Spanish TV & “Spanaise”

I’d had 6 years of Spanish before I reached University. But only 2 of it in High School. They required 3 in high school to skip the language requirement. So my advanced little farm town that had us start a second language in 5th grade (so 5,6,7, & 8, then Freshman and Sophomore for my 6 years) had set me in a difficult spot at University.

Either I had to “test” in Spanish (and be in Spanish Lit classes with the native speakers or at best the final advanced classes) or pick another language. I chose French.

This was a problem, as every time I tried to speak French, it came out Spanish. So one day (about the 2nd week) I did a long session of post hypnotic suggestions and banned Spanish. After about 2 more weeks, I was mostly doing just French. It then had all the French language classes at university (that is, all the ones teaching just the language). 18 units of it. About 4000 verbs. All the tenses (including past-simple used only in literature). Untold vocabulary.

Fast forward to now.

I’m actually using Spanish more than French. Have for the last dozen years+. It took time to let the ban on Spanish lapse. But by then it was 30+ years in the past. “A bit rusty” isn’t even close. Now the Daughter-in-Law has Puerto Rican heritage, and in Florida it’s like California – lots of Spanish around.

So I decided to “refresh” my Spanish. I’ve been watching some Spanish TV (with captions) and listening to some Spanish radio stations. It’s coming back OK. But there are “issues”.

First off, my hearing is not so good. I’ve learned to do “correction’ in English over the years so I have a good map of “what I heard” to what was really said. Not so in French or Spanish. I can read both much much better than I can hear and understand them.

Second, the language is different. For the South American TV shows, I can follow it much better. It seems a bit older style of Spanish and much slower. The shows from Spain ( Mar de Plastico & El Ministerio del Tiempo ) use a much more clipped fast style. Plus they have various accents. Germans speaking Spanish. Gypsies. Each with a different sound profile. Some with older Castilian listhp ;-) some modern street slang. In many cases, words left out so not complete sentences. Often words crammed together leaving syllables gone or so compressed as to be a minor blip sound I easily miss and don’t recognize as a syllable anyway. But I’m getting there. Each day, a few more words from the onelongutrancesaidpronto comes through.

I also suspect that what I learned 55 years ago was already older at that time as the books were not new, so I’m likely more familiar with the Spanish from 1900 than from 2015. Languages change over time. In the modern TV I’m hearing very little use of the formal, and a lot more clipped short familiar. Seems the characters from the past still use Ustedes, but the present not so much. Don’t know if it is because the characters are supposed to be familiar, or if the modern usage has drifted to the informal like modern German and other languages.

Occasionally now, I find myself thinking a thing in Spanish. (Today I looked at my mutt in the front yard and asked him if he wanted some food, in Spanish… He looked confused ;-) Which leads to the next odd bit. Now I’ve got some bits of French trying to invade when I hit a null spot in the Spanish. I just had a thought wander by that started in Spanish and finished with a few French words. Spanaise? Fancanish? Who knew…

Well, time will sort it out.

The Shows

I’ve found that Spanish TV has come a long way from when I was 8 watching Zoro at my friend’s home. And Sabado Gigante.

Mar de Plastico is about a fictional town on the southern Spanish coast. A Sea of Plastic as it is covered in greenhouses. It’s a mix of romance, cop show, murder mystery. I really liked it. They have some semi-artificial racial tension with African migrant labor and Gypsies of 200 years residence vs The locals. But the main focus is the cops and murder mystery. Well acted, IMHO. Superb photography and sets. The Spanish have an eye for video / images.

The same star male lead appears in El Ministerio del Tiempo. (Rodolfo Sancho) A kind of Time Cops show. They are to “protect the history of Spain”. Again, well acted, superb photography. Lighting and set dressing are well done ( I suspect helped by actual historical sites that were preserved). One treat for me is getting to see history from the POV of the Spanish. Things like The Grand Armada that, for me, were just something a storm sunk during British history; instead seen as the pride of a Global Empire and with so many brave young soldiers / sailors lost. Pride and tragedy, not threat and victory.

There’s a wiki on it:

El Ministerio del Tiempo (English: The Ministry of Time) is a Spanish fantasy television series created by Javier and Pablo Olivares and produced by Onza Partners and Cliffhanger for Televisión Española. It premiered on February 24, 2015 on TVE’s main channel La 1. The series follows the exploits of a patrol of the fictional Ministry of Time, which deals with incidents caused by time travel.

On March 24, 2015, it was confirmed that TVE had renewed the series for a second season. The show was renewed for a third season on September 22, 2016. On December 29, 2016 it was announced that RTVE had sold the rights to Netflix to broadcast the third series internationally, outside of Spain, resulting in a bigger production budget.

The Ministry of Time is the best kept secret of the Spanish state: an autonomous government institution that reports directly to the Prime Minister. Its patrols have to watch the doors of time so that no intruder from other eras can change history for their own benefit.

The series follows the assignments of the Ministry’s newest patrol: the one formed by Army of Flanders soldier Alonso de Entrerríos, 19th century student Amelia Folch and 21st century Samur paramedic Julián Martínez.

There’s also an official web site, heavy with video / photos…

Similarly Mar de Plastico:

(And yes, I know I ought to be using the accent marks but it’s a PITA to do the unicode and I don’t have a European keyboard.)

Mar de plástico (Spanish: Plastic Sea) is a Spanish crime drama television series produced by Boomerang TV for Atresmedia. It airs on Atresmedia’s main channel Antena 3. The series focuses on the investigation of a murder in the fictional town of Campoamargo, set in an area of the province of Almería known as the “plastic sea” due to the numerous greenhouses that cover it, and the interracial conflicts that arise in the greenhouses. The pilot episode aired on 22 September 2015, being simulcast on Antena 3, Neox, Nova and Mega.

In November 2015, Antena 3 announced that the series had been renewed for a second season, which was later confirmed as the last one.

One thing else that was a bit of a surprise for me, but ought not to have been: Just how much the Spanish set shows remind me of Irish and English folks. Mexico is closer and Mexicans more numerous here. In the Spanish shows, I see folks who look like my family, use phrases with mates in English, and have similar cultural norms to the Irish.

Things like just because you slugged your buddy in the chops for going after your girl, doesn’t mean you can’t have drinks together later; after all, you were in your right to slug him and now he knows you are over it… Alien to German / English sorts, common with Irish / Britons. Think John Wayne having a fight in The Quiet Man with his future wife’s “male guardian” then having drinks later…

The connection of Ireland having been populated by folks from the Gaelic area of Hispania is still evident on both sides.

So for me, more Spanish TV is in my future. It’s just very well done.

Netflix has a lot of it, and I’m marking more for future watching. I’ve also found a few in French. I’m going to make an attempt at keeping both languages “on-line” together and see if I can keep them properly separated. Hopefully not falling into a bunch of Spancaise and Franish or whatever ;-) But it’s an odd thing for me. So I’m typing this and thinking por accidente and realizing I’m mixing three languages in bits. By accident. Par… Ooofta. Seems my brain is happy to use a given meaning-symbol from whatever language pops up first and doesn’t care that they are supposed to come in sets of a kind. C’est la vie.

So we’ll see how this works out.

But even if you do need to read the captions to follow the shows, they are well done and worth it, IMHO. Anyone wanting to learn a language ought to find out what Netflix shows are available in it. It can be a challenge, but so are the native speakers in the streets when you get there… At least with the TV / Netflix you can pause and replay till you get it right ;-)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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20 Responses to Spanish TV & “Spanaise”

  1. Thomas C Bakewell says:

    I remember watching “Los Ladrones Van Al Oficina” from Spain in whilst marooned in Maracaibo in the late ’90’s. Between that and the local Venezuelian sitcoms my Spanish became servicable.

  2. Haan says:

    It is my personal experience that in order to learn a language fast is to put yourself in a position where you are forced to use the language 24/7 as your primary communication tool. Just plan a holiday in a Spanish speaking location and tell any person in your vicinity not to communicate with you in the english language, just Spanish. It helps if you tell them that it is your goal to master the language ASAP. With a little luck you will have several *teachers” assisting you.

    Just take care you master the at least 4000 words and know the basic grammar rules, something you can do in approx. 3 weeks using Babel Fish (three weeks for free)

    Watching Spanish TV shows of course help but nothing compares to the method above.

  3. E.M.Smith says:

    @R. de Haan:

    My issues seem to be more related to auditory processing. I can read Spanish fairly well, still. Yeah, my vocabulary isn’t what it used to be, and my spelling is horrid (in any language), but I can get through most of a magazine article or newspaper. But the spoken form has shifted from what I learned and my hearing makes that much worse.

    Yes, real use is best. I’ve done OK talking with locals. As long as they don’t go too fast ;-) But there I get to use simple words and the ones I know. Circumlocutions.

    The stuff from Spain post about 1970 is different from what the locals speak, though. Still working out the specifics. But it’s like someone from Texas trying to follow Cockney slang… Some words match, but a lot is different..

  4. Bruce Ryan says:

    I too watched Mar de Plastico, I found myself thinking how different men and women interact in the stages around a relationship in Spain. Another thought that drifted in and out depending on the pace of the story, almost a soap opera storyline.
    My twenty years of working with Mexicans building things allowed me to “resemble” some phrases but darn few. But try watching a British cops and robbers show, there isn’t a word I get.

  5. Larry Ledwick says:

    Would that be Spench or Franish?

    I recently had a janitorial crew at work, the older woman was like a mother and when she found out I was trying to communicate in spanish she would tutor me one phrase at a time.

    She also used natural spoken Spanish which drops a lot of unnecessary words and often used idiomatic phrases that did not match up with any of the translation programs. She was marginally bilingual but her daughter was almost fully bilingual. Between the two of them we could usually communicate out side her limited English. I find myself occassionally spontaneously using Spanish expressions when addressing people I am sure are more comfortable in Spanish than English but I am at about 2 year old level of communication. Just simple things like Como Esta, Esta Bien etc.

    Last week one of our staff locked himself out of his office just as he was leaving work. He grew up in Guatamala, but is very fluent in both Spanish and English. I found the janitorial crew and asked them if they had a pass key. This new crew has very limited English, but she followed me down stairs and as I rounded the corner with her following me, I called out to Mauricio “Esta Bien” without even thinking about it. He instantly recognized that I probably was indicating the gal from the janitorial crew would be more comfortable in Spanish so he asked her to unlock the door in Spanish. “por favor abre la puerta de mi oficina”

  6. gary turner says:

    If you’re using Emacs, set your input method to latex. For example you simply escape the character you want as you would in Latex, e.g. \~n or \’e displays ñ or é respectively. There are other input methods, but since I use Latex occasionally, I appreciate not having to learn a new coding.

  7. Heber Rizzo says:

    Sin duda, el “Ministerio del Tiempo” es la mejor producción de la TV española de todos los tiempos (pun intended), tanto por la idea básica como por sus actores, sus vestuarios y sus locaciones.
    Pero este mundo, esta Europa, y esta España, no dejan de ser ridículos.
    Tenemos aquí ahora mismo una lucha por el idioma, con unos nacionalistas enloquecidos que quieren eliminar de sus regiones una lengua que es materna para más de 500 millones de personas, y que muchísimos más hablan y estudian actualmente (entre ellos, y bastante sorprendentemente para mí, los chinos).
    En fin, la estupidez humana no tiene límites.

  8. cdquarles says:

    Hmm, I seem to have had my past language instruction fade in a similar manner. I can read French much better than I can speak it now, since so many years have gone by without the need for it. It has been 20 years since I last spoke French, which was in Montreal.

    @ Larry, indeed. My last French class was Conversational French, aka Idiomatic (Parisian) French. Idioms don’t translate easily. I had 8 years of formal training plus the informal training my grandfather provided while growing up. Immersion works. My university classes were all taught via immersion. That includes the one year of Russian thrown in.

  9. Thomas C Bakewell says:

    When I was in Maracaibo I did the full immersion training. I made a strong effort to avoid the ex-pat gringos (usually a whiney lot anyhow) and spent my evenings at a bar where all the patrons were very willing tutors. I did have a small advantage in that I lived in Cuba for a year when I was 11. I didn’t learn much Spanish, but I did learn the music of the language, so pronunciation was fairly easy for me. I remember repeating bits and pieces of Fidel’s speeches to get the timing and accentuation down.

    Even now, some 20 years later I still dream in Spanish once in a while.

  10. philjourdan says:

    I have just the opposite problem. Conversational French in 1-4 & 8, 10-12. The Spanish in 5-7. (German as well for 9-12).

    And married a second generation Mexican who speaks Spanish when we get together with the in-laws (none of their kids speak it however). I can understand a lot of Spanish, but when I go to speak it, it comes out French. SO I mostly just nod my head a lot.

  11. p.g.sharrow says:

    You guys are making me feel inadequate. ;-( I can barely communicate in english…pg

  12. E.M.Smith says:

    @Heber Rizo:

    ¿Quiénes son estos nacionalistas que desean eliminar el español en Europa?

    Todo un continente lo habla o Protuguese (que es similar pero diferente). La mayoría de los Estados Unidos de América lo encuentran útil hasta cierto punto (y ha sido hablado en California, Arizona, Nuevo México, Texas y Florida desde antes de que los EE. UU. Los absorbieran). Todo México y América Central también.

    Estaba aprendiendo / hablándola a los 7 años con mi amigo, ¡cuya familia había estado en los EE. UU. Más que mi madre! Mi nuera es 1/2 o más puertorriqueña y mi nieto probablemente será bilingüe inglés / español. Mis dos hijos aprendieron español en la escuela secundaria. ¡No es como si fuera un Club solo para mexicanos!

    ¿Estás hablando de los catalanes? Es casi español (tipo de español con italiano / francés mezclado en …)

  13. E.M.Smith says:


    No Worries. I can barely communicate in several languages but it doesn’t help! ;-)

    @Thomas C. Bakewell:

    From about 7 to about 17 I had regular “full immersion” as I’d go to my buddies house. Or go out with his “circle of friends”. I probably spent 1/3 of my day on about 1/2 of my days, in that environment. Those in his circle who did speak English would occasionally help me with some new words, but mostly it was Spanish. Unless someone wanted to practice their English on me… My Sister was a foreign exchange student to Mexico City for a month or two. She said when she got on the plane to come home all these people were squawking something she could not understand… After a few minutes she realized it was English and English came back on line…

    I did a business trip that had me in Rome for 1/2 week and Germany for the same. Solo. I crammed the language tape for Italian on the way over an “got by” (Though “Bonanza” on the TV in Italian was a bit much!). German I’d had one class and did a bit better. But yeah, nothing like full on Do Or Nothing to get you moving.

    True Story:

    My French 3 teacher was a native German speaker, but her degree was in French so that’s what she was allowed to teach. (Last class before French Literature in discussed in French…) So I’m on my one day off in this trip. I get up in the morning in Karlsruhe Germany. Lunch is in Strasbourg France. I’ve gone through three languages already that day (English to home). At the Swiss border I stop at a gas station. I pump the gas and go in to pay (or pay to pump…) and say something to the clerk (like “I’m on pump 3 how much?” in French. He hears a slight German accent (Thanks to my accurate modeling of my French 3 teacher… and my blondish blue eye look) and responds in German. I struggle, one class not being all that much, and get out a poor but adequate answer, he realizes his error and my American accented English and finishes in English. 4 sentences in 3 languages!

    Only in Europe!


    In French 1 the teacher spent about 1/2 of the very first class saying in French “A Drape, A Drape” trying to get us to “get it”. Finally she said “Un” A and Drape. A collective “Ah…” from the crowed. We didn’t have enough to know that the one sound was two words… After that she would do the immersion thing as long as it worked, when it didn’t, would explain what she was going for, then resume immersion. That worked Very Very Well. Immersion has it’s place, but the bootstrap is best done with explanation included.

    @Gary Turner:

    I don’t use Emacs at all. For WordPress I just use the comment box or the article edit box… I probably just ought to bet a European keyboard…


    That’s the kind of experience that has got me rebooting Spanish. Most recently, an elderly couple in the supermercado both about 5 foot and a bit tall. He’s reaching with his cane to try to pull a 3 pack of 16 oz beer to the front of a high shelf where he can almost reach it. Both speaking Spanish. “Perdoname por favor, señor, tengo grandes brazos. ¿Puedo?” and I got their beer …

    It’s those occasional interactions, and a yard party with the Son’s neighbors who were all from Central America, that have convinced me to get my Spanish polished up a bit.

    Kind of like the experience Phil Jourdan related…

    @Bruce Ryan:

    Part of what I like about the Spanish / South American shows is that it isn’t a PC Laden. It reminds me more of the culture in which I grew up. Men being men and women who appreciate it, all the while trying to figure out why they put up with it ;-) AND in the Hispanic / Celtic shows, having Strong Women step up and put the guy in his place from time to time…

  14. Steve C says:

    Nice to know that Franglais has company! Mind you, I suspect that any two humans of different linguistic origins could improvise something halfway between their languages, if needed.

    I’d love to be able to advise*, “Just tune around the bands a bit and listen to a few Spanish language stations” – except that (over here at anyrate) tuning around the bands hardly finds any stations in any language these days, just a thousand flavours of digital noise. Internet “radio”?

    *Yep. Long since taught my granny to suck eggs! ;-)

  15. cdquarles says:

    @EMS, indeed. My high school French teacher, a Basque, always started class with her goals for the day or week in English. That was the last English heard in her class. My university Russian teacher, a product of the Army Language School, did the same in his Russian classes.

  16. philjourdan says:

    My French teachers in HS were not that great. But they were American or French at least.

    Now my first German teacher – she was a treat! She was German (Frau Ziakov – or is that Russian?), but emigrated from Brazil! So yes, she spoke Portuguese as well. :-)

  17. E.M.Smith says:

    @Steve C:

    Here, AM radio is essentially dying. It’s now mostly “news” / talk shows and some Hispanic radio.

    FM is heading that way. “Public Radio” and an ever increasing Hispanic content. (The “White Guys” mostly moving to having their iPod talk to the car stereo system… and playing their play list).

    So the upside is more variety ethnic programming. The downside is ever less Popular Music stations to choose from (though still enough on FM).

  18. E.M.Smith says:


    Oddly, my High School Spanish teacher was a native speaker of Portuguese. His Spanish was impeccable (he HAD studied it as a major) but one day he broke out in Portuguese with {someone} and on an inquiry shared that he grew up speaking Portuguese. Don’t remember if it was Portugal or Brazil though. Then again, we had something of a local Portuguese population so he might have been Native Californian just from a Portuguese immigrant family. Great guy in any case.

    FWIW, my first French was spoken at about age 4. The neighbors ran the “French Laundry” and were from France. I’d “play” at their house some times. Only later did I realize they were asking me how to say things in English and I was their “tutor” of sorts. (At one point she said something about “lui” for the third or forth time and I said “My name is Mike but you can call me Luis if you want”… ;-) So I learned some French while teaching them the English words I knew – like fork and fish and wood and such. She was cooking a fish on a wood plank using a fork…) They were a really nice couple.

    Kind of odd, to think of that “backwards” little farm town in California having native speakers of at least German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, and yes, even English. (And more, no doubt. Our Doctor was Jewish so likely knew some Hebrew. There were some Italian families in town too. And more.)

  19. Chuckles says:

    If it’s available ‘La Casa de Papel’ is worth a watch

  20. E.M.Smith says:


    I’ve put it in my “watch next” list. Just waiting for the present binge to reach an end ;-)

    Thanks for the tip!

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