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College professor creates sitcom to help students learn Spanish

Thursday, 03 September 2015 17:57 Nora Olabi
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Foreign language teachers have a job that can be tedious. Going over textbook grammar lessons on infinitives, possessives, indirect and direct objects, perfect and imperfect verbs, conjugations and so on can be a struggle for both educators and students.

So one Lone Star College-Montgomery teacher is setting the textbook down. Spanish professor Andrea Bacorn created and helped produce a short, educational telenovela series based on the popular 1990s American TV sitcom "Friends" called "Compañeros de Piso."

The series, which translates as "roommates," is a modern day, Spanish language soap opera comprising five episodes that span five minutes each. "Textbooks can be really hard to understand," Bacorn said. "The idea was for students not to be aware that they're in a Spanish class. .

The series is about an American student studying abroad in Spain, her four Spanish roommates and the drama and heartbreak that ensues. Bacorn drew from her experience as a foreign exchange student in Spain and blended it with the sitcom "Friends" to create a series that her students could relate to and learn from at their own pace. The telenovela can be paused, reminded, forwarded and comes with subtitles.

"Theater is a great vehicle. You're using language, people are learning, and they don't even know they're learning," Bacorn said. Although many people associate Spanish with Central and South America, the sites and the sounds in the telenovela are all in Madrid, Spain, which gives students a taste of the language's roots, European culture and even bits of knowledge about different gestures and accents that make for an authentic cultural learning experience.

"That's why I wanted to film it in Spain and filmed the pub scene, so that they can see what it's like and make it real," Bacorn said. "I didn't want them to feel like it's on a set. It exposes students to cultural ideas; it's not just grammar. You have to kind of forget that, and that was my idea."

The series took nearly 30 hours to film, weeks to edit and $4,000 to produce. Bacorn was given $4,000 through Lone Star College's Faculty International Exploration grant award to film and produce the series. She wrote the script and even composed the lyrics for the series' opening theme song. The production company for "Compañeros de Piso," called La Quarta Filla, set her lyrics to music.

Bacorn's students aren't the only ones who can enjoy the telenovela series. She has reached out to her counterparts across the Lone Star College System to spread word of the telenovela series so that all Spanish language students can learn and put their knowledge to us.

Teaching adjunct Georgette Sullins at LSC-Montgomery is one of Bacorn's colleagues who saw the telenovela. Though she is teaching more advanced Spanish language learners this year, she's already got plans to use "Compañeros de Piso" for her online and in-person entry-level courses.

"I thought it was so extremely creative and so engaging," Sullins said. "The sentences were simple and moved quickly, and the actors - there's just enough plot to keep their interest."

But the telenovela isn't just for those taking a class at a LSC campus.

For everyone who's not a student but are interested in learning, Bacorn has made the telenovela available online on Lone Star College's YouTube channel,

Full article here