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.

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!

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.

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.


Writing advisors share: What’s my writing process?

We know that everyone has their own writing process, and it can sometimes be difficult to start a paper if you don’t go through your usual routine. Last semester, writing advisors shared about how they write. Here’s what they had to say!

Grete, Biology major: “When I really get into writing mode, my hair goes up in a ponytail, sweatpants come on, and all of the miscellaneous collections of books, old assignments, and the ever-present army of vitamin waters on my desk gets pushed to the side to make room for my computer. Head tilting from side to side along with rhythmic tapping of my feet is a common occurrence as I flip through all my notes and construct a detailed outline of what I hope to write. By the end of many hours of pouring over old books and constructing several drafts, I sit back, eat some brie and crackers, and finish revising my essay with a much needed feeling of contentment.”

Anna, English/History double major: “I’m what I call a Pressure Cooker Writer. Once I sit down to write, I don’t take more than a ten minutes break until I’ve got the draft I’m looking for. Of course, this strategy doesn’t work unless I’ve put some considerable thought into what I’m going to write, and how I’m going to write it, before I touch fingers to the keyboard. First, I have to closely read and consider the text(s) I’m working with. Lately, I’ve been rereading with my computer nearby, typing out quotes that I see as potentially relevant as I go along. After I’ve pulled out a lot of the best material from the text itself, I’ve found that I not only have a much better understanding of the reading, but also a potential direction I can take in my argument. A thesis usually comes quickly after going through the material I’ve typed out. Once I have a clear general argument, I start looking at the sub-arguments that are the steps to proving that thesis. With general idea headings, I’ll move around the quotes I’ve selected so that they’re organized under what will become my body paragraphs. Now, before I’ve even started to write, I have a thesis, headings for body paragraphs organized by sub-arguments, and a wealth of textual evidence for each step of the way. It’s all this prep work that allows the pressure cooker strategy to work so well. Once you’ve done all the cutting and basting and seasoning, you can toss it all in and go!”

Maya, History major: “My writing process begins when I check out a teetering stack of books from the library. This may be a quirk unique to history majors, but I find it to be the most reassuring part of the writing process since it means that other people have thought and wrote about my topic as well. To organize my thoughts around the writing assignment, I comb through glossaries and subject encyclopedias for key words and ideas, and then I draw a bubble map connecting those ideas. Once I know what ideas I’m focusing on, I write a skeleton outline with an introduction, one idea per body paragraph, and a conclusion summarizing my analysis and re-stating the significance of my claim. That skeleton makes it easy for me to categorize my quotes and synthesize clear, specific analysis. My outlines are always single-spaced and full of different symbols and colors marking sections that I want to revise or expand upon. Once I’m confident that my ideas are clear, have sufficient evidence, and answer the assignment prompt, I paste the writing into a new document, erase all the bullet points, standardize the formatting, and read it out loud to myself to check the assignment’s flow and syntax.”
Jana, History major: “My writing method is hectic at its best, frantic at its worst.  I write and work in spurts, meaning that instead of sensibly researching for two or three hours a day on a single project I’ll try to jam 15-ish hours’ worth of work into a single weekend.  When it comes to the actual writing, I gotta keep myself pumped: I listen to Girl Talk remixes or (as recommended by fellow advisor Hannah Fattor) Australian eco-rap, and denizens of the front rooms of Collins Library are probably familiar with my mid-paragraph dance moves and lip-synching.  I tend to write my essays in a single sitting, even if it’s a 20-page long behemoth of a thesis.  Sometimes I’m writing with a thorough point-by-point outline in front of me, but more often than not I just have a loose outline of reminders and general ideas or even no outline at all.  My goal isn’t to write a perfect draft or even a good draft, but to just write something.  Once I’ve gotten words on paper, I can rip them to shreds during my own overly-critical editing process.  That’s where I’m merciless.  I turn my conclusion into my introduction.  I cut entire sections out of a paper.  I change my entire argument.  The paper usually ends up covered in scarlet/lilac/brown/whatever editing remarks in my famously illegible handwriting.  It’s only after the 3rd or 4th round of this editing that I feel like maybe, just maybe, I’ve actually written something I’m proud of.”
Henry, P&G major (who graduated December 2013!): “My writing process is often characterized by the extent to which I’m putting things together on the fly. A lot of the time when I first sit down I only have a vauge inkling about what I want to say, usually something like ‘I think John Dewey has a god among men, I really want to defend him from this criticism,’ or ‘I don’t think Allan Bloom has any idea what he’s talking about, let me take his argument apart.’ As a political theory major, I’m usually writing an argument about other peoples’ arguments, so I always start with what they say. Can I write up a summary of John Dewey in a reasonable amount of space, or do I need to re-read? Next, I ask myself what I think about each part of their argument. What are their strengths and weaknesses, and what do I have to say about those? I tend to write individual sentences or paragraphs and organize them into something coherent. I end up cutting lots of stuff out by the end, but that’s the process that works the best for me!”