Back in 2006, when I started seriously trying to learn Spanish I signed up for a month of private courses at the (very excellent) Spanish Institute of Puebla, in Puebla, Mexico. The clocking was ticking on my Spanish studies. At the time, I was “expecting” (our girls were due to arrive from Haiti any time) and I knew it would be years before I would get to do another immersion abroad.

Luckily, when I was in Puebla, I discovered something that would seriously boost my Spanish learning curve.

Every night when I returned from my classes, my host family was watching La Fea Mas Bella (The Prettiest Ugly Girl), an extremely funny Mexican telenovela (soap opera) with a Cinderella plot about an ugly secretary whose boss slowly falls in love with her.

At the time, I’d say I understood about 5% of the dialogue, but the comedy was so physical I got the idea anyway. And I was hooked.

A year or so later I was looking for cheap, easy way to pick up my Spanish studies again. It had to be fun and easy, something I could just pick up whenever I had a minute.

So I went on Amazon. To my delight, I could buy a condensed version of La Fea Mas Bella on DVD – plus dozens of other Latin American soap operas from Mexico, Colombia and the US.

Since then I’ve watched about a dozen telenovelas, each cheesier than the last. There was La Otra (The Other Woman), Mi Destino Eres Tu (My Destiny is You), El Cuerpo del Deseo (Body of Desire), Amigas y Rivales (French and Rivals). You get the idea.

Telenovelas are melodramatic and frankly ridiculous at times. But the quality of the Spanish is quite good. Best of all, they’re easy to watch and completely absorbing, actually kind of hard to turn off sometimes!

What’s more: when I get the chance to speak to Latin Americans, I can almost always talk about telenovelas – even with men.