most importantly, you are learning new words in a meaningful context, and this facilitates retention.

For example, when watching Roma, a powerful 2018 Mexican film that won both a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award as the Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, the following snippet of dialogue is encountered: “Sí, se fue a Acapulco con la piruja esa.” You can see Sofía’s expression, hear her comment, sense her disdain, read the Spanish translation, and see the English translation just beneath the Spanish (“Yes, he went with his mistress to Acapulco”). Clicking on the highlighted word “fue” (went) brings up a definition (go, be, going), the root verb (ir), and more than a dozen usage examples. Piruja isn’t defined, but it is clear that the word refers to a mistress; a quick check in the Urban Dictionary confirms that the term is a synonym for whore. Later we hear a child exclaim, “¡Mamá compró coche nuevo!” and we know this is “Mom bought a new car.” I find it most helpful to try to figure out the meaning of the Spanish phrases before looking at the translation.

Language Learning with Netflix is a free program, but one can also sign up for “Pro Mode” for about five dollars per month; this will allow you to save the words and phrases you have learned, and they will be highlighted any time they are encountered in the future. In addition, the Pro option provides subtitles for dubbed movies. However, I have found the basic program more than adequate for my needs.

Anyone using Netflix can easily pull up a list of award-winning Spanish language movies, and there is even a special list of “Spanish-Language Psychological Movies.” A few of the films that are available with Netflix Language Learning include Pan’s Labyrinth, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Neruda, and The Lighthouse of the Orcas.

Once I become more comfortable with the Netflix Spanish language films, I hope to branch out to other Spanish language films I have loved: The Sea Inside (Mar Adentro), All About My Mother (Todo Sobre Mi Madre), Pain and Glory (Dolor y Gloria), and El Norte.

Although I have focused on films, it is also possible to use LLN to listen to television programs that are taped in Spanish or dubbed. I recently listened to the second episode of the Korean television series Crash Landing on You dubbed into Spanish with English subtitles. The program brought back lots of memories of the year I spent in Seoul as a Fulbright Scholar teaching at Yonsei University. I also recommend using LLN to listen to the remarkable Netflix series Green Frontier (Frontera Verde). Finally, it is possible to use LLN to view, enjoy and learn from popular Netflix shows like BoJack Horseman and The Queen’s Gambit.

It appears that the COVID-19 pandemic is gradually coming to an end, and I look forward to seeing my Division 46 colleagues at future APA conventions. Perhaps when we meet, many of us will have used Language Learning for Netflix enough so that we can greet each other warmly, asking, “Hola querido amigo. ¿Has visto alguna película española maravillosa recientemente?


Leong, F., Bernal, G., Comas-Díaz, & Wedding, D. (under contract). Movies and multiculturalism. Hogrefe.

Niemiec, R., & Wedding, D. (2013). Positive psychology at the movies: Using films to promote character strengths and well-being (2nd ed.). Hogrefe.

Wedding, D., & Niemiec, R.M. (2014). Movies and mental illness: Using films to understand psychopathology (4th ed.). Hogrefe.

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