Binge-learn Spanish by Watching Narcos

Narcos on Netflix is my latest obsession in premium television and actually, contrary to most the other non-essential shit I consume, Narcos serves a valuable purpose for me—Spanish practice. I’ve been a Spanish learning hobbyist? for quite some time. Always intensifying practice around an international trip, then making honest attempts during subsequent months utilizing new podcasts or maybe reading Spanish newspapers online. Wherever my abilities lie, the rhythm of the language and memories of past trips to Spain and Central and South America have cemented my desire for improvement.

As far as Narcos is concerned, I think the reason this show has fueled my latest Spanish binge is threefold:

  • Centers around drug trafficking
    Drugs are bad, mkay? Most shows centered around drugs tend to include a combination of money, violence and corruption. These ingredients lend themselves to an addicting cocktail of a TV series, much like those found in The Wire or Breaking Bad.
  • Grounded in historical details
    The wildest and most devastating part is the series’ focus on historical events—they’re often tragically depressing and almost inconceivable (see Palace of Justice siege or Avianca Flight 203 for examples). Absolutely there is narrative stringing some episodes along, as this is a Netflix original, but Narcos does establish historical characters and presents them in a moderately neutral tone.
  • Primarily Spanish dialogue
    Since it centers around Pablo Escobar and the influence he played in Colombian life generally, and the cocaine trade specifically, it is likely to be best told in Spanish. Obvious, I know, but would you believe the actor playing Escobar is Brazilian?

A few hours a week I am transported to another country, thrown into the fascinating, yet tragic history that unfolded around cocaine in Colombia and the profound impact it carried forward for more than two decades. The producers filmed much of the series in Medellín and Bogotá, and throughout they weave together bits of authentic photos and videos. Since you’re seeing actual footage and archived documents, the series appears more genuine as you see haunting videos of the aftermath of street shootouts and major bombing campaigns. 

The first season chronicles the brutal rise to Escobar’s dominance. It explores the ruthlessness of his empire and the ensuing exchange of violence between rival cartels, the Colombian police and populist guerrilla fighters. You see both sides of the law—a view from the Colombian government and its hired help from the DEA, as well as Escobar’s family and business associates. Throughout, the Colombian people find themselves caught in the middle, powerless to the situation. 

Season two begins to look into the decisions which lead to the slow unraveling of Escobar’s Medellín empire.  As crazy and utterly brutal as his rise to the top is, the downward spiral of his reign is somehow even more riveting, especially once the viewer begins to get a glimpse “inside the mind” of Escobar during his last months on the run. 

Narcos makes it difficult to not want to improve (or learn) Spanish during/after watching. The series is addicting. The language is alluring. A planned season three and four are in the works, which no doubt makes it even more appealing as a continued alternative to the more conventional, and let’s be honest, less inspiring, language learning methods.


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