Telenovelas, which account for the vast majority of dramatic productions in countries like Mexico and Colombia, are one of Latin America’s biggest cultural exports. Traditionally, they focus on rivalry, revenge, family secrets, and a central love story that defies social conventions. But did you know that you can also learn Spanish with telenovelas? Because the stories depicted in this kind of show manage to be both absorbing and completely familiar, they make for excellent learning sources for Spanish students.
That is why, today, we have compiled a list of the most iconic scenes from telenovelas that you can watch to learn Spanish. After reading this article, you can pick your favourite one and watch it on Netflix or other streaming services. Let us warn you, though. Telenovelas’ addictive twists and turns will glue you to your seat for hours at a time!
María la del Barrio
Aired in almost 200 countries, this telenovela is one of the most popular shows to ever hit the screen. Starring the Mexican superstar Thalía, this Cinderella-like tale is the story of a young pepenadora (a scavenger) who lives with her madrina (godmother) in a slum. One day, while attending a church service, Maria meets an older man who is drawn to her impulsive but joyful personality and invites her to move into his mansion, where she immediately falls in love with one of the sons, Luis Fernando.
As you can imagine, Maria and Luis Fernando will live a passionate affair, marked by tragedy, loss, and betrayal.
The show, however, belongs entirely to Soraya, the unbelievably evil, deliciously vengeful, shamelessly scene-stealing villain that will make Maria’s life impossible from day one.
In this show-stopping scene, Soraya asks her nana to display her “satanic power” by killing Maria, who seems to have finally caught Luis Fernando’s attention.
As you may have noticed, this is a great clip to learn amusing, creative, over-the-top Spanish insults to crush your enemies. Did your sister just eat the doughnut you left in the fridge? You can tell her that she is una mugrosa recogedora de basura (a filthy scavenger). Does she deny having committed such a crime? Then she is also una mentirosa, una charlatana (a liar, a charlatan!).
Also featuring Thalia, María Mercedes follows yet another young woman named Maria who falls in love with a(nother) rich man, Jorge Luis. But this time, the real villain of the story is not another young woman, but Jorge Luis’s own mother, Malvina.
In this scene, Maria Mercedes has an epic fight with Mística, the woman hired by Malvina to make María’s life a living hell who wears the same outfit in every scene and has a dog called Secreto.
The dog’s reaction to its owner being dragged around by her hair is just priceless, isn’t it?
Spanish learners will find a very interesting line in this scene. After being told that she is loca (crazy), María Mercedes says the following rhyme:
Botellita de jerez
Todo lo que me digas
Será al revés
This is an expression you can use in the same contexts where you would its English counterpart:
I'm rubber and you're glue
Everything you say bounces off of me
and sticks to you.
María, who comes from a very poor background, uses lots of popular idioms and expressions such as the one above.
This Mexican telenovela starring Gabriela Spanic follows a pair of identical twin sisters who were separated at birth. One of them, Paola, is a wealthy, shallow and evil woman who has multiple lovers. Paulina, on the other hand, is a humble, kindhearted woman engaged to a simple-minded man who constantly cheats on her. One day, Paola bumps into Paulina, who works as a cleaner in the restroom of a fancy restaurant, and is struck by their resemblance. Immediately, Paola comes up with a plan and blackmails this poor girl into assuming her identity so she can start a new life of luxury with her new lover.
In the scene below, you can see the first encounter between the two sisters. Notice how the evil Paola stumbles and holds her hand to her head. That’s because she is a bit drunk. If you know a little Spanish, you might have caught the idiomatic expression se me subieron las copas, which means something like “the alcohol went straight to my head”.
This show is great for practising adjectives, as everyone is constantly emphasizing the differences between Paola and Paulina. In this clip, Paulina says that they cannot possibly be related because she is una humilde muchacha (a humble girl) whereas her sister is elegante y refinada (elegant and refined).
Do you see? It’s perfectly possible to learn Spanish with telenovelas.
Bonus: Betty, la fea
Telenovelas are not always dark and tragic. They can also be a lot of fun. Take, for example, Betty la fea, the acclaimed, incredibly successful show about an ugly girl who gets a job in a fashion company and falls for the owner’s son.
In this clip, Betty and her friend Nicolás, who is just as endearing and unattractive as she is (although he doesn’t get a makeover at the end of the show), are talking about last night’s events. As both of them had a lot to drink, they are now completely enguayabados. In Colombian Spanish, guayabo refers to the unpleasant after-effects of heavy drinking. See how many times they say the word in the clip.
So, how many of these expressions did you already know? Are there any other shows that you would recommend to Spanish students?
As you can see, it is very easy to learn Spanish with telenovelas. Whether you prefer comedy or tragedy, there are lots of engrossing, thrilling, hilarious shows out there to learn in a way that that is both fun and genuinely educational. And the best part is that you can find lots of telenovelas on Netflix!
If you would like to take an online Spanish course to practice your speaking skills, please contact us on our website.