Arriving in Jáen – What You Can Gain By Watching Spanish TV

And so after a long and sweaty ride I finally arrived at my overnight stop – a small restaurant with guest rooms.

The first thing I did was I parked the bike in a shady spot underneath a tree. Then I made my way over to where reception appeared to be.

I was greeted by a friendly grey haired guy who said “Hola” and asked me how I was. “Tengo mucho calor!” I smiled back.

We had the usual conversation about where I was from, what my journey had been like and where I had been before. After 6 days on the road, this was a conversation I was familiar with and could have quite confidently.

He took me inside to the darkened and much cooler reception area where a woman behind the smallest reception desk I’d seen asked me for my passport.

Clearly, the administration is important so I had to go back out to the bike and get my travel documentation from my pannier.

Getting To Know Names Makes The Conversation Personal

When I came back in with my passport, I introduced myself and asked their names. I discovered my hosts were Jose and Susannah.

It’s quite interesting to notice the softening of a relationship as you go from complete strangers to sharing your names and introducing yourself. All of a sudden, the interaction between us shifted from transactional to relational.

They both opened up and appeared to relax.

Jose had some English so I told them (in Spanish) that I’d been learning their language for 4 months. They complimented me on how “good” my Spanish appeared to be after such a short time.

Susannah admitted she’d been trying to learn English for a couple of years but still couldn’t say anything! It’s something I have heard many English speakers say about learning Spanish!

I happened to mention that I knew quite a few words and phrases.  The biggest problem I had was understanding what was being said to me.

I Used My Longest Spanish Sentence So Far!

“Tengo un vocabulario de ochocientos palabras y frases pero tengo un grande problema. Españolas habla más rápido que no entiendo”.

With hindsight, I thought I would check what that actually meant. Here is what that comes out as in Google Translate:

“I have a vocabulary of eight hundred words and phrases but I have a big problem. Spanish talks faster than I do not understand ”

Not completely correct, but the message got across.

They then asked me if I would like them to speak Spanish or English whilst I was there. Of course I said Spanish. At which point they promised me they would speak slowly!

All of this was in (broken) Spanish of course.

We then got into a conversation about the directions on their website. The address put the hotel firmly in the centre of Jáen when using google maps, which it clearly wasn’t. This was probably a subject beyond my current Spanish capabilities.

Jose took me outside and pointed to where Jáen was in the distance. I asked what the building was that I could see.

“¿Que es el edificio?”

Edificio is another word I had learnt in my preparations.

I Even Cracked A Joke In Spanish!

They told me it was la catedral that was muy bonito and to look around it was free (gratis).

I cracked my first joke in Spanish when with a twinkle in my eye and a huge grin on my face, I asked “¿Es la habitación gratis?”

My comic timing in Spanish must be better than in English because they both laughed!

All of this only took about 5 minutes but it was a quality experience that allowed me to practice more Spanish in a very forgiving and supportive environment.

Susannah then showed me to my room and explained the functioning of the TV and air conditioning. I had to make sure all of the doors and windows were shut when using the A/C. Fortunately body language and physical context helped me understand what she was saying.

I did ask what the Spanish words were for “to close” and “the shower”. I heard what she said. Repeated back what she said.  I didn’t make an effort to take conscious note of the words to memorise later.  So these words are consigned to the darker reaches of my memory.   I will now have to go and look them up again.

There is another lesson. If I am going to ask about a word, I should have a way of capturing it so that I don’t lose the lesson.

We had a brief conversation about time for dinner and for the second time today “ocho” came in really useful.

My Spanish has its limits and occasionally I falter and struggle to express myself.  But I am really encouraged by what I am able to do with what little I do know.

After sorting out the bike and my kit and having a shower, I lay on the bed with a view to taking a well earned siesta.

Watching Spanish TV Adverts Can Help

I don’t have a TV at home, so I decided to switch on the box and let some Spanish television be the background to my snooze.

But I was drawn in to watching it and it was a really useful exercise. There were a couple of soap operas but what was really useful to watch were the adverts.

Just watching Spanish TV on its own is not going to teach you much about the language. However, if you have already learnt some words and phrases you can start to put some of those words into better context. Then you can begin to understand what is going on.

For example one advert had the phrase “piel sana”. From my experience of learning the 625 words, I know this must mean “skin health”.

When TV channel starts promoting upcoming shows, days of the week and times are mentioned. After a while when you see repeated promotions for the same programme, you begin to internalise that information.

Words and phrases that are repeated a lot start to become familiar and you begin to internalise them almost without effort.

For example I know that “difícil” means difficult, but I had no idea that “ficil” means easy – seems obvious now. Of course in many of the adverts, the product was either easy to use or did their job in an easy way.

Watching two soap operas meant I saw a preview of the next episode after seeing the words “en el próximo capítulo”.

The adverts seemed to go on forever, certainly far longer than I remember on UK TV, but they were very useful to help cement what I already know as well as give me new vocabulary. A few factors contributed to that.

  • First of all the ads often repeated key phrases
  • Secondly the words were accompanied by colourful and interesting images
  • Thirdly, because they are adverts, they are designed to get their message across as quickly and as effectively as possible.

My Favourite Spanish Game Show

And then on came what became my favourite Spanish TV experience – the game show called Ahora Caigo – Now I Fall.

The format is this.

A main contestant competes against other contestant in a series of word games. The loser in each round then falls through the trap door they are standing on and the winner stays to challenge someone else.

A cash prize accumulates for every round won.

What is really useful to the viewer is that the various questions and word games appear written on the screen so you can read them at the same time as the contestant.

This really helped me as I got absorbed in this really entertaining and engaging game show. It was far better than anything I have seen in the UK. I know I don’t watch TV but even so I was really impressed with this show.

There was one question “¿que tipo de planta es un lich?

The answer was Árbol – a tree. I didn’t know what a “lich” was but I could understand the rest of the question and the answer.

Another round had the contestants try and guess an answer based on a series of clues revealed one after the other. One of the clues was “no tiene brazos” and given the other clues, I knew before the contestants did that the answer was the statue Venus de Milo.

Another question asked what age the fashion designer Armani was in 2017. The girl asked this question didn’t know either but it seemed the rules allowed her to rattle through potential answers until she got the right number (83 was the answer).

Contestants were also asked which Spanish singer popularised the song…..

There was a question about languages and the answer was Esperanto which I got right.

At one point the contestants said “no sé, no tengo idea” – I don’t know, I have no idea.

I was amazed at how engaged I was in the show despite having limited Spanish. It’s a show I’d watch again if I could.

Watching Spanish TV was a completely absorbing experience. Not only was I able to put words I had learnt into context, but I was also able to learn new words. Additionally I got a useful insight into Spanish culture.

Dinner… And A Chat About Body Parts

As it was my fourth night in Spain I had got the “no como carne pero como pescado” conversation and the “zumo de naranja” drinks order off to a tee. So ordering food and getting drinks wasn’t a problem.

Jose my host looked after me extremely well serving up a delightful meal of soup, bread, olives and a platter of cold salmon and salad.

I had another conversation with Susanna only this time about body parts!

How do you get into a conversation about body parts with a married woman you have only just met whilst her husband stands only feet away?


It started with their dog.

When I had arrived earlier, their chocolate brown shar-pei chained to the tree by reception had woofed at me with a deep, laboured, bellowing bark.

Naturally the conversation drifted on to her as I chatted with my hosts. I asked the dogs name “¿come se llama?”. I wasn’t sure how to ask it’s age so I said “¿como se dice ‘how old'”.

Sometimes if the people you are speaking to have some English, they will help you with phrases like this.

“¿Cuantos años?” Came the reply. And after asking, it seems the dog was 9 years old and has a problem with la cadera (hip).

That is how we got on to body parts because Susanna had to point to her hip to explain what “la cadera” was.

Then the conversation shifted to me reciting the body parts I did know whilst I pointed to each one – el brazo, la rodilla, un dedo, un dedo del pie, la cabeza. I must have looked like an oversized kindergarten pupil happily telling a grown up the new words I had learnt after playing in the sandpit!

Susanna then helpfully started to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge by pointing to various limbs and joints and telling me the Spanish word for each.

Normally I’d have nodded, repeated and checked my pronunciation was correct and left it at that. But I know from experience that I would simply forget the words in a few minutes if I did nothing with what Susanna was teaching me.

So I whipped out my little black book, drew a stick figure and started to write down some of the words she was saying. Of course it gave me the opportunity to use the phrase “¿Como se deletrea…?” (How do you spell…?).

Having a little black book to capture these nuggets is vital for me. It means I can gather what I learn in the moment, Later on I can then put them into Anki so I can install them into my memory over the longer term.

And then it was time to go to bed.

Phew what an exhausting yet extremely stimulating day.


  • Sylvia marlow

    Feb 7 2018

    Hola, una otra vez.
    Good advice to watch TV. Friends of ours moved to Brittany ten years ago and they learned so much from watching the French version of ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ where the contestant is asked a question and then has four options (which are on the screen) to choose the right answer. They also bought an illustrated dictionary, published by Penguin. This wasn’t much help for grammar but ace for giving you every word you could need in different contexts, even obscure plumbing terms and car engine parts.
    It’s also vital to have the little notebook and write words down. I agree – you forget them otherwise.
    I’ve tried watching the Spanish-speaking channels on US television but I’m exhausted and frustrated after 5 minutes. I’ll follow your advice though and wait for the commercials.
    Hasta pronto!

  • Michael

    Mar 13 2018

    Hi Sylvia,

    You definitely need to write the things you learn down. And then more importantly, you need to condition their recall so you are always able to recall them. That’s the part most people miss.



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