Multicultural Vida

Train Your Brain to Think in Spanish, or How Telenovelas Helped Me Raise a Bilingual Kid

Growing up, telenovelas were always on in my house. I remember every time one would finish, my mom would say “Esta es la última que veo, ya no voy a ver más.” (It’s the last one I watch, I’m not watching any more.”) but then another one would start, and she would get hooked. (In the Spanish-language TV world, telenovelas, i.e. soap operas, don’t go on indefinitely like the ones on English-language TV do, there is a clear beginning, a story line, and an end).  I stopped watching telenovelas when I moved to France, after college… mainly because, well, there weren’t any. (There was something called “Plus Belle La Vie” but I never really watched it). 

When I moved back to the USA, I came back with my husband and we only watched TV in English. My world was in English– I only spoke to my parents in Spanish. When I got pregnant, I wondered how I was going to train myself to speak in Spanish to my child. I knew that I wanted my child to speak Spanish and I was determined to do it, even though I was anxious about what that would look like. 

How telenovelas helped me raise a bilingual kid

I thought about what my life looked like when I lived at home. Of course, my parents were around and that meant I spoke in Spanish to them, but its as also the environment. There was Spanish language television, Spanish radio playing in the background, etc. So, I decided I’d go back to telenovelas to train my brain to think in Spanish again. 

Luckily for me, there was a great telenovela that had just started (this was in 2010). It was Reina del Sur with the beautiful and talented Kate del Castillo, playing on Telemundo. Now, I’m not crazy about the glorification of drug trafficking, but this novela was different. Kate del Castillo played a young girl who goes through a transformation and become a bad ass queen-pin. It was my one-hour a day Spanish lesson. 

When my son was born, I used YouTube to watch two of my all time favorite novelas (that are now unavailable due to geographical restrictions): Café con Aroma de Mujer & Las Juanas, both Colombian novelas that I remember watching with my mom when I lived in Ecuador. 


Here are 5 ways you can TRAIN YOUR BRAIN to speak Spanish:

  • Netflix, Amazon, Youtube OH MY!  There are many options of watching shows in Spanish: Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, even premium channels like Showtime and HBO also have an option: the SAP function so you can watch your faves like Homeland in Spanish! 
  • Watch the news in Spanish: you’ll also learn a lot, the Spanish-language channels offer more of a world view and are not so US-centric.
  • Listen to radio and podcasts in Spanish: One of my faves is Naturalmente Mamá. Also check out Radio Ambulante by NPR. 
  • Get a language partner: — when I lived in France, I had a French buddy. We would alternate speaking and practicing the other language, one coffee break it was French, the next time it was English. We would correct each other’s pronunciation and ask about vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, culture, etc. 
  • Spanish apps: Some friends swear by DuoLingo, another option is MamaLingua (geared to kids, but you can also learn!) 


Mamás & Papás raising bilingual kids: Tell us, how did you train your brain? 



Diana Limongi
Diana a mom, activist, nonprofit professional, podcaster and writer from Queens, NY. She writes about motherhood, activism, raising my multilingual kids, culture and travel. She and her multicultural family live in Queens, NY.

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