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Thursday, December 4, 2014 (read 1530 times)

A Spanish Learner's Surprising Victory

by Lauris

Spanish Game Shows

I recently read a newspaper article about a topic that usually doesn’t really tickle my interest: game shows. These things abound on Spanish TV, where guests must exert certain physical or intellectual skills to win some appetizing prize. These shows are clearly designed to appeal to the broadest audience possible (we all know that the more viewers, the more valuable the advertising time, which translates to bigger profits for the channel). Like I said, I’m not really into these kinds of shows, but there are exceptions.

So I was reading in the paper about an Armenian woman named Lilit Manukyan who just won a prize of over €300,000 on a popular game show on a Spanish channel that doesn’t necessarily air a lot of cultural programming. The show is called Pasapalabra (Password), where two contestants who, with the help of more or less famous celebrity guests, must pass a series of challenges that always center on language: they must come up with tricky synonyms, match words with their definitions, etc. Afterward, players compete individually to correctly guess words at breakneck speed, with no time to even think, that correspond with a short definition, knowing only the first letter of the word, or in some cases, just knowing a letter contained anywhere in the word.
An example would be, "Comienza por la ceta: zapato de madera de una pieza"; the answer would be “Zueco”. Another example would be: "contiene la cu: Situación de un cuerpo que, a pesar de tener poca base de sustentación, se mantiene sin caerse"; the answer would be “eQuilibrio”.   

It really surprises me just how confident and how fast contestants are when answering these questions and I admire their vocabulary skills.

But the other day, this Armenian woman shows up, having arrived in Spain five years ago, and she wins the prize when she responds with the right word to the definition: "Empieza con la i: halago engañoso, cariñosa ficción que atrae y convence". Now, the definition alone here is complicated, but when the woman, with her bookwormish-looking glasses and a nervous smile, nails it by answering “ilécebra”, and then promptly erupts in well-deserved celebration, I can’t help but wonder who on earth actually knows that word (I had to look it up in the Royal Spanish Academy’s dictionary and I must admit that I’m not aware of ever having used it in my life, and I don’t plan on using it anytime in the future).

Nicely done Lilit; I can just imagine how proud her Spanish teacher must be, if she was actually taught by someone. Because later I find out that she prepared to compete on the show all by herself by studying the María Moliner dictionary, which goes to show that there are people who are incredibly persistent and have work skills that I must confess, I lack. In a lot of ways I consider myself kind of a dork, but…study a dictionary?…wow!

With a nice little pile of money and a few days of fame –those fifteen minutes that Andy Warhol talked about- Lilit is a an example of how the will to delve into a language and motivate oneself is fundamental to learning.

I promise that, from now on, I’m not going to look down anymore on these game shows that are based on language knowledge and mental calculation and those kinds of things. I’ll have to change my attitude and start watching (even if I have to watch on the internet because my schedule won’t let me tune in when it airs on TV) shows like Pasapalabra (Telecinco) or Saber y Ganar (TVE’s la 2)…

Keywords: spanish vocabulary,spanish synonyms,spanish tv,spanish teacher,maria moliner,spanish game shows


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