The power of telenovelas

About 10 days ago, I stayed up quite late searching YouTube for video clips from Mexican telenovelas (soap operas) to use for a public radio piece about mybook, Language is Music.

I was laughing at myself as I was watching Latin American melodrama on the small screen and could only imagine the reactions of some radio listeners wondering if I was really serious about using soap operas to learn a foreign language

As silly as it may sound, melodrama has its educational benefits. Flying glass, hysterical women, philandering men, people coming back from the dead, unrequited love, broken hearts, battles of the heart — all much more interesting than studying grammar and vocabulary.

It’s not that watching Columbian drama queens and Mexican pop stars all day can replace the much needed lessons on sentence structure and grammar, but they can at least engage the viewer. The vocabulary is not complicated and is oft repeated, so eventually the words will register with their meaning if the viewer watches the soap opera frequently

I knew people in Bosnia who watched Latin American soap opera during the war (when they had electricity) and learned Spanish or Portuguese quite well from watching the programs.

After going through many episode segments of Thalia’s famous Mexican telenovelas, I settled on a lovers’ quarrel from Betty La Fea (Ugly Betty) laced with some sweet Columbian Spanish.

As long as the telenovelas don’t infuse you with new melodramatic characteristics, try them. You might learn a lot more Spanish or Portuguese than you expected! Watch the originals and not the dubbed versions in English.


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