If you want to improve your level of fluency in Spanish, watching Spanish television is a very good way of going about it. With the visual element to help you and the possibility of subtitles to assist, it can be a good stepping stone to fluency. And, of course, you get to find out what’s happening in the country.

It might be a useful language-learning tool, but there are few people who would generally sing the praises of Spanish television. It has more than its fair share of talk programmes and is renowned for its telenovelas (soaps). It has also recently experienced some upheaval with nine digital TV channels being closed down last year.

Whatever its faults, watching television is generally very popular with Spanish people and you can quite often see whole families sat outside on their terraces watching the television in the hot, summer evenings.

However, if you’ve turned it on only to be confused and turn it off again, here’s our attempt to guide you towards some of the channels and some of the issues to watch out for.


The main spanish TV channels are:

  • La 1 (La Uno):  This is the main public service channel and has the right to show a champions league game
  • La 2 (La Dos):  is a public service channel that provides some alternative programmes such as documentaries
  • laSexta:  is one of the best known channels (private)
  • Telecinco, Antena 3 and Cuatro news:  are all private channels that broadcast general programmes such as quizzes, talk shows, soaps and news.
  • Teledeporte: is a public service channel which shows sport all day long
  • Clan:  is a public service channel dedicated just to children’s TV programmes


In addition most regions of Spain have their own public network service.

A little history

Television was introduced in Spain in 1956. Many people feel that there was little chance of it developing during the Franco years when a very tight hold was kept on all broadcasting. Television was used for political means and real creativity or objectivity was limited.  This strict censorship and control continued into the 1980s when regional television stations began to appear.

However, political influence is still not completely divorced from Spanish television. More recently there have been accusations that the government is putting its own personnel into key positions.

TV adverts

Be prepared if you do watch Spanish television.  The adverts can be extremely long and seriously disrupt the course of the programme you are trying to watch. The ads can come at any time – for example right at the peak moment of a classic fight. You can suddenly find yourself left on the edge of your seat for twenty minutes whilst viewing a selection of pretty unspectacular adverts.

This problem was recently brought to a head with the stations Cuatro and Telecinco being accused of breaking the maximum permitted airtime of 12 minutes per hour for advertising and teleshopping.

Andalucia’s public television station, Canal Sur, was heavily criticised for cutting to an advert just as the clocks struck midnight on new year’s eve. Those waiting eagerly to eat their traditional 12 grapes found themselves watching two adverts instead. In place of the chimes they were left viewing one advert for coffee, followed by another for the MotoGP.

Be warned

Watersheds and thresholds can also be very different to what you might be used to back home. Although there has recently been a purge of channels for inappropriate broadcasting at peak times, this is unlikely to remove the necessity for you to apply your own brand of censorship. You might be surprised at what’s openly broadcast at all times of night and day!

Telecinco was recently criticised for its portrayal of Chinese people and it’s probably fair to say that Spanish programmes are not as sensitive to cultural and gender issues as we’ve come to expect in some other European countries.

There are also fewer restrictions on what’s shown after national and international disasters and those used to the filtering of UK censors, for example might be a little shocked at what can slip through.

Spot the familiar

When you do settle on your channel you might be surprised at the number of programmes that you recognise. It can be a case of spot the like with ‘Come dine with me’ / ‘Ven a cenar conmigo’, ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ /‘Quién quiere ser millonario?’, ‘Big Brother’ ‘Gran/hermano’ ‘Master chef’ /‘Master chef’.

Language and format may differ, but the popularity of certain types of programmes is universal after all.