Review - Destinos

Destinos is an outstanding video instructional series presented by Annenberg/CPB, an educational foundation, that periodically airs on television on PBS. The 52 half-hour episodes teach speaking, listening, and comprehension skills in Spanish. Embedded within a dramatic and entertaining storyline, the instructional series is intended for high school, college, and adult learners of Spanish at the beginner to intermediate level. Annenberg/CPB makes Destinos, and other programs in its catalogue, available to learners by television, video, dvd and a free video-on-demand feature from its website.

Destinos is presented in the form of a telenovela, a Spanish soap opera. A family hires a lawyer to investigate a decades-old mystery, and the audience follows the story through all the twists and turns as the mystery develops. The action takes place in a number of Spanish speaking countries including Mexico, Spain, Argentina and Puerto Rico, involving the learner in all the sights and sounds of Spanish culture and presenting the learner with a variety of regional Spanish accents.

Each Destinos episode starts with a recap of the story as it developed in previous episodes, then presents new events in the storyline. There is a narrator who occasionally outlines the events in the program in Spanish. The main character in the program, the lawyer investigating the mystery, also serves as an instructor, stopping at strategic times to address the audience to indicate or underscore important points in the story, but also always in Spanish. When either the narrator or the main character address the audience, the language is kept very basic, to insure that the audience is following the most important points in the story. On screen images and text of key points of vocabulary or grammar are sometimes shown, which allows the learner to focus on these details and breaks up the story into smaller segments so as not to overwhelm the learner with too much. There is also ongoing dialogue between many of the characters in the story, but the audience is not expected to understand everything.

Destinos is presented in a manner simple enough for even a beginning student of Spanish to follow along and pick up much of the rhythm and everyday vocabulary of the language. Counting and using numbers, buying things, asking for directions, ordering in a restaurant and everyday conversation are part of every episode, and this is exactly the kind of vocabulary the beginning student needs to learn. Seeing it in context greatly reinforces learning this kind of material. In this way the audience is exposed to everyday dialogue and idioms in a natural way, but does not need to understand every point of vocabulary or grammar.

This is where Destinos is most successful, I think. The vocabulary occurs naturally, so the beginner can see and hear everything in context in a story that is interesting, rather than just a boring classroom and a textbook. Although the series is designed for classroom use, with a set of coordinated coursebooks, it is also extremely effective as a supplemental learning tool. Someone studying on their own with Pimsleur Comprehensive or Living Language Basic Complete, for example, would have no trouble understanding the narrator or main character when they address the audience, and in fact would also understand most of the additional background dialogue during the storyline. The self-learner would find much of the dialogue familiar and friendly territory, and seeing and hearing it used in context would reinforce the learning method.

I began watching the series sometime after completing Pimsleurs Comprehensive Spanish 1. I found the narrator and instructor to be completely understandable, and I could pick out much of the ongoing dialogue and additional background dialogue, but not everything. As I completed Pimsleurs levels 2 and 3, more and more of Destinos was clear to me. Much of the dialogue uses the most common phrases and vocabulary of Spanish, which reinforced what I was learning from Pimsleur, but there is also a lot of context-specific vocabulary in Destinos that was new to me. It is great to reinforce what you already know or are still learning, but it is even better when you can learn new material and incorporate it into your existing body of knowledge. This is what Destinos has done for me, and continues to do so as I still watch the program for free using Annenberg/CPB's video-on-demand feature.

Annenberg/CPB airs the series, and many other educational programs, on public television. Their website has information on where and when these programs will be aired. This series, and others for learners of French, German, Chinese and Japanese, can also be purchased on video or dvd with or without the coordinated coursebooks. Many of these educational programs can be found in public libraries and school libraries, as well. The most interesting and exciting option is the free video-on-demand feature. If you have a broadband internet connection, you can view these programs for free, anytime you like. Simply register your email address (you'll receive a monthly newsletter) and you can have 24-hour access to this series and other programs. Annenberg/CPB and Destinos represent the very best combination of quality learning, affordability (ie free!) and convenience. If you are learning Spanish, go to their website and one way or another avail yourself of this excellent learning tool.



Destinos Information Page

Annenberg/CPB Home Page


Back to Language Learning Product Reviews




"I've always said that I learned the English I know through two sources -- Marvel Comics and Finnegans Wake."

- Umberto Eco