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Family secrets, evil stepmothers, forbidden love, suspicious deaths, dangerous affairs, revenge…

Who doesn’t like those stories? Well, you can find everything in a Latin American telenovela, the over dramatic serials, which have hooked most Hispanic people some time in their lives. Different from British soap operas, which have a never-ending storyline, telenovelas are concise. They normally last hundreds of episodes, but no more than a year.

Telenovelas are part of Hispanic culture, not just in Latin America, but also in Spain. I remember in my childhood, sitting on the floor in front of the TV while my mother and my aunt were sewing and commenting what was happening in that day’s episode. When I didn’t want to take a nap that was the only option; you couldn’t go out, you couldn’t make noises and you COULDN’T CHANGE the channel to watch something else. Still now, when I go back home to visit my mom, she would have a break in her chores around 4pm to watch a telenovela – and don’t you dare try to change the channel!

Telenovelas time 2

The major producer of telenovelas was always Venezuela, especially, in the 80’s and 90’s. During that time, every Venezuelan had participated or known someone who had participated in a telenovela. Classic ones are Topacio (the blind-orphaned girl who is the true heir of a rich family) or Kassandra (a story of gypsies, twins, revenge and romance). It was a huge industry. However, after Hugo Chavez took the Venezuelan Presidency, this changed due to his control of the media.

Telenovelas time  Telenovelas time2

The weakness of Venezuelan production gave the opportunity for Colombia to take over the Telenovelas throne. This country became an important producer with great successes such as “Yo soy Betty, la fea”, with dozens versions in the world, like the American version “Ugly Betty”; or the popular “Pasión de Gavilanes” (Passion of Hawks), full of cumbias to listen and dance.

Here you can see the opening credits and theme song  to “Pasión de Gavilanes”

We cannot also forget the important contribution made by Mexico since the very beginning, with the classic “Los ricos también lloran” (The Rich Also Cry, 1979) and during the 90’s when all the telenovelas starred the singer Thalía, like “María, la del barrio”until today when most of the telenovelas are broadcast in the USA.

However, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Spain and every Hispanic country has its own production of telenovelas, in which they show their cities, landscapes, festivities, gastronomy, social problems, and their own particular Spanish.

Telenovelas can be clichéd or predictive, but I think they are a very entertaining way to learn different Hispanic cultures and accents, because they show authentic native Spanish with regional accents and colloquialisms.

Do you know any of the telenovelas mentioned in this blog?

Have you ever been hooked on one of these telenovelas? Where was it from? What was it about?

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  1. Andi Amistadi

    Being from Argentina I was literally brought up watching telenovelas. When I was little around 3pm the world would stop for an hour while my mum, my grandma, my sister and I were completely hooked watching Thalia being rescued from poverty for the fourth time by a rich man and finding eternal happiness.

    Let´s keep this between us but I must confess I used to be a huge Thalia fan and I watched all her telenovelas, being ‘María la del barrio’ and ‘Marimar’ my favourite ones. ‘Pasión de gavilanes’ was the last one I watched but I claim my grandma dragged me into it after all, watching three hot guys taking their shirts off while taking care of a ranch is totally not my thing ☺

    We all know life is not a fairy tale so why people like telenovelas so much when stories tend to be quite absurd? I guess they give people hope. In countries where poverty, crime, corruption and social injustice are part of the daily life going away from reality for an hour and letting you dream of a better world makes lot of sense. In my opinion boys have famous footballers to admire and girls telenovelas’ heroines.

    • Maciej

      YouTube has got quite a few of them at the moment though I suspect it’s hard to find full series 🙂 I had a look at 4/5 episodes of ”Herencia De Amor”. As you say sometimes the story line is a little out of reality but if this is what people watch and enjoy then no more questions 🙂 I think you are 100% correct about the kind of switch that puts people in a different world when they reach out for the tv remote. Perhaps turning attention away from the problems that concern us in our daily lives is achieved differently in various parts of the world 🙂 Latin America has telenovelas and football and that’s a great way to divert attention- much better than seeing unhappy people on the streets of Europe chasing time and money 🙂

    • Irina Soltani

      It is so funny Andi, I am still watching the new telenovelas.
      It is a very good way of learning Spanish 🙂

  2. Inés Fernández

    ¡Telenovelas! ¡Me encantan! I think they are a very important part of Hispanic culture, not only the sometimes old-fashioned story plots, but also that ‘family gathering moment’ you talked about and I can understand so well. I must say I watched ‘Betty, la fea’ from beginning to end; and I also watched some episodes of ‘Kassandra’ and ‘Pasión de Gavilanes’ (out of the probably two hundred they had!). I think it can be great fun and also a good way to learn and practise Spanish. The worldwide distribution of telenovelas helped a lot to spread the language and the culture. Apparently, Kassandra was a hit in former Yugoslavia!! Here you can find some more reasons to watch telenovelas in order to improve your Spanish ¡Gracias Elena por traerme estos recuerdos!

  3. Cristina Padovano

    This is so funny Elena! In my house used to be exactly the same: watching telenovelas while sewing with my mum and my grandma.

    My favourite one was “Agujetas de color de rosa” (I think is Mexican). I was about 5 years old so I wouln’t get much of what was going on but I loved dancing to the intro song:

    I remember that time of the day as a really peaceful moment, I kinda forgot about it… so thank you for reminding me of it!

    I have to say that I never thought about a reason for this telenovelas to exist as I was really young. But what Andi says about it being a way to escape reality makes a lot of sense.

    A lot of my friends were obssesed with Pasión de Gavilanes and although I haven’t watched it I’ve heard is good so if you can find it in the link that Inés shared, have a go, you may love it!

  4. Viktoria

    Oh my God,Telenovelas!!! They were a big thing in my house too(although I come from Greece) ..!
    My mother and I used to sit together and watch, it was our time of the day.. It all started with ‘Esmeralda’ and then the list got loooong: La gata, La usurpadora, María la del Barrio, Rosalinda, Marimar, Muñeca Brava, Sos mi vida, Ricos y Famosos, Kachorra, Verano del ’98, Rebelde Way, Chiquititas, Cuidado con el ángel , Floricienta ,Juana la virgen (which like ‘Yo soy Betty, la fea’ (Ugly Betty) got an american version too as ‘Jane the virgin). I think María la del Barrio and Muñeca Brava were my favorite and then any telenovela Diego César Ramos was in…hahhaha!
    Oh, I so love telenovelas…There is always secrets and twists and a bad/mean person who wants to ruin someones happiness but in the end love and good conquer all!!!

    I kind of miss them… Maybe I should go back to telenovelas asap! 😉
    Thank you so much Elena for this post!!!

  5. Diana Pollan

    Very interesting! I have a Romenian friend who loves telenovelas and she learnt Spanish just watching them. Apparentely South American telenovelas are very popular in Romania.

  6. nikki

    I watched Ugly Betty, Mexican version! 🙂

  7. Sam

    Great post! I am currently learning Spanish in Melbourne, Australia (very much a beginner!). I started watching a telenovela, that I believe aired last year on Telemundo called En Otra Piel? I only recently wrote a post about it myself – in a vain attempt to lure my friends into watching it with me! ( Not only is En Otra Piel extremely entertaining, but I am also learning so much vocabulary. And it is getting me used to listening to different people speak Spanish. I do rely on the subtitles a lot, because I am only a beginner, but it is definitely helping to reinforce what I am learning. Plus, it’s just so much fun to watch!