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AlwaysSpanish is Retiring!

After a long awkward silence, here's something to break the ice – all over again. I can totally see why you should be upset to see no action from the Burro for over a month now, but trust me, your wait was all worth it. The news here is that your beloved Burro has just moved into a brand new home – one that's a whole lot richer, swankier, and easier to live in. I'm talking about PeppyBurro. That's the name of the new website! Isn't that cool? At least it tells you all about the Burro's pepped up temperament right off the bat, right? This post is not about Spanish-learning tricks (although I will drop in a couple out of habit, I guess) or grammar lessons. This one's all about our new home!

The Witchcraft Of Spanish Vocabulary

The very first step to conquering a language is to tame its vocabulary. And sadly, that's the part that puts off most novice learners because memorizing strange-sounding words is too darn boring! A never-ending chant of rote rehearsal and a nervous prayer can see you through an upcoming test, but the process just won't cut it if your goal is to actually use the language in the street. It's a mystery how this incredibly inefficient method has survived this long and still continues to be perpetuated by schools and educators around the world. So is there any nirvana around this assault of monotony in our miserable lives? Anything that could make learning foreign words less painful?

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: Always Spanish has retired. Please visit the new blog at for all future articles.

Top 25 Telenovelas From 5 Spanish-Speaking Countries

When it comes to nailing the Spanish language, it’s no secret that television is the most entertaining way to maximize immersion and, consequently, Spanish acquisition. While they can be excessively clichéd and predictive, telenovelas are still no less powerful when it comes to delivering a healthy dose of concentrated, authentic, native Spanish. However, the biggest challenge most if not all rookie Spanish-learners face with this method lies in knowing where and how to get started and what shows to pick for maximum juice. These are the questions we will explore in this article and see how learning can also be entertaining.

What is a telenovela?

To begin with, let’s first understand what beasts these telenovelas actually are. Contrary to popular misconception, they are not the Hispanic equivalent of our soaps and sitcoms. In fact, they don’t even have any parallel in the English-speaking world. While soap operas have a never ending storyline with the same characters essaying an indefinitely long sequence of events, telenovelas are more concise. Most telenovelas are done with a complete story in mind right at inception which means they are conceived as a limited-run program, generally less than a year, with a well-defined beginning, middle, and ending. The storyline often carries a strong sociocultural message and is invariably laden with drama and emotions.

As noted above, the main difference between a telenovela and a regular American soap is that the former almost never runs indefinitely. On an average, a telenovela would be programmed with 120 episodes aired during prime time throughout the week except weekends.

How to make the most out of them

No matter what they say, telenovelas rule their living rooms!
No matter what they say, telenovelas rule their living rooms!
Photo credit: Gabriel Saldana licensed CC BY-SA 2.0
Every minute you spend in front of the tube watching a telenovela is worth hours of training in some godforsaken language learning institute’s classroom, perhaps even more. We recommend no less than an hour everyday for the process to be truly effective.

The best way to watch telenovelas for Spanish acquisition is to tape an episode (if not already recorded) and watch it over and over again, minute-by-minute, dialog-by-dialog, and scene-by-scene. Rewind, watch, rewind again, and then watch again...using the dictionary for look-up and SRS or flashcards for future reference and retention. For some, using a notebook to write down interesting dialogs verbatim works wonders. Choose your style but there’s no denying that telenovelas are the absolute couch potato’s ultimate Spanish sponge!

Now, let’s figure out what to watch. What follows is a list of top-five telenovelas in each of the five key countries where Spanish is the native tongue. The list is by no means exhaustive but if you follow these shows, you will be closely following most Spanish natives in these countries. If you are lucky to be living either in or around any of these countries, they are all right there for you on your TV. Just contact your cable operator and ask for canales (channels) like Telemundo® or Univision®. If you aren’t that lucky and live far from any Spanish-speaking society, you still have two options: Either buy box sets of any of these shows from your local store or get them online at Amazon®, etc. There’s just no excuse for not trying them now, is there?


Rebelde Way – Follows the lives of a bunch of wealthy boys and girls of a prestigious boarding high school near Buenos Aires

Floricienta – A loose adaption of the story of Cenicienta (Cinderella in Latin America) drawing parallels with “The Sound of Music”

Botineras – Revolves around the lives of soccer players, their love-lives, and police investigations

Los Roldán – A comic tale revolving around Tito Roldán, a fictitious supermercado (supermarket) driver in rural Argentina

Resistiré – A 2003 telenovela featuring a beautiful woman trying to balance her life between her terrorist fiancé and a handsome tailor

“Ugly Betty” was a direct spin-off from Colombia’s “Yo Soy Betty, La Fea”
“Ugly Betty” was a direct spin-off from Colombia’s “Yo Soy Betty, La Fea”
Photo credit: Diego Torres Silvestre licensed CC BY 2.0


El Último Matrimonio Feliz – Follows the lives of five women undergoing different kinds of marital crises

La Hija Del Mariachi – A story revolving around the relationship of Rosario Guerrero and Emiliano Gallardo

En Los Tacones De Eva – The story of Juan Camilo Caballero, an ambitious, unscrupulous businessman and his exploits with Isabella Nieto, a direct business rival

Hasta Que La Plata Nos Separe – A tragicomedy relating the story of Rafael Méndez, a young and unpretentious businessman who vends anything possible to earn a livelihood for his mother and sister

Yo Soy Betty, La Fea – A 1999 comic soap that spawned “Ugly Betty” years later


Rebelde – A popular teen series set in an elite Mexico City prep school not much different from “90210” or “Saved By the Bell”; a remake of Argentina’s “Rebelde Way”

Martin Garatuza – A period romance set in colonial Mexico based on the life of Martin Garatuza, a legendary trickster in Mexican folklore

Simplemente Maria – Revolves around the life of an innocent small-town girl who goes to work in a wealthy Mexico City household and is wooed by Juan Carlos, a rich boy

Maria La Del Barrio – A Mexican working-class melodrama revolving around an orphaned teenage girl placed in the family of her priest’s wealthy benefactor

Clase 406 – One of the most popular Mexican telenovela depicting modern Mexican teen culture and its underlying problems like drugs, sex, heartbreaks, and abuse


Telenovelas are often called culebrones (long snakes) in Spain due to their complicated plots and here are some of the most popular ones:

Escenas De Matrimonio – Shows fun moments in the lives of several couples living in the same building

Los Hombres De Paco – A comedy show focusing on a group of cops in San Antonio, a fictitious Madrid neighborhood

Los Serrano – A hugely popular sitcom revolving around a Serrano family living in Round Santa Justa No. 133 in the fictional neighborhood of Santa Justa, in the Ribera del Manzanares, in Madrid

Yo Soy Bea – Spain’s adaptation of Colombia’s “Yo Soy Betty, La Fea”

Supervivientes – Spain’s very own version of the popular English show, “Survivors”


¿Dónde Está Elisa? – The story of a teenage girl who disappears, a relative being the culprit

Machos – The ordeal of Ángel Mercader, a native doctor of Viña del Mar, in bringing up his seven sons

Témpano – The story of the wealthy Graun family and the suspense surrounding the goings-on aboard one of the family-owned vessels on the ice in southern Chile

Primera Dama – An interesting soap detailing the life of Sabina Astudillo, an ordinary yet ambitious woman trying hard to seduce a presidential candidate in the hopes of becoming the First Lady of Chile

Mujeres De Lujo – Essays the lives of a group of prostitutes in a brothel

Some other day, we will explore the best other Spanish-speaking countries have to offer. Until then, hope you do manage to find your favorites from amongst these shows. Amassing an envious inventory of Spanish vocabulary and enjoying the Hispanic way of life can be a rich experience with these Spanish language shows. Do you have any favorites amongst the ones listed above? Do you have a favorite we have missed out on? We would love to hear you out; please drop us a comment and tell us about your experiences with them telenovelas!

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  1. Do you realize that the picture you are using comes from a social protest in Mexico against Televisa and soap operas? "Telenovelas" aren´t really helping Mexican society and its cultural heritage to the world, as they´ve limited the intellectual capability of the Mexicans in general. Regarding the "Strong socio-cultural message" you refer to, telenovelas really don´t encourage the viewers to improve their lives. Telenovelas reassure (most of the time) to the audience that they must be content with their realities unless they marry a rich guy (the story-lines focus on this as most of the viewers are women). Seriously, it is like telling foreigners to learn English watching Cheaters or Jerry Springer.

  2. Luis, I just can't disagree with you on the values bit. It's true that telenovelas do little more than institutionalizing you into their clichéd ways of melodramatic lifestyles. In fact, television programming in most countries around the world are suffering with this plague. Take the example of the Americans' How I Met Your Mother or Two And A Half Men!

    However, it's also true that they are just doing business and business is all about satisfying people's needs and make profits in turn. Telenovelas or soaps, regardless of their shallow values, are and most likely will continue to thrive only because people dig them. They wouldn't be on your TVs had they not been popular and craved for. Besides, however unpalatable and however exaggerated their presentation, they do reflect facets of the prevalent socio-cultural atmosphere in the country. That's the very basic reason for their appeal and popularity. Larger than life, yes but true nonetheless. They appear shallow because to some extent, we ARE shallow as a society, in many if not all aspects.

    Besides, while there might be disagreement over their value-add; but there can be no denying that for someone striving to draw on some Spanish-language input for learning the language, these shows do fill the gap. And that's all a learner's prime concern is. Absorbing Spanish regardless of what source it comes from. The values and ethics could be debated but usefulness as a source of Spanish can't, can it?

  3. Thanks for this list! There are so many telenovelas, it's nice to have a reference as to some of the best ones so I can practice my Spanish courses

  4. The Toronto Public library has telenovelas for free. (I noticed your picture with the distinctive Toronto street car and thought I'd mention this for locals.)

  5. That's really good news for our friends in Toronto. Thanks for sharing. Do they include English or Spanish subtitles?

  6. This article was focussing on stuff from Spanish-speaking countries, you see.


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