By Anne-Marie Dingemans
A fundamental part of Latin American culture is watching telenovelas. A telenovela is similar to a soap series, but they usually have a predetermined set of episodes (the producers write the entire plot before starting to film). Telenovelas are the most-watched shows in Latin America and are the top-rated shows in all Latin-American countries. And there are so many of them! I found this awesome website, to give you an idea of what's out there: 100 Telenovelas
To my taste and I dare guess to most tastes, they are incredibly cheesy! These are the two basic plots on which all telenovelas are based – forgive me if there are exceptions but I haven't found them yet…Either, a poor, beautiful girl meets a rich and handsome guy who breaks up with his rich, evil and frivolous girlfriend to be with the heroine (but really just to annoy his family). The evil ex-girlfriend, helped by the family, tries to sabotage their romance. Or, the poor heroine discovers her real father or mother, who almost always turns out to be incredibly wealthy. Both plots ends with the bad guys dead and the two heroes getting married and having babies.
However, I watched my fair share of telenovelas back in the day when I was learning Spanish in Antigua (have since moved on to CSI and the like, now that's a challenge!) because they are so simple that you can focus your attention on trying to pick out words you understand without having to be afraid you're losing track of the story line . Telenovelas are also good in learning to recognize accents. As they are produced in almost all Latin American countries, and they use local actors, you can practice your understanding of the Venezuelan, Peruvian and Mexican accents all in one afternoon. Every country prefers its own telenovelas but the most successful ones are aired all over the continent.
Who said watching TV could not be educational? So next time you're going on a total immersion course, by all means hop on the couch with your host family when it's telenovela time, and immerse yourself in the culture!