Binge Watch Your Way To Spanish Fluency with These 6 Telenovelas
Feeling stuck in your Spanish lessons? Here’s a fun trick to improve your Spanish skills: indulge yourself in Spanish telenovelas!
A telenovela is a soap opera produced in Latin America. They are daily shows featuring a concentrated storyline that unfolds at a much faster pace than a regular soap opera. A telenovela has more episodes than a miniseries, but they typically run only 30 to 45 minutes.
The popularity of these dramas has spread throughout the world. Different countries developed their own versions of telenovelas. In the Philippines, they’re referred to as teleserye, while in Quebec, they’re referred to as téléroman. Whatever you want to call these dramas, they have one thing in common: they carry an over-the-top storyline that will keep you wanting more.
Anything can happen in a telenovela. Fake deaths and mistaken identities? Check. Love triangles and many secret rendezvous? Check. A big family secret? Check. A supervillain who will do anything to hurt the protagonist? Check. Fiery and steamy romances? Double check. (Hint: our post about Spanish expressions of love and affection is a great place to start!) Whatever plot twist or drama you can think of, a telenovela has it and more.
There are hundreds of telenovelas out there, so choosing one could take hours of research. To save you time, we’ve gathered the 6 most must-see telenovelas of all time. This mix of timeless soap operas is dramatic, bold, humorous, wild, and more, so if you ever get confused don’t worry because the plot is just getting twisted.
If you’re in a rut or just in need of a fun refresher in your Spanish studies, watch a telenovela. This way you get a dose of entertainment while also practicing your listening and understanding skills. You can also add subtitles if you want to practice reading, too. But if you’re up for a challenge, put your listening abilities to the test by interpreting the dialogue without the subtitles!
María la del Barrio (Maria from the neighborhood)
Streaming Platform: YouTube
Seasons: 1 season with 90 episodes
If you’re interested in a rags to riches story mixed with romance, catfights, mistaken identities, sly gossip, and lots of drama in between, this telenovela is for you! While you’re at it, prepare to laugh and cry in Spanish because you’re in for a whirlwind.
María la del Barrio is a mid-90s remake of a popular Mexican drama called Los ricos también lloran. The series was also inspired by Cuban soap operas called Cuando se regala un hijo and Martha Laura.
The show is the third installment of the Marías telenovela trilogy, featuring the one and only Thalía as the charming María. The story of María la del Barrio revolves around María, a poor yet humble and brave young girl who lost her family at the age of 15. Amid the series of unfortunate events in María’s life, Father Honorio asked one of the wealthiest businessmen in the area named Fernando de la Vega to take María in as a servant for his house. Instead, Fernando took María in as a member of the family, molding her into a respectable young lady by providing her with good education and teaching her proper manners. But Mariá’s arrival was received with disdain and jealousy from the head of the household maids Carlotta, Fernando’s wife Victoria, and Victoria’s niece Soraya… and thus begins María’s lifetime affair with drama.
The series is widely regarded as one of the most successful shows ever broadcasted, shown in more than 180 countries. The show's production company, Televisa, even gave its approval to a Filipino remake, which aired in the Philippines in 2011.
Yo soy Betty, la fea (I am Betty, the Ugly One)
Seasons: 1 season with 156 episodes
Is fashion and glam your jam? Yo soy Betty, la fea, the original Spanish version of the American sitcom Ugly Betty, is perfect for you! Think of the Devil Wears Prada meets the classic Cinderella story. We are rooting for you, Betty!
Betty, la fea follows the main character named Betty Pinzón who is known to be conventionally “unattractive.” Betty has a distinctive fashion taste. She has straight-across bangs and wears a pair of big red square glasses, both of which contribute to her unusual sense of style. Despite her unique appearance, Betty is a witty and intelligent woman with a finance degree. She lands a job as an administrative assistant at Eco Moda, one of the world's most prominent fashion firms. While working hard at the firm and rescuing it from failure, Betty falls in love with the charming and handsome Armando Mendoza, who is also the CEO of the company. But, will Betty’s feelings for Armando one day be reciprocated?
Yo soy Betty, la fea or simply Betty, la fea is one of the most well-known telenovelas of all time. This Colombian production was the first to be adapted into a variety of international versions, including La fea más bella in Mexico, Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin in India, and I Love Betty La Fea in the Philippines. The show has been dubbed and subbed in many countries and was even broadcasted virtually in all of Latin America and Spain, where it received positive reviews and great ratings.
Las Chicas del Cable (Cable Girls)
Streaming Platform: Netflix
Seasons: 5 seasons with 42 episodes
Ring! Ring! Ready to go back to 1920’s Madrid and see how four incredible women fought for women’s rights, overcame adversity, and changed the world while living in a patriarchal society?
Las Chicas del Cable or Cable Girls in English is a Spanish period drama series produced by Netflix. The soap opera revolves around the personal and professional lives of four women hired to work as switchboard operators for the Cifuentes’ national telephone company. Lidia, Marga, Carlotta, and Ángeles all had different reasons for working at this company but their differences brought them together. As a result, the four women developed a close friendship that helped them become better and stronger.
The show was shot in locations throughout Madrid, including La Plaza del Alamillo, Gran Via in Atocha, and Fundación Telefónica, while giving the impression of being transported back in 20th century Spain. It was the first Spanish-set original series filmed by Netflix, and won numerous awards including the 2018 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Scripted Television Series in Spanish. Just like other telenovelas, Las Chicas del Cable has its fair share of intriguing storylines and steamy romances. In addition, the show even explores critical and progressive topics such as female independence, gender identity and sexuality, women’s suffrage, friendship, and love and sacrifice.
La Reina del Sur (The Queen of the South)
Seasons: 2 seasons with 63 episodes
Are you up for a hair-raising and spine-tingling crime drama series that will leave you wanting more? La Reina del Sur will definitely give you that thrill, so expect your eyes to be glued to the screen and your ears close to the speakers.
La Reina del Sur is based on a novel of the same title by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Teresa Mendoza is the girlfriend of El Guero, a pilot who works for the Mexican drug cartels.
Unfortunately, Guero died by the cartel members, and as a result, Teresa leaves Mexico to the south of Spain in order to protect herself and start a new life. Those plans are dashed when she gets involved in the drug trafficking industry herself. Instead of just being involved romantically with someone in the narcotics business, Teresa decides to become the head of her own international drug business with the help of a woman she met in prison. However, Teresa's overwhelming success comes at a price, and what could that be…
The author of the original novel was inspired by a woman named Sandra Ávila Beltrán, called “The Queen of the Pacific” for her role as one of the first women to rise to the level of “boss” in the male-dominated world of Mexican cartels. The Spanish telenovela is the second most-expensive show that Telemundo has ever created, with a whopping budget of $10 million. It was worth it, because it won many awards including an International Emmy Award for Best Non-English Language U.S. Primetime Program in 2020.
Amy, la niña de la mochila azul (Amy, the Girl with the Blue Backpack)
Streaming Platform: YouTube
Seasons: 1 season with 115 episodes
It’s time for something cute with a hint of fun. This time, the main character is a charming and brave young girl named Amy. There might even be magical mermaids involved, so go ahead and explore for yourself!
Amy, la niña de la mochila azul or Amy, the Girl with the Blue Backpack in English is a Mexican telenovela that is a remake of the Mexican movie called La niña de la mochila azul. Amy is a sweet little girl who lives on a rusty boat by the beach with her adoptive father who is a shrimp fisherman named Matías. Since Matías doesn’t have a real job, Amy helps him out. However, the arrival of the wicked Ms. Minerva changes everything that’s going on for Amy. Ms. Minerva is looking for orphans to send to the San Felipe boarding school, and Amy is one of the children she has in mind. One thing after another, Ms. Minerva takes Amy with her to the boarding school leaving Matías behind. So many more adventures await Amy but with her new life, will she still be able to see Matías again and live as a happy family together?
If you want to sing along with the amazing music in the show, the soap opera also has four published soundtracks under Amy, la niña de la mochila azul Volume 1, Amy, la niña de la mochila azul Volume 2, The Best of Amy, la niña de la mochila azul, and Amy, la niña de la mochila azul: En concierto. For other fun Spanish songs to sing along with, check out our posts featuring Encanto and Rosalía!
Club de los Cuervos
Streaming Platform: Netflix
Seasons: 4 seasons with 45 episodes
Sibling rivalry and sports scandals make for two intriguing themes of a chaotic and entertaining family drama that everyone should watch. And if you love football (or soccer, if you’re in the US, Canada, Australia, or a handful of other countries) and Spanish telenovelas, you might get a kick out of this one!
Club de Cuervos is Netflix's first Spanish-language original series created by Gary Alazraki and Michael Lam. Isabel and Chava are siblings who inherit ownership of Cuervos Football Club from their father. Unfortunately, even though Chava is an irresponsible and party-loving guy, he is chosen to lead the organization. While Isabel who is more business savvy and committed her life to understanding the ins and outs of the sport, she is seen as incompetent by the male members of the club. Because of the power struggle between the siblings, problems arise of who should be the rightful president of their beloved Cuervos FC – is it Chava or is it Isabel?
The first season of the series premiered in 2015 and earned excellent reviews for being an enjoyable and easy to watch series. As a result, the show was renewed for three more seasons, with the last season airing January 2019. With the show’s success, Netflix created separate short sequels specifically based on the characters of Potro and Hugo. The two spinoffs are called Club de Cuervos Presents: I, Potro and Club de Cuervos: The Ballad of Hugo Sanchez.