The 4 best telenovelas to learn Spanish

The 4 best telenovelas to learn Spanish

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez
October 13, 2021

Telenovela is the Spanish word for a daytime television series. In English, they’re called soap operas. They are famous for drama, romance, murder, back-stabbing villains, over-the-top acting, and low-budget production. In this article, we’ll go over how to learn Spanish by watching telenovelas and which are the four best telenovelas that we like to watch.

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How to learn Spanish by watching telenovelas

Telenovelas are amazing for listening practice in Spanish. The conversations are easy to follow and include important common phrasing. Here is one specific grammar lesson to improve your vocabulary.

Mandatos (Orders)

In Spanish, giving a direct order has a specific grammar change for the verb. It is not the same grammar as the normal present tense. Notice the difference:

  • Present tense: Me sueltas. (You let me go.)
  • Mandato: ¡Suéltame! (Let go of me!)

The mandato is a direct order to do something. In high-drama telenovelas, you will hear mandatos a lot.

  • ¡Déjame en paz! (Leave me alone!)
  • ¡Díme la verdad! (Tell me the truth!)
  • ¡No me dejes! (Don’t leave me!)

Learning is about repetition so get into the drama. Shout your favorite mandatos while watching your telenovela.

Beginners, intermediate, & advanced student practice

Beginners should always turn on English subtitles to understand what’s going on. Focus on getting the gist of the story. Listen to the accents and any keywords or phrases you recognize. Keep your viewing short, such as one episode of a TV series.

Intermediate students can turn on subtitles too, but in Spanish. This will help you read faster. Listen for intermediate grammar such as mandatos or the past tense. You are probably ready for full-length movies in Spanish and movies in Spanish on Netflix as well.

Advanced students should turn off all subtitles. Focus on slang and colloquial expressions from the specific region or country of your favorite series.

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The 4 best telenovelas on Netflix and YouTube

Telenovelas started being produced in the 1950s, over 70 years ago. There are many iconic series to choose from. Older series are often available on YouTube. We’ll include the best telenovelas on Netflix to learn Spanish too. These are perfect because you can toggle the subtitle and audio options as suggested above. Here are a few of the best telenovelas to learn Spanish, in no particular order.

1. María la del Barrio

One of the most popular telenovelas of all time, María la del Barrio, is a Mexican telenovela from the 1990s. It follows the poor-but-humble María Hernandez as she works for a wealthy family and becomes embroiled in a lifetime of drama. You can watch the full series on YouTube.

2. Narcos México

This is a gritty drama following the true story of Mexican drug cartels in the 1980s. The stories are based on real people and events, but the episodes are dramatized. The series does a great job of mixing actual video clips and new stories to give the show a real feel. You can find Narcos México on Netflix.

3. ¿Dónde está Elisa?

This is another mega-hit telenovela available on YouTube, this time from Chile. It was so popular, it has been recreated in multiple countries around the world. The story revolves around the disappearance of the oldest daughter from an influential family. Who took her and will the answer tear the family apart? This is the best telenovela to learn Spanish if you’re interested in a Chilean accent

4. La Casa de las Flores

This dark comedy series is a modern take on Mexican telenovelas. The matriarch of a wealthy family tries to maintain a facade of perfection as their family secrets are revealed. You can find all three seasons on Netflix.


Watch TV and learn

The best telenovelas to learn Spanish are the ones that interest you. They help you with listening practice and improving your Spanish grammar. Listen for mandatos, pronunciation, and slang. For other genres, read our post about excellent TV shows to learn Spanish. Either way, watching TV reinforces your language learning efforts. For extra help, Lingoda has lessons that focus specifically on talking about TV and movies.

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Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Czech and Turkish. Her tech copywriting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.