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Using Radio & Audio-Visual Commercials to Improve Spanish Language Skills

written by: Larry M. Lynch • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 4/17/2013

How about a multi-use Spanish language learning tool which can be used to motivate language learners and provide authentic spoken language for connected speech and grammar emulation? Sound good? I thought so. Try using radio and TV commercials, applying these quick, easy-to-do tips and techniques.

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    Developing Spanish Language Skills Using Real Life Examples

    Radio & TV Commercials to Learn Spanish No matter how long you may “study" the Spanish language, you’ll almost always be somewhat behind and "sound a little off", unless you can incorporate use of authentic language elements into your normal spoken conversation. Besides, who wants to sound like a talking Spanish language textbook?

    Examples of authentic lexical elements (real life examples) that can be incorporated:

    • Idioms – quirks in the language not definable in a dictionary ("¡Q'hubo!" for "What's Up?" or "Hi")
    • Expressions – locally used to express particular situations, ideas and thoughts
    • Slang – cultural speech used in specific socio-economic groups (i.e., "Me voy pa`Cali")
    • Exclamatory words and phrases – can vary dramatically from one region or country to the next (Examples: “¡Chuta!", commonly used in Ecuador but not in Colombia where they may say, "¡"Vaya, vaya, vaya!", or “¡Hay Chihuahua!" - used almost exclusively in Mexico)
    • Expletives - called "palabrotas" in Spanish - more acceptable in some cultures than others ("¡Mierde!" In French is acceptable under a wide variety of both insulting and non-insulting conditions. In addition, “¡Chavo!, “¡Papaya!" and “¡Cabron!", in Spanish, are extremely rude, dangerous expletives in some Spanish-speaking countries, but harmless in others)

    TV & Radio Commercials:

    One of my most interesting and useful classes, when I was studying French in Montreal years ago, was a listening comprehension-based course which used an outlined paperback textbook and a series of radio commercials. Many of the commercials were currently playing on local radio stations so you’d even hear them while “toddling" around the city or at home. One radio commercial for apple juice still resounds in my head till this day.

    I enjoyed that particular French course experience so much that I’ve since incorporated the concept into my language classes. That French instructor also taught us to “curse" and "swear" in French due to the depth of immersion in the French language and culture. All of us foreign language learners had a blast in that course. I don’t normally recommend cursing and swearing at locals!

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    So How Do You Find Examples?

    Where do these types of Spanish language linguistic aspects come from, and where or when are they used? The answer is both simple and everywhere, for they can exist all around you in everyday Spanish. Some of the best sources for these Spanish language colloquialisms are:

    • TV and radio commercials
    • Print media such as newspapers and magazines
    • Advertising media in various forms
    • Locals who speak Spanish (L1) in addition to another tongue (L2)
    • Audio-Visual media such as movies, music and documentary videos

    The locals using or introducing these need not necessarily be native speakers. In a number of cases, it is these speakers of Spanish as a second or foreign language who are apt to introduce “colloquialisms" into everyday Spanish speech. When this begins to happen, a regionalized variety of language often develops, as illustrated by terms like:

    Spanglish" a mix of English and Spanish widely used among Puerto Rican English speakers, or along the Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California borders and Mexico

    Franglish" a mix of English and French which can be heard in parts of Canada

    Dinglish" a mix of broken English, Arabic and Hindi spoken by Dubai expats

    Tinglish" a peculiar mix of broken English and Filipino (Tagalog) used in parts of the Philippines

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    Why Commercials are Useful

    You’ll find commercials to be especially useful and help full in Spanish language skills development for a number of reasons. Some of these include:

    • Commercials are short - from 15 seconds to one minute tops allowing them to be repeated numerous times even during limited time class sessions
    • Linguistic and grammatical elements are simple and straightforward
    • Easily-understood message conveyed
    • Authentic, colloquial language used
    • In-context use of grammar
    • Vocabulary and expressions used in context
    • Being set to music or a jingle making them easy to recall
    • Repeated frequently throughout a day, week or month

    These features of TV commercials in general and radio commercials in particular give them many desirable Spanish language learning qualities. Snippets of language can be acquired all during the day in easy-to-manage bits and bites that minimize negative effects of the learners Affective Filter (see linguistic research by Krashen-Terrell, 1983)

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    Using Commercials

    In order to effectively use the types of linguistic speech elements we previously mentioned, you will first need to collect a sampling of them. You can easily record TV commercials or radio commercials from popular media stations. Since commercials change from media type to media type, station to station, week to week or month to month, there is an almost never-ending supply of these spoken ads available. This means you can quickly and easily update your Spanish language course materials, keeping them fresh, relevant, new, interesting and current.

    Both online and broadcast radio commercials are especially useful for improving Spanish language speaking and listening comprehension skills. Once recorded, these can be uploaded as sound files into MP3 devices, hand-held portables, cellular phones, iPods or PCs, allowing Spanish language learners the opportunity to listen and practice at virtually any time. TV commercials can also be recorded as digital files and uploaded into MP4 devices or PCs and laptops as well, although for some the process may not be as accessible and more difficult. No Spanish language radio or TV stations in your area? Use the Internet. Just “Google" Spanish radio" or Spanish TV programs" and you’ll be all set, I promise. So no matter where you might live or be teaching Spanish (Iraq, China, Kenya), you can apply these strategies.

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    Motivate Your Spanish Language Learners

    Try recording a few of your favorite, interesting commercials to try out with your Spanish language learners. Creating short exercises and practice activities to accompany them is quick, simple and easy enough, and you’ll find that using audio or audio-visual commercials adds a unique dimension to your Spanish language classes as well as provides an increased measure of learner motivation. Finally, if you have a really good audio commercial in Spanish, contact me please. I’d love to hear them. I’ll even trade you some of mine for yours.

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