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:


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.





Spotlight on: Chemistry!

by Danique Gigger, CWLT chem tutor

Hi! I’m Danique and I’m one of the Chemistry tutors. Chemistry can seem like a daunting subject to many students, but it can really be a LOT of FUN too!

If you are having trouble enjoying what chemistry has to offer, check out Chem Club, the annual Chemistry magic show, chat with your professors about what they love about chemistry, etc. By developing some connection with the subject, you’ll be more invested in the learning process and less concerned about fulfilling a degree requirement.

Nonetheless, Chemistry can still be tricky to understand. My number one recommendation for students who are finding an area of Chemistry difficult is to find a study partner or two to work with. It really benefits working through homework problems and studying for exams with others. They can clarify areas you may find difficult, and vice versa. By teaching each other, you both are able to develop a deeper meaning of the concepts.

And don’t forget – professors, the CWLT tutors and SAACS tutors are all available to help you!

Make an appointment with one of the three CWLT Chemistry tutors!
Danique Gigger
Tuesday, 7-8pm (drop-in) and 8-9
Wednesday, 6-7pm
Sunday, 3-5pm

Guinn Ellen Dunn
Tuesday, 7-9pm
Wednesday, 11am-noon
Thursday, 7-8pm (drop-in) and 8-9

Liz Meucci
Monday, 5-7pm
Wednesday, 7-8pm (drop-in)
Sunday, 5-7pm