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AlwaysSpanish is Retiring!

After a long awkward silence, here's something to break the ice – all over again. I can totally see why you should be upset to see no action from the Burro for over a month now, but trust me, your wait was all worth it. The news here is that your beloved Burro has just moved into a brand new home – one that's a whole lot richer, swankier, and easier to live in. I'm talking about PeppyBurro. That's the name of the new website! Isn't that cool? At least it tells you all about the Burro's pepped up temperament right off the bat, right? This post is not about Spanish-learning tricks (although I will drop in a couple out of habit, I guess) or grammar lessons. This one's all about our new home!

The Witchcraft Of Spanish Vocabulary

The very first step to conquering a language is to tame its vocabulary. And sadly, that's the part that puts off most novice learners because memorizing strange-sounding words is too darn boring! A never-ending chant of rote rehearsal and a nervous prayer can see you through an upcoming test, but the process just won't cut it if your goal is to actually use the language in the street. It's a mystery how this incredibly inefficient method has survived this long and still continues to be perpetuated by schools and educators around the world. So is there any nirvana around this assault of monotony in our miserable lives? Anything that could make learning foreign words less painful?

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: Always Spanish has retired. Please visit the new blog at for all future articles.

Narcos: 6 Reasons It’s An Awesome Show For Spanish Learners

I have always promoted the idea of learning Spanish from the couch. We live in times of Netflix and Hulu and the world has never been more accessible. So why not make this situation work for us! Today, you can find a TV show to learn practically any language important enough, your genre preferences notwithstanding. This article introduces to you, in caee you haven’t already heard of it, a brand new show recently floated by Netflix called Narcos. This is one of those few edge-of-the-seat shows that teach you some serious Spanish without you even realizing it. Of course, the deal is you should have at the very least your basics in place.

“La muerte de Pablo Escobar” by Fernando Botero
“La muerte de Pablo Escobar” by Fernando Botero
Photo credit: Hugo Pardo Kuklinski licensed CC BY 2.0

A show as fast-paced as its trailer

For those of you who are not yet in the know, Narcos is a brand new TV series released by Netflix. The first season (the only one out as of this writing) follows the epic rise and the equally epic fall of the notorious Colombian drug baron, Pablo Escobar. As one would come to expect of a subject like this, this show is as raw as it gets and the best part is, it’s as fast-paced as its trailers!

Escobar was single-handedly responsible for the cocaine becoming a household name in America. The idea of young girls carrying pellets of the white powder inside their bellies while traveling into America – that was Escobar again! Today we know them as drug mules.

The Netflix show portrays not only the stellar life of the King of Cocaine, but also lives of the average Colombian and American in the raw 80s. Those of us who were around during that decade will instantly sense a tinge of nostalgia through the rushes.

To compliment an excellent storyline, there’s the music. The title track “Tuyo” by Brazil’s Rodrigo Amarante is a soothing masterpiece in and of itself. Other tracks used during each episode’s closing credit-rolls and elsewhere are no less pleasant and tappy.

What else is great about Narcos?

Arguably the best thing about Narcos is that it’s not dumbed down for the average Hollywood audience and there’s no dubbing for the non-English parts of which there’s plenty. So you won’t find local paisas speaking English, not even with a Colombian accent. They speak Spanish, just as they are meant to. Colombians speak Spanish, Americans speak English. Isn’t it already sounding realistic?

Any Game of Thrones fan here? I certainly am. And like any fan, I found Pedro Pascal’s casting in a prominent role a big enough reason to keep me hooked. If you’re a fellow fan, you would recognize him as Oberyn Martell from the fantasy epic.

But even I was pleasantly surprised to realize that Pedro wasn’t the only actor who kicked ass in Narcos. Do watch out for Wagner Moura, the Brazilian actor who plays the kingpin himself. Moura knew no Spanish until being cast for his role that required him to speak nothing but Spanish. And his character had a lot of speaking to do. If that’s not inspiration, I wonder what is!

Narcos will saturate you with Colombian Spanish
Narcos will saturate you with Colombian Spanish
Photo credit: Iván Erre Jota licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

The Spanish in Narcos

Let’s see why exactly Narcos is such an awesome idea when it comes to learning Spanish. In order to make this an easier reading, let’s list them out one by one:
  1. Lot of Spanish: Although the show is touted to be bilingual, it does lean heavily toward Spanish given the nature of its plot. You can’t have a lot of English when trying to show events taking place in the heart of Colombia, can you? This means you will get enough input to thoroughly soak you up in Spanish. Don’t worry if you can’t make out their rapid-fire Spanish because the show is adequately subtitled in English. So comprehension is going to be the least of your concerns.
  2. Just enough English too: Narcos is all about Pablo Escobar. But it’s also a bit about the DEA officer who followed the drug lord till his very end. In fact, the very narration (yes, there’s a intermittent narration in every episode; isn’t that so cool!) is by the American. What this means is that there’s just the right amount of English to keep you from the fatigue of constantly having to read the subtitles. Yet there’s not too much of it to dilute the Spanish either. It’s just right.
  3. The quintessential diminutives: Just like the Mexicans, the Colombians too live by their diminutives. Since the plot revolves around Medellín, the home of the paisas, diminutives of all shapes and sizes enjoy their fair share in the dialogs. No matter how casually you listen, it’ll be hard to not catch at least a couple of them in every episode. And that’s without any efforts whatsoever on your part!
  4. Colombian vocabulary: Colombian Spanish is rich in words unique to the country. Even words familiar in other countries might have a slightly different meaning or usage in Colombia. If this is the dialect you’re gunning for, Narcos is going to make you a very happy person. Take for example listo. I always knew this word as Spanish for ready. But guess what, it’s often used in the sense of okay in Colombia! I remember catching this usage umpteen number of times even when not paying attention. And there are many more like this.
  5. Colombian slang: Slang and colloquialism are always the most fun aspects of learning a new language. If Colombian Spanish enchants you more than any other, you’d do well to familiarize yourself with some of the cool slang terms commonly heard in the streets of Colombia. Some are neutral, others vulgar. From parce (Colombian Spanish for partner, buddy, or dude) to marica (Colombian Spanish for gay; extremely vulgar) – slang is the meat of Narcos-speak. It won’t be hard to absorb some.
  6. Voseo: This is something you’re gonna have to deal with most everywhere you go in Latin America with a very few exceptions like Mexico. Voseo is the practice of using vos as the singular second person pronoun instead of . Colombians use vos all the time and this show will make sure this is drilled well into you. Another fun feature of Colombian Spanish is the use of Usted for family and friends. This is the exact opposite of how Mexicans or Spaniards use the pronoun. Narcos will ensure you’re familiar with phenomenon this as well.
Finally, there’s also this popular notion that Colombian Spanish is the “purest” and sounds most pleasant. Although such notions are highly subjective and open to much debate, the fact remains that many Spanish speakers do secretly wish they could speak like the Colombians. It’s like how speaking with a British accent suddenly makes you sound more educated to some ears. To be rather accurate, the distinction goes to the rollos (people of Bogotá) more than the paisas (people of Medellín). As a Spanish-noob, that’s reason enough for you to choose Colombian Spanish over any other in case you have no other factors at play and can’t make up your mind. So, that make Narcos an even better proposition, don’t you think?

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