Eva Luna, the lead character of a telenovela, not the heroine in the Isabel Allende novel, is my current teacher for keeping my Spanish alive, now that I’m not working and am spending less time with native Spanish speakers. A telenovela is the Latin American version of American television soap operas (called this because they were sponsored by soap manufacturers when they were first aired). Differences between the two are that Mexican novelas run for a determined period of time, say four months, compared to a 400-year stint for the American ones. I believe another difference is that the Mexican characters are much more likely to scream, throw glassware across the room, and pound someone else’s chest. And I imagine the business attire of the American characters to be a bit more conservative. In the Mexican novelas female professionals walk around the office wearing skirts about the same length from waist to hem as the height of their high heels, that is, about 6 inches.
My daily lesson consists of turning up the volume on the TV and paying close attention to the actors’ lips as they are speaking. I only understand seventy to eighty percent of any episode and this happens only after watching enough episodes to get familiar with each character and with the plot. What I get from this experience is the practice of listening to native speakers chatter at a speed normal for them, thus improving my understanding. What I don’t get is much new vocabulary, because the characters in the four or five novelas I’ve seen seem to suffer from the same challenges. While my vocabulary doesn’t grow, it remains consistently strong in nouns such as jail, poison, insane asylum, crazy, lawsuit, murderer, run over, love, revenge, pregnant, and action statements such as, “Let go of me!” “Get out of here!” “Don’t touch me!” Here’s how all the nouns come into play: As Eva Luna winds down we are still in suspense as to whether Eva, who really loves Daniel, will ever figure out that Leonardo, her fiancee, ran over her father, though he told Eva that it was really Daniel who committed the crime, and if she will drop the charges against Daniel, who, as soon as he got out of jail on bail, learned that Leonardo’s mother had murdered his parents many years ago. Mom, who also poisoned her husband, did the deed so she could convince her daughter to pursue Daniel and get access to his parents’ fortune, though the unstable young woman has had several breakdowns and spent time in an insane asylum. (As an aside, Leonardo’s mother was not successful in killing her husband, who disappeared and has just returned to exact his revenge.) And if that weren’t enough, Eva’s sister hasn’t yet decided whether to confess that she’s pregnant by Leonardo, Eva’s intended, and we are still reeling from the news that Leonardo had his ex-girlfriend killed, because she was riding in the car with him when he ran over Eva’s father. The important thing is that by the last episode many of these details will come to light and Eva and Daniel will discover their love is true, they will marry and live happily ever after.