Missing some sparkle in your life? Getting yourself into unnecessary drama and wondering what to do about it? Wanting to escape reality with a binge marathon? Then, you’ll love telenovelas!
And, no, they’re not only for abuelitas and housewives! Telenovelas are Spanish soap operas with melodramatic storylines involving intense events, shocking plot twists, and over-the-top face slaps and catfights. Whether you love to be involved in these situations or you would rather avoid them, telenovelas are a relatable depiction of Latin American culture.
But, you get the juicy flavor of different accents, colloquial expressions, and idioms. Therefore, they’re a great way to fast-track your language studies, especially if you want to improve your Spanish. So, here are our top telenovelas to learn Latin American Spanish (with their commercial international titles).
Recommended Telenovelas to learn Latin American Spanish
The following Latin American Spanish telenovelas are audience favorites, either because of their plots, realism, dramatism, comedy, or quality of production.
This series is about the life of the Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar Gaviria, from his childhood to his death, based on the book “La parábola de Pablo” (2001), written by Alonso Salazar.
Despite having a long criminal record involving the sale of drugs on a large scale, he was beloved by Colombian society. This TV production mixes real scenes from news channels and testimonies from Escobar’s victims with fictional events in order to craft this biographic telenovela.
Additionally, Escobar, el patrón del mal recreates the connections that the Cartel of Medellín had with politicians, journalists, and members of the law enforcement and judicial system. Thus, this telenovela is also aimed at vindicating the memory of the narcotraffic victims in Colombia. Nevertheless, just like it happened in real life, the charm and charisma of the actor who portrayed Escobar grabbed the audience’s hearts.
La Promesa narrates the story of three women; two Colombian, and one Mexican, who are groomed to be human trafficked to Spain.
Ana, Frida, and Seleni live in vulnerable conditions and dream about having better opportunities. Ana is a single mom who works at a plantation and has a bad relationship with her family. Frida lives with an older man she doesn’t love and wishes to have true love far away from Oaxaca. Seleni is a high school student that lives with her single dad, who has a drinking problem.
Seduced by the lies of manipulative people, these women will be introduced into a prostitution network from which they will not be able to escape. Unknowingly, at the time of their arrival, they’ll have acquired a debt impossible to pay and will receive death threats against their families.
Therefore, they’ll only have two options: to live as enslaved prostitutes or to risk their lives in the quest for freedom.
Yeimy Montoya is a humble teenager from Medellín that has a gift for singing and songwriting. She writes about the secret love she feels for Charly, a classmate who also lives in her neighborhood. She keeps her songs in a private notebook, and, after trusting in Charly, he steals her lyrics and makes her go to prison.
Yeimy’s parents have a bakery and they refuse to pay Charly’s uncle, Manín, his “protection fee”. As a consequence, their house is burned, with them in it! Then, after spending 17 years in prison, Yeimy seeks revenge and infiltrates Charly’s life, who has now become a famous singer.
As this musical telenovela progresses, Yeimy recovers confidence in her talent and overcomes different challenges in her quest for justice. Finally, she thrives and becomes a renowned music producer and songwriter: the Queen of Flow. You can find the two seasons of this show on Netflix.
Based on a novel of the same name by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, La Reina del Sur was the most expensive telenovela ever produced by Telemundo. That’s why this 3-season hit has excellent quality. Adapted to TV by Roberto Stopello and Valentina Párraga, we get hooked on the story of Teresa Mendoza.
Our protagonist is a young Mexican woman who falls in love with El Güero, and after his death, has to run away to Spain. There, she seeks revenge for all the tragic events she experienced in her life and becomes the most powerful drug trafficker in Southern Spain.
As a curious fact, this is the character that lured El Chapo to meet Kate Del Castillo in person. Something even cooler about this telenovela is that you can listen to both Latin American Spanish and European Spanish.
5. La Trilogía de las Marías: María Mercedes, Marimar, and María la del barrio
This is the trilogy of telenovelas that launched Thalía to international stardom. María Mercedes (1992), Marimar (1994) and María, la del barrio (1995) share similar stories. Their common denominator is that a poor woman by chance becomes a millionaire, even though she has to go through hell to get there. Plenty of struggles, embarrassments, and disgraces will be in the life of our protagonist but, in the end, she will thrive.
Many of the scenes of these three telenovelas remain relevant nowadays, thanks to popular memes. Even though these telenovelas may have lots of cliches, you’ll never be disappointed by the pettiness and creativity of their villains. In fact, the best feature of 90s telenovelas is the awesome remarks and clapbacks of the characters. Therefore, we’re sure the ¡Maldita lisiada! scene will live forever in your mind.
6. La Usurpadora (The Usurper)
Paola Bracho is a wealthy woman who is tired of her life as a wife and mother of two. She is seeking new emotions, adventures, and lovers.
One day, while spending time with her current lover at a fancy club, she meets Paulina, who surprisingly looks just like her. And, yes, you guessed it! They decide to switch places… But it’s not a friendly agreement. Paola blackmails Paulina in order to do it. She gets away with it, and travels the world with rich men while her doppelganger solves the personal issues she left behind.
Everything works out fine, until Paulina starts to feel guilty about being an imposter, and reconnects with her twin sister. If you like this telenovela, there’s something extra for you. After the show ends, there are two extra episodes called Más allá de… La usurpadora.
Wanting to reconnect with your inner boss girl? You need to watch Teresa! Teresa is a smart and attractive woman from humble origins. She lives with her parents and her sister, and is extremely ashamed of being poor. So, she pretends to have rich parents while attending a high-end school with a scholarship. During prom, her boyfriend Paulo discovers her lie, dumps her, and later gets a new girlfriend, Aída. Together, they expose and humiliate Teresa, and she swears to never let anyone else humiliate her in her life.
Then, Teresa befriends her law school teacher, Arturo, who agrees to pay for her tuition in exchange for her working for him. Little by little, Teresa seduces Arturo, and because she was attending a work appointment, she misses the competition where her sister dies due to heart failure. This event motivates her even more to climb to a better socio-economic status.
Then, she uses, marries, and plays several men with her lies and promises to reach the life she believes she deserves. Sabotaging herself every time true love appears in her life, she realizes that she has to change her attitude. Finally, Teresa gives up all the money she had previously made, and embraces the loneliness that she now has to experience, but life offers her a second chance.
8. Yo soy Betty, la fea (Ugly Betty)
Beatriz Pinzón, also known as Betty, is a young and brilliant economist, though unattractive, who lives with her parents in Bogotá. After having a hard time finding a job, Betty starts working as an executive assistant to the CEO of a fashion company called Ecomoda.
Her boss is Armando Mendoza, a womanizer who is engaged to Marcela Valencia. Soon, Betty earns Armando’s trust at work and helps him hide his infidelities, which makes Marcela hate Betty. Additionally, Betty has to confront several coworkers, who constantly make fun of her looks. Betty secretly falls for Armando, but he doesn’t pay attention to her.
Armando is focused on reaching his CEO goals so he doesn’t have to give up his position to Marcela’s brother, Daniel. For this reason, he uses Betty in his shady strategies to save the company from bankruptcy.
However, Betty will save the company using honest methods. Ultimately, Betty will prove herself worthy of the respect and admiration of her detractors, and that she’s a beautiful person, inside out.
Have Fun Watching these Latin American Telenovelas and Learning Spanish
The best telenovelas to learn Latin American Spanish are the ones that interest you the most. They make a great passive study and help you practice your listening and speaking. Make sure to keep a positive attitude, put the subtitles in Spanish (and turn them off from time to time to focus on listening), and create a routine.
Trust your instincts and keep watching the scenes even if you don’t fully understand them. The important thing is to have a general idea of what’s going on in the telenovela.
Yes, some telenovelas can be funny, surreal, or have too many complicated relationships, but learning Spanish this way is not only effective but entertaining, too. Moreover, it will give you plenty of topics to discuss in Spanish regarding life, love, and culture.