ramblings & exploration

Binge-learn Spanish by Watching Narcos

Learn like a child again

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 started to learn Spanish in high school and have continued as a hobbyist? for quite some time. Basically, I was always intensifying practice around an international trip, then making honest attempts during subsequent months. I utilized new podcasts or read 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.

Ubiquitous brick high-rises in Medellin Colombia. Learn Spanish by watching Narcos, which takes place in Medellin.


Less mindless consumption

As far as Narcos is concerned, I think the reasons this show has fueled my latest Spanish binge are 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.1 There is absolutely 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, former drug lord of Medellín, it is likely to be best told in Spanish. Obvious, I know, but would you believe the actor playing Escobar is Brazilian? Ignore his accent and listen for the true paisa one.

It’s educational!

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 often seeing actual footage and archived documents, the series appears more genuine. You see haunting videos of the aftermath of street shootouts and major bombing campaigns.

You’ll be hooked

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.

It’s not a spoiler if you know what’s coming

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. The viewer begins to get a glimpse “inside the mind” of Escobar during his last months on the run.

Seasons three and four dive into the Cali cartel. The cartel started gaining an edge on Escobar while he was running from the government towards the end of his reign. It’s not as good as the previous two, but you’ll get traditional Spanish learning practice.

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.

Try a different continent

If Colombian cartels aren’t your fancy, you can try your luck in Mexico with a newer series. It centers on Joaquín ¨El Chapo¨ Guzmán Loera, a Mexican drug kingpin with recent history.

The Chicago Crime Commission even named Guzmán public enemy number one for his influence in the city.2 The last person to receive such a notorious label? Al Capone.



  1. Read about major criminal two events that unfolded when Escobar was in power. The first is  the Palace of Justice siege, which saw Supreme Court justices and others taken hostage in Bogotá. The second is Avianca Flight 203 which exploded mid-flight on its way to Cali.
  2. The CCC educates and updates the public about organized crime. You can read its discussion on El Chapo Guzmán on its website.


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