Telenovelas: how to immerse yourself in Spanish and be seriously entertained

I have a few friends from Scandinavia who speak perfect English due to one simple fact: movies and TV shows from the US and England are not dubbed. By watching TV they are able to learn vocabulary, conceptualize how to string sentences together, and pick up on cultural subtleties. We can do the same with Spanish!

While watching movies in Spanish is a very useful learning tool, movies are at most, only a few hours long. Telenovelas, on the other hand, are cinematic feats that last months to years. Contrary to popular belief, telenovelas aren’t parallels of soap operas. Rather, they are more concise and begin with a set storyline that plays out over a set course of time. The next time you decide to dive headfirst into watching a TV show, consider a telenovela instead of a show in English. Here are a few reasons why:

  • They allow you to get to know characters and settings in much greater depth.
  • Telenovelas are most often written in a more informal, colloquial register that is a nice contrast to the formal register often utilized in the classroom. This is especially useful for students preparing to study abroad. Telenovelas allow you to get a jump on regional slang.
  • Little cultural details stand out much more dramatically. These details can be as small as the kinds of food and drink the characters consume and the kinds of events and occurrences that merit celebration, or as big as gender roles and the role of religion in daily life.
  • They are hilarious.

    "On the telenovela El Amor Prohibido, it is revealed in this scene that. Silvio's freckles and hair were actually part of his mother's dead dog." - Google Image results

    “On the telenovela El Amor Prohibido, it is revealed in this scene that. Silvio’s freckles and hair were actually part of his mother’s dead dog.” – Google Image results

Before your telenovela adventure begins, here are a few useful vocabulary words:

Capítulo = episode

Temporada = season

Not sure where to start? Here are a few ideas.

Botineras: An Argentine telenovela about the lives and romances of soccer players. There are secret identities, murders, romance, and soccer. What more could you want?

Links to episodes:


Clase 406: A new teacher arrives at a Mexico City private school and has to find his place within the school. There is lots of drama.


Start watching on youtube:


My guilty pleasure: Soltera Otra Vez. Cristina Moreno, a hardworking woman in Santiago Chile, has terrible luck with men and dating. Spoiler alert: when one finally does propose via a ring in a champagne glass, she accidentally swallows the ring.


Watch season 1:


And if none of these look inviting, check out Drama Fever!

Here is a link to all of their shows in Spanish:


How to work with primary sources!

by Jana Cary-Alvarez and Hannah Fattor, writing advisors

Jana is a history major and Hannah works in theatre and the classics, so we both deal with a lot of primary source material.  Sometimes it’s difficult to know if you’re dealing with primary sources (what are they, anyway?) and sometimes it’s hard to analyze them (how am I supposed to know what people thought at the time?), but when you find a good one, it can be a wonderful resource. 

What Are Primary Sources?

Sources from the time period you’re exploring!  Playbills, propaganda posters, photographs, novels, bank notes, poems, songs, newspaper articles, plays, paintings, and so on.  A primary source is something that reflects a contemporary sentiment.  It has to be from the time period, though!  Statistical data isn’t a primary source, unless it was available at that time and you look at the way it was presented to the public.  Basically, once interpretation gets involved, the item is less likely to be a primary source.  Since statistics are interpretations of different types of data, they aren’t primary sources except in very specific cases.

How Do You Work With Primary Sources?

The key to primary sources lies in how you analyze them.  Look at how they functioned in their time period.  Look at what they reveal about conventional thoughts, styles, biases, conflicts, opinions, and norms.  A lot of the time primary sources are most valuable when you look at what they aren’t intentionally revealing.  What do household appliance advertisements during the 1950s in the United States say about the role of women in the economy?  The intention of such an advertisement is to sell appliances, not to demonstrate perceived gender norms, yet you can find that information there if you interrogate it enough.

What are a Primary Source’s Limitations?

It’s important to remember that a primary source is only one example from a time period and that it frequently needs to be supported by other primary sources and other scholarship if you’re going to make an overarching claim about society.  That dishwasher advertisement might be a treasure trove of information about gender norms in the 1950s, but we may not know if this advertisement was standard or if it was going outside of normal advertising techniques.  It’s important to know as much background information about the primary source as you can.  The implications of our dishwasher ad might be different if it was printed by a mom & pop local store in Wilcox, Arizona than if it were an advertisement put in a nationally-run magazine from General Electric.  Think about what those implications are. 

Another limitation of primary sources emerges with translations.  It may be tempting to do a word-by-word rhetorical analysis with a rich textual primary source, but if it has been translated into English from another language there are potential translation errors and the translator’s perceptions and interpretations between you and the original.  There are concepts in Greek that can’t be fully translated into English, such as the various types of love.  Familial affection, or στοργή, storgē, is completely different from erotic love, or ἔρως, érōs.  Such nuances in language make a big difference in understanding how people are relating to each other in a Euripides play like Hippolytus!  You can see Hannah’s earlier blog post on working with translations if you’re concerned about this at all.  It’s something to keep in mind when working with something already interpreted by someone else, though.  Reading more than one translation and comparing can be useful if you have the time; you want to be as close as possible to the original work.  This means that adaptations of a play shouldn’t be used to analyze the original work. 

The same goes for works of art adapted from originals.  Adaptations tell you about the time period in which they were made, not the time period of the source work.  Knowing that something is alluding to an earlier play or piece of art can be very useful, though!  You can track the original story or picture and observe how the more modern artist altered it to suit a new time period and new aesthetic.  Question why such changes were made, why some themes were preserved, how characters transformed, and how the new work would have been presented to a contemporary audience in contrast to how people would have seen the original.  Why allude to the older work at all?  What does the artist or writer gain from doing so?

Even with all of these limitations you may face when analyzing a primary source, they can tell you so much about a particular time period and the concerns people faced, the types of entertainment they enjoyed, how hierarchies within such a society emerged, what values and morals people held, what they liked to see in art galleries or in their living rooms, and how they understood themselves.  History can seem strange at times, but finding primary sources proves that these oddities to us were normalities to other people.

Recap: Long Night Against Procrastination!

by Jasmine Kaneshiro, writing advisor

Last night, the CWLT hosted the Long Night Against Procrastination from 3pm to 1am, and I would say that it was pretty successful! After two full hours of practice for the Hawaii Club’s annual Lu’au, I came to the CWLT with ambitions of finishing a biology assignment, studying for an upcoming exam, and starting essay. When I walked through the door, I was greeted by a strange, yet somehow endearing balloon head with a newspaper hat and a group of students who were intently coloring Disney characters. A few students were doing econ homework at a table that had been clearly claimed by craft supplies (including uncooked rice and balloons for stress ball making). Long Night was in full swing.

Though I didn’t get quite as much work done as expected, I enjoyed the study breaks and the hearty German pretzels. Maya led us in a guided meditation focusing on home, and just before midnight, we played a great game game of Sardines, in which I ended up crouched behind a recycling bin in the basement of Howarth. (I didn’t even know this floor existed until last night.) After the last people had found the group of us hiding near the elevator shaft, I decided it was time to home.

Here are some photos from the night, to give you a sense of the fun that ensued!


Smiles all around!



Garrett hiding (or not hiding?) behind the welcome whiteboard and the balloon head that could be described as unsettling, friendly, or all of the above.


The finished works of art!


For the overwhelming days…

by Jasmine Kaneshiro, writing advisor

With midterm season (nearly?) upon us, I’ve definitely been pretty stressed as I try to navigate assignments, tests, work, activities, staying up to date with New Girl, and making the most of my last semester at Puget Sound. So today, for the benefit of any stressed students reading this blog and also myself, here are some stress-relieiving and relaxation tips!

  • If a particular assignment (or a horde of assignments, as is often the case) seems overwhelming, break it down. If you have a 10-page paper due in eight days, you could make a mini-schedule: two days for brainstorming, two days for outlining, two days for writing, two days for revision/cushion time.  However you do this, you’ll likely feel more in control and, with hope, be a bit more relaxed.
  • What is a personal happiness booster for you? Is it listening to your favorite song, brewing the perfect cup of Earl Grey, or belting some Broadway in a room all by yourself? Do it! We all need breaks sometimes!
  • Practice mindful breathing. Last year, I learned the square or 4×4 breathing technique, and it can be helpful if you don’t know what else to do. Basically, you inhale for four counts, hold for four counts, exhale for four counts, and hold for four counts. Repeat as needed. The counting and focus might help you calm down.
  • Spend time with friends! This can really boost your mood and outlook, whether you are having a long conversation about everything you have to finish, you’re studying together, or perhaps simply making a meal.
  • Ask for help when needed from your professor, peer tutors, writing advisors, etc. One thing I like about Puget Sound is that there a lot of people who care about the students. Professors are usually happy to help clarify an assignment, talk through how you can improve on the next test, etc. And the CWLT can help you think through a paper and brainstorm, learn study strategies, review for a test, and more!

That awkward moment when…

… you have to speak in a foreign language with someone who doesn’t speak English.
by Ben LaBouve, French tutor

Q: What is the most nerve wracking experience for anyone who studies a foreign language?

A: That moment you are faced with a native speaker and the pressure to speak elegantly and articulate is too much!

Studying foreign language in an academic setting is often vastly different than applying those skills in the real world. Sometimes you get so used to hearing and understanding a professor’s particular accent that you watch a movie in your language and realize you don’t understand anything! Even taking a class with a new professor, having to adjust to their speaking pattern and intonation, results in a sort of dizzying, linguistic vertigo. And let’s face it, while participating in class discussion, I am very guilty of using the same verbal structures over and over to get my point across. Just when you start to feel confident over your mastery of a language, it only takes one encounter with a native speaker to make you realize how much you still have to learn.

Depending on how closely you follow the CWLT blog, you should already be familiar with my extracurricular work with immigrants in the community. There is a lot of opportunity for me to interpret for Spanish-speaking clients but rarely is there ever a need for French language work. Coming out of class the other day, I received a call from work asking if I could come immediately and interpret for one of our clients. I obliged and went in! On the drive over, I started going over different sentence structures and specific vocab in Spanish that I knew I would need going in. However, I was met with a pleasant surprise! Today, I would be helping a woman from Haiti. Given the statistics of Spanish-speakers in the community versus the French-speaking, both of us were surprised that we could communicate using a mutual language.

After immediately freaking out (I have never interpreted actively in French before! Nor do I even know how to explain the specifics of social support programs, in English nonetheless!), I greeted her and could immediately tell how happy she was to be using her native tongue. After a few awkward flubs on my part, (the word for ‘March’ and ‘Mars’ are both ‘mars’ in French, No Madame, your appointment is not on Mars!! Darn prepositions!!), our dialogue flowed more naturally towards conversation. She reflected on her difficulty in speaking English: “I can read and write, but speaking is always what is most difficult.” We had a great laugh over this one as I explained that I was in the exact same situation as her, having to rely only on my speaking skills was extremely nerve-wracking for me, as my increasingly red face demonstrated. She also told me how her daughter would tease her that she really didn’t speak English, but only recognized the cognates and other phrases that English has appropriated from French.

Nothing could be truer. When we learn another language, we automatically flock to similarities as a way to compensate for our limited expression. Given that English and the romance languages are rooted in Latin, there are many words that can be easily converted across and many that are just cultural (l’amour is always love, fiesta is always party!). The only way to get past the language barrier is to take a deep breath, acknowledge that perfection is overrated and use it as an opportunity to learn. Get ready for a lot of correction! When you meet someone who speaks a different language, they will always be happy to speak to you because you are making an active effort to use their language and engage with their culture. A lot of the time, they will rely on you for the same reason. The chances are that they are just as anxious to use what they have learned as well. I believe that language only works with collaboration; through communicating with others, we essentially revolve the everyday world. Once you get past the initial language shock, your conversation will be fun and effortless. And the best part: you get a sense of validation that you’re not as awful as you think you are.





Stressed? Come to the Long Night Against Procrastination!

If you are feeling stressed about everything that has to get done before spring break (like our friend to the right), never 1782019_404368383033279_1357785604_nfear! On Thursday, March 6 from 3pm to 1am, the CWLT is hosting the annual Long Night of Procrastination! Come to the CWLT’s event for the productive atmosphere, German pastries from Hess Bakery, and the fun study breaks.  At the end of each hour, one of the peer tutors or writing advisors will lead a short activity such as learning to juggle, coloring, meditation, flashlight tag, and more.


If you’re on Facebook, check out the event we’ve made! Also, while you’re there anyway, like our page as well.

Long Night Against Procrastination (Lange Nachtder aufgeschobenen Hausarbeiten) originated in a German university writing center in 2010 and has since spread across Germany and even to the U.S. It’s meant to an enjoyable night of working hard and having fun at the same time.

Working with translations

by Hannah Fattor, writing advisor

I can’t speak any other language besides English very well.  I’ve tried with Spanish, Gaelic, Greek, and Latin (to name a few) but I just don’t have the mind for memorization, unfortunately.  I’ll never hold a conversation in French, but I do like to learn about different cultures, and one way I do this is by reading novels, poems, traditional stories, or plays that have been translated.  I’ve written quite a few papers on translated plays, and I find that there are some very important ways to think about translated texts that help me gain a deeper understanding of a foreign society and its culture.

  • Find an edition with footnotes, endnotes, any kind of notes.  Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita makes ten times more sense when you can check in the back and find out why someone’s name is funny, or what in the author’s life prompted him to write about foreign currency so much.  Aristophanes’ plays are ten times more hilarious when you know why jokes were so dirty in the original Greek.  Foreign works may allude to events that are unfamiliar to an outside audience, and learning about those events through literature often reveals why they were important to a culture.  Finding a good translation that includes the translator’s notes is incredibly helpful in understanding comedy in particular and linguistic nuance in general.
  • Learn about the culture!  Take the time to explore how a culture understands the themes that a novel or poem or play discusses.  Learn a bit about writing styles and conventions.  There are linguistic guides out there that discuss sentence structures and influences.  If you’re reading a landmark work in a society’s literary history, find out what influences it had and watch out for those!  The Persian epic, the Shahnameh, was incredibly influential to the literature of the Middle East, and it still defines a great deal of Iranian cultural identity.  It is celebrated today in Iran, parts of Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and other Persian-influenced regions.  It could be helpful to find a list of major themes that still appear in modern writings from that society, or how modern audiences relate to the ancient text.
  • Look at the critical response.  Clearly, the work was popular enough to translate, but what did critics within its home culture think of it?  Why do you think it was translated?  An interesting option, if the work is fairly old, is to look up what scholars think of various translations, and why one is considered particularly good over another one.  Translations can be tailored to serve a particular purpose, too; either they stick closely to the actual language they were written in, or they may incorporate more familiar sentence structures and language more idiomatic and connotative to the language they were translated into.  If you don’t understand an idiom or think that word choice is strange, try looking up translation notes or go looking for a glossary.
  • (For poems, epics, and plays) Research how it was originally presented.  Format is often incredibly important in poetry.  Learning about the style in which a poem was written can lead to a deeper understanding of how the poem was intended to convey its message.  Why would someone pick the haiku form over the tanka form in Japanese poetry?  In some poetry, syllabic conventions were very important to the cadence.  Ancient Greek epic poetry (like Homer’s The Odyssey) and Old English works (like Beowulf) relied on particular rhythms.  These same rhythms were important to Ancient Greek plays, and French dramas had strict rhyming patterns.  On a completely different level, look up the style in which a play would have been performed.  Japanese Noh theatre has a specific performance style that would be unusual for a Western audience to see, but it would be completely recognizable to a native audience.  Look into what in particular would be expected.  This can also show you where modern plays deviate from established norms.  There have been various movements in British theatre—a movement away from stylization to more natural acting styles, for example—but the same holds true around the world.  Indian dramas have changed through the centuries, still relying on some traditional elements but also utilizing new techniques.  Think about spectacle when it comes to plays, and remember that there may be new conventions to discover about another culture.

Working with translations is hard work, particularly if, like me, you don’t speak other languages.  Even so, it’s a great way to learn about a new culture, see a new perspective on the world, and understand how our own art could appear to an outside audience.

Ben’s visit to the state capitol

by Ben LaBouve, French tutor

Along with being one the French tutors in the center, I have also been lucky enough to hold a work study position off-campus at the Tacoma Community House.  Instead of tutoring French, I am a literacy advocate, helping native English speakers improve their reading and writing skills. I also get to help out in the ESL (English as a Second Language) courses. The best part about working with our ESL clients is that in a single classroom, many cultures and languages are present. The students become friends and overcome the language barrier by using English, the language they are learning. Many of the students are immigrants who have come to Tacoma seeking to better their lives and the lives of their families and some are refugees who are escaping systematic violence, oppression and political unrest. As a social service agency, not only do we offer English courses, we also provide naturalization and employment services to help ease the transition into American life and help them move towards economic independence. Being able to put a face to such a hot-button issue as immigration and hearing the deeply personal stories behind them is enriching to me both personally and socially – it inspires me to take that extra step and to try to enact positive changes for them.


Ben (on the left) at the state capitol!

On behalf of Tacoma Community House, I had the opportunity to participate in Washington State’s Immigrant and Refugee Legislative Day that took place on February 11th.  We took a group of about 50 of our ESL/Immigration clients and headed down to visit the capitol, however this was not your average field trip! My role in the event was to tour a group of students around and to meet with different senators and representatives to advocate for improving services that affect them and other immigrants in the state. The day focused on how productive and vital immigrants are to the community and to nation. Many refugees that have come to the US have supported US forces abroad, providing translation and support to Special Forces operations. Once they have come to the United States, they find it difficult to be self-sufficient on programs already in place, mainly because their basic needs are not being met.It is important to provide access to education services so that they are able to succeed; immigrants have one of the lowest graduation rates because of the lack of funding to ESL services – about 25.8% of students drop-out. A total of 9% of Washington’s student were enrolled in said programs, but only 1.2% of the state funds are allowed towards multilingual services. Another prominent issue is naturalization. Last year, our state cut funding to naturalization program resources by 47%, making it increasingly more difficult (and expensive) for these immigrants to become citizens. The US is foundationally a nation of immigrants, and often we don’t make it as readily accessible to them.

But I digress. In my group I had an older couple from Ukraine, Olga and Mykhailo, and a woman from Mexico, Jessie, who has been living in the US for more than 25 years. Each of them had a unique story which they disclosed to members of the senate. In our first meeting with a Pierce County representative, Olga explained that they had fled from Kiev, Ukraine because of increasing violence and political instability. She also expressed that her family had become divided; only one of her two children, her son, was able to come to the US with them and her daughter was left in Kiev. I asked how often they were able to get into contact with her, and she told me that often, they would go months, even years without hearing from her, with fear that she had been taken or injured by rebel forces or worse. Despite this, Olga remains optimistic. She knows she is doing everything she can to bring her daughter to the US and has faith in the work we are doing within our agency. Jessie explained to the senator that despite her extended stay in the US, she has still not been able to find a consistent job and depends on funding from the state in order to survive. She recalled her experience of crossing the border from Mexico and entering into Oregon, as an “obscuridad sin fin,” or a darkness with no end. The violence she endured on her odyssey, according to her, was more bearable than being in country that every day turns a blind eye to her needs. She reflected that meeting with the congresistas was a really important experience to her, “being able to put a face to a problem, to recognize that we are real people affected by decisions they make.”

After our meetings we gathered on the steps of the capitol for a rally. A good number of agencies and organizations that provide resources to immigrants in Pierce and King County were present. We grabbed our rally signs and cheered for the speech being made, many by immigrants themselves who work as policymakers for the state, who emphasized their needs and animated their hopes.

The speech that impacted me the most was made by an Iranian man who said” We are all gathered here today for the same reason. We have so many different languages, united by a single voice.” As a French tutor who just happens to be a Spanish major, language is important to me. No matter if you are using a Latin based language, an oral based language from sub-Saharan Africa or Mandarin characters, we have many different ways of expressing the same thing: we are all human beings who are equal and worthy. What my experience at the capitol taught me is that we have a responsibility to be good neighbors. No matter what language you speak, where you come, or what your culture is, the moment we stop learning from each other is the moment that we lose the war on equality.


How to pass a class

Sometimes the thought of studying for a test can be really daunting, and it’s difficult to know how to start. Don’t fear, though, because Aspen Mayberry, exercise science tutor, has some study tips for success!  This list is geared toward science students, but the tips can definitely be applied to other disciplines as well. Capture


“Uncle Albert made it impossible not to hate Thanksgiving.” & other creative first sentences

Have you ever wanted to write a story, for a class or for fun, but didn’t know how to begin? We’re here to help! Anna Elliott, a writing advisor double majoring in English and History, shares some intriguing first sentences to unwritten novels, short stories, plays, and more. Enjoy!

  • When Albert awoke, the regret of last night instantly slapped him across the face.
  • There were eggs everywhere, most of them broken, with puddles of yolk surrounding them, but some were still whole.
  • Tina looked at her sister and fought hard not to pour the bowl of chili on her head.
  • Knowing he would die in a little less than three days now, Steven woke up and started his day as usual.
  • There was something strange about the trees in Sumner, Mississippi.
  • “Jennie, I’m gonna count to three, and if you’re not down here, there’s gonna be hell to pay.”
  • Peeling the dried Elmer’s glue of his fingers after art class was James’ favorite part of kindergarten.
  • Nobody knew where I hid it, and I wasn’t gonna tell either.
  • Uncle Albert made it impossible not to hate Thanksgiving.
  • The more I think about it, I really do think I was made to be alone.