In our conversation Spanish class, I have been using telenovelas for some years now. I first started with La Fuerza del Destino. Students were watching one or two episodes per week and they then had to fill out a form in which they answered several questions about the episodes as homework. This summer, in one of the conferences I attended, I saw a presentation by Lauren Rosen talking about the flipped classroom and it gave me some ideas on how I could modify the telenovela exercise. (She also has a video in which she explains some of those techniques.)
We were using Hulu to watch the telenovelas because it is free for some of the content (on the web) and it comes with Spanish subtitles only, which I prefer. Unfortunately, La Fuerza del Destino was removed from Hulu, so students explored what was available and they chose to watch Yo No Creo en los Hombres. I am not a great fan of this show but I still think it is a very useful tool for the following reasons:
- Telenovelas repeat the same dialogues over and over, which makes them excellent as listening exercises. In addition, each episode starts with 5 minutes of repetition of the ending of last episode.
- The stories are usually understood even if not all the words are, because the situations are so predictable.
- There are many occurrences of sentences using indirect object pronouns (like le dije, me contó, me encanta, etc) which are not easy to acquire for English speakers.
- Telenovelas tend to include topics that are of importance to society. Thus, in Yo no Creo en Los Hombres there are two themes that appear prominently: Sexual harassment (the main character fights against a supervisor) and discrimination based on weight in the case of women (one character is rich, but a bit overweight and she is laughed upon; another is not rich and her boyfriend is ashamed of being seen with her). There are also constant reminders about the different worlds in which rich and poor people live in Mexico DF. We see the different “colonias”, or neighborhoods, according to social status. In La Fuerza del Destino, immigration was also a big topic, as the main character crossed the border through the desert. Here’s an interesting article about this, Telenovelas, Culture and Social Change.
- They also show examples of daily life in Mexico, like the role the Catholic church still plays, the lack of access to the university by poorer people in society, or the insecure conditions found in certain areas (one of the main characters will be kidnapped at some point).
- Even if they don’t talk about it, they provide a platform for discussion about the lack of indigenous actors and the importance of white ones.
- I also personally like it because it is from Mexico and I am from Spain. My students already know how Spaniards speak, they have me as an example. But it is much more likely they will encounter someone from Mexico in their daily life here in the US. Thus, we are learning together to use expressions and words such as órale, chamba, lana, etc.
Following Lauren’s ideas I have now adapted how I use the Telenovela in this course. This semester students have to do the following:
- On Tuesdays class, we talk for 5 minutes about the title and watch a preview.
- At home, students watch an episode before Thursday’s class
- They complete a questionnaire after watching it (here’s an example of one).
- When we come into the class on Thursday, we all review the results of the questionnaire. Thanks to Google Forms, this is easy to do without showing any names. Thus, we already start the discussion.
- Students then get together on groups of 2 or 3 and create a google doc in which they discuss what happened and may answer together any specific question I may have. We do this for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Before, the telenovela and questionnaire were just homework. Now, the questionnaire has also been changed slightly to really check for meaning and we discuss the telenovela in class. Students whose Spanish level is not as advanced are able to get help from classmates if there was a comprehension problem.
Here is also a document I am creating with the vocabulary. It is not complete, but in the first column you can see that there are many everyday expressions included, even repeated (I decided to keep the repetitions, so students start being aware of the concept of frequencies).
And here’s a clip, actually in English explaining what this show is about:
I will be glad to share any other of the materials I have for the show. As always, thanks for reading.