Spanglish TV Newscasts

Arts and Media June 2021 PREMIUM
Break The Mold And Resonate With Younger Latinx Viewers
Written by Jesús Ayala, Lecturer
Department of Communications at California State University, Fullerton

Lo Que Está Trending

This year the Broadcast Education Association chose Lo Que Está Trending (What’s Trending), a fast-paced vertical news roundup produced by journalism students at California State University Fullerton, as the winner of their Disrupt the News Challenge. The national competition challenged journalism students across America to “deconstruct and reinvent broadcast news” and make the traditional format more attractive to younger audiences. 

For decades now, television networks have been trying to woo younger viewers as a result of declining viewership and millions in lost revenue. Most TV newscast viewers are 54 and older, according to Nielsen, the leading research company which is nationally known for recording radio and television ratings. Moreover, younger generations are not jumping on the broadcast news bandwagon the way their parents or grandparents once did, and on-demand platforms are only exacerbating this disruption. The 25-45 Latino demographic is an enticing gold mine for broadcasters because by and large they’re employed, college-educated, digitally connected, and active on social media– all essential markers of consumer power.

Lo Que Está Trending is designed specifically to be viewed on IGTV and anchored entirely in Spanglish– a linguistic phenomenon that occurs when bilingual speakers interchangeably use both English and Spanish words in the same sentence. At CSUF, Spanglish isn’t necessarily a “deconstruction” or “reinvention.” Rather, it's actually the norm. If you walk the halls of our university, the largest university in California’s public education system, you will notice that nearly 46% of our 41,000 students are Latinx, and if you pay close attention and listen, you will find that most of our students are fully bilingual and speak interchangeably between English and Spanish.

It seems that in order to appeal to younger Latinos, specifically, the answer may be quite simple– it’s a matter of authenticity, so you need to speak the way they do! And companies are taking notice. In case you’ve missed it, Spanglish code-switching, the practice of alternating between two or more languages, has gained more traction in popular culture in recent years. From the upbeat lyrics of Pitbull and J Balvin, to the comedic dialogues on ABC’s “Modern Family,” or the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” Spanglish is now everywhere! 

There is a misconception that bilingual Latinos either speak entirely in Spanish or English at any given time. The truth, however, is that we often speak both interchangeably. Even in an academic setting, when I speak to my bilingual students, it is very common for us to begin our conversation with a quick “hola, ¿cómo estás?” and then jump straight into English, and then back to Spanish when one of us decides to inject some humor or sarcasm, and back to English if we can’t think of a word is Spanish. The code-switching from one language to the other is fast and effortless.

A New Frontier in Broadcast

There is debate about whether Spanglish should be considered a legitimate sub-language. Most lingual purists argue that Spanglish is a corruption of the Spanish language because it lacks specific rules and structure. Other critics caution that it can potentially cause semantic drifts because some words may look or sound similar in both languages– for example, asistir means to attend and not to assist, carpeta refers to a file or folder and not a carpet or rug, and no one wants to say they are embarazada, which means pregnant, when they really mean embarrassed. Some detractors even argue that Spanglish is an insult to Spanish and English, two languages that have taken years to develop. It incorrectly promotes the misuse of both languages for future generations. 

To be clear, linguistically speaking, there is no such thing as a pure language and all languages evolve over time. If not, we would all be speaking like the Queen Mother. Moreover, most Spanish speakers can’t even agree on one word for bus– there’s camion, autobús, colectivo, ómnibus, and in Cuba even the guagua. Bilingual speakers don’t code-switch because we are lazy. We do it simply because we can! I grew up in conservative Orange County in the 1980s and have vivid memories of my kindergarten teacher writing my name on the board anytime she heard me code-switching between English and Spanish. As a child I never understood what exactly I was doing wrong. It’s time that all forms of bilingualism are celebrated, including code-switching. Luckily for my students, we’ve come a long way. Once considered “lazy” or viewed as a failure on the part of speakers to control both languages, Spanglish is now worn as a badge of honor by millennials and zoomers. This youth who belong to Generation Z, are bilingual and bicultural, are no longer willing to be stigmatized by critics who label the way they choose to communicate as “incompetent” or lacking “proper manners.” 

Even Univision, the largest Spanish-language television network in the country, once refused to hire American-born Latinos citing that most were not competent enough to report in Spanish. But it seems that the network has also changed its tune. KMEX’s pioneering newscast Edición Digital California is another example of a news broadcast trying to appeal to a much younger demographic through Spanglish. Most Latinx millennials and zoomers consider the show’s anchor, Yarel Ramos, a breath of fresh air– Ramos’ style of anchoring is more relaxed. She dresses “hipper” than Univision’s staple news personalities, and she teases into commercial breaks in Spanglish. And it’s that code-switch from Spanish to English, specifically that resonates the most with her younger viewers and followers. Ramos, they say, is authentic because she embraces Spanglish and speaks directly to them the way they do. The strategy is certainly working– Edición Digital California was the highest-rated midday newscast during November sweeps and was #1 among Adults 18-34. And on social media platforms, Ramos alone has twice as many followers, more than both of KMEX’s primetime anchors combined!

At CSUF, our new Spanglish IGTV segment is also resonating much more with our younger base than our traditional newscasts– Lo Que Está Trending consistently outperforms our 30-minute newscasts by four times as many views and impressions. We don’t believe we have actually deconstructed or reinvented broadcast news; we have simply embraced the way that young Latinos have been communicating all along.

As the Latinx population continues to explode across the United States there is no doubt that Spanglish is here to stay, and if you ask young Latino viewers, they will likely tell you that this is a no-brainer and long overdue.

Jesús Ayala is a bilingual Lecturer in the Department of Communications at California State University, Fullerton. He is an award-winning television news producer and the recipient of four national Emmys and seven Edward R. Murrow awards.

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