A huge thank you to Andrew at howlearnspanish.com and commenter Robin who led me to the Spanish, French, and German Extra TV series. They were produced by Channel 4 in the UK and are aimed at teenagers learning languages, but any language learner should find them useful. Unlike language textbook videos where the speech is too slow and unrealistic, these Extra Spanish, French and German videos are actually fun to watch!
The characters do speak somewhat slowly but that’s part of the plot since there is an American character who is learning the language. The 13 episodes and 4 main characters, as well as the actor* who plays the American, are the same for all three languages. The basic story is that two girls, Lola/Sacha/Sascha and Ana/Annie/Anna share an apartment in Barcelona/Paris/Berlin. They have a neighbor called Pablo/Nico/Nic, and an American, Sam, comes to stay with them. The episodes are about 95% in the target language since Sam says a few things in English. The scripts aren’t exact among the versions but they are extremely similar so once you’ve watched one language, it will help you figure out what’s going on in another language.
Personally I find the Spanish version the best, mostly because Pablo is hilarious, but the German version is good too. The French version doesn’t work quite as well, but that could just be because French is my strongest language. The series remind me of a 90’s sitcom, complete with laugh track and abandoned plot points, even though they were filmed between 2002 and 2004. And even when Sam the American says things like flatmate, on holiday, and the washing instead of roommate, on vacation, and the laundry, I find it cute rather than annoying.
There is also a version set in London with an Argentinian character learning English (Pablo from the Spanish series) that has 30 episodes. All of the episodes can be found on YouTube and all of the transcripts and exercises/activities can be found either at the channel 4 site or this German site (in .pdf or .doc format). Madame Thomas also has a Wiki with the Spanish videos cut into smaller segments.
* The American is played by a Dutch actor who is actually fluent in Spanish, Italian and German. And English, obviously.
Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.