Category Archives: Telenovela Spanish

A Linguistic Analysis of Telenovela Spanish - What are the most frequent phrases in telenovelas?

A Very Informal Corpus Linguistic Analysis of Telenovela Spanish: Pasión y Poder

A Linguistic Analysis of Telenovela Spanish, or How this Nerdy Linguist Spent her Friday Night

Ever since I discovered that Univision started including transcripts of their telenovelas online, I had been wanting to experiment with the free corpus linguistics software AntConc to analyze the most common phrases used in telenovela Spanish. I chose Pasión y Poder because it had the most transcripts still available on the website, even though I rarely watched it. It was a fairly typical telenovela, unlike El Hotel de Los Secretos or Yago, with plenty of fighting and drama and a (mostly) happy ending. Unfortunately Telemundo does not provide transcripts of their telenovelas (which tend to be better) which is a shame since I’d love to analyze the language of La Esclava Blanca, a Colombian telenovela set in the mid 1800’s.

Here’s how I created the corpus and found the most frequent phrases, if you feel inclined to be as nerdy…

How to be a linguistics/telenovela nerd:

  1. Downloading the html files was easy and quick thanks to the DownThemAll add-on for Firefox and the fact that the URL of each episode only differs by the number so I was able to use batch descriptors. (I know webscraping is possible with Python, but my programming knowledge is still pretty basic and I knew that I could get the files with the add-on in about 20 seconds.)
  2. Then I needed to find a way to extract the text from all of the <p> tags – since the transcript was the only text enclosed in these tags in all of the html code – and create text files for each episode. I managed to find some Python/BeautifulSoup code online after an hour of searching that did what I needed, after a couple tweaks, a few tears, and many error messages.
  3. Finally, I loaded all the text files into AntConc and played around with the Clusters/N-Grams option and N-Gram Size to find the most frequent phrases between five and ten words.

NEW! Watch a video explaining the steps:

Most Frequent Phrases in Pasión y Poder

So here are the most frequent phrases used in Pasión y Poder, starting with ten word phrases and ending with five word phrases. Keep in mind that some of the phrases are typically Mexican, and some are overly dramatic because, well, they’re from a telenovela!

  • A ver, a ver, a ver, a ver, a ver. (A ver is usually translated as let’s see, but I have no idea what a good translation for this many a vers together would be in natural English.)
  • No te metas en lo que no te importa. (Don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong./Mind your own business.)
  • No sabes el gusto que me da que… (You don’t know how happy it makes me that…)
    ¿No te das cuenta? ¿No te das cuenta? (Don’t you realize? Don’t you realize?)
  • Esto no se va a quedar así. (This isn’t over. [said as a threat of revenge])
    No me lo tomes a mal, pero… (Don’t take this the wrong way, but…)
  • … lo que te voy a decir. (… what I’m going to tell you.)
    Lo único que quiero es que… (The only thing I want is that…)
    No, eso no va a pasar. (No, that is not going to happen.)
    No tiene nada que ver con… (It has nothing to do with…)
    Lo que pasa es que no…  (What is happening is that … not)
    No te lo voy a perdonar. (I’m not going to forgive you for it.)
    No te voy a permitir que… (I won’t allow you to…)
    Eres el amor de mi vida. (You are the love of my life.)
    No tiene la culpa de nada. (S/he is not guilty of anything.)
    A pesar de todo, lo que… (In spite of everything, what…)
    Creo que lo mejor es que… (I think the best thing is that/to…)
    Lo que me preocupa es que… (What worries me is that…)
    Lo único que espero es que… (The only thing I hope is that…)
  • Todo va a estar bien. (Everything will be fine.)
    Me da mucho gusto que… (I’m very happy that…)
    No voy a dejar que… (I’m not going to let…)
    No, por supuesto que no. (No, of course not.)
    ¿Que fue lo que pasó? (What happened?)
    Sí, lo sé, lo sé. (Yes, I know, I know.)
    Ya me tengo que ir. (I have to go now.)
    No me importa lo que… (I don’t care what…)
    … lo que vas a hacer. (…what you’re going to do.)
    Te pido por favor que… (I am asking you please to…)
    Ya me di cuenta que… (I already realized that…)
    De una vez por todas. (Once and for all.)
    ¿No te das cuenta que…? (Don’t you realize that…?)
    Yo no tengo nada que… (I have nothing that…)
    Y lo peor es que… (And the worst is that…)

Telenovela Battle of Screams and Insults

I was also interested in finding out which words I heard yelled all the time were more frequent:

In the battle suéltame (let go of me) vs. lárgate (get out), the winner is: ¡lárgate! (59 vs. 61)

And in the battle infeliz (fool) vs. desgraciado (bastard), the winner is: ¡infeliz! (74 vs. 69)

However, the winner of them all was ¡No puede ser! (It can’t be!) with a frequency count of 151.

So what have we learned?

To sum up, Telenovela Spanish is hilarious and corpus linguistics is amazing.

If you’d like to learn more about Corpus Linguistics, there is a great free Corpus Linguistics MOOC at Futurelearn and the hands-on exercises in the new textbook Practical Corpus Linguistics will get you started with AntConc, plus there are tutorials on Youtube on how to use this software. If you’re interested in learning Python, try Dr. Chuck’s Python for Everybody lessons.

Mexican Slang I Learned By Binge-Watching Telenovelas

Mexican Slang I Learned By Binge-Watching Telenovelas: ¿Quién es Quién?

I’ve recently been binge-watching the Telemundo telenovela ¿Quién es Quién? to learn more Mexican slang. Comedic telenovelas often use tons of informal expressions and slang words compared to the more dramatic ones, but the characters also talk really fast so you’ll most likely need access to the subtitles and the internet to look up words in order to really understand much. I use and Así to find definitions. Not all of the following words and phrases are considered slang, but they are words that I never learned from books and thought were useful, especially if they have other meanings in addition to the informal one.

¿Quién es Quién? has now finished its run on Telemundo, but you can watch the episodes online with Spanish subtitles, though they are probably geo-blocked to the US. Episodes 1-61 plus 91 are 45 minutes long, while episodes 62-90 are 90 minutes long. The best way to watch the episodes is through the Telemundo Now website or app, but I believe you need to log in with your cable subscriber. The full episodes are still available on Telemundo’s regular website that doesn’t require you to log in, but beware that episode 27 is actually episode 25 again, and all the 90 minute episodes have the parts out of order – all parts 2 and 3 should actually be the final two parts. I’m not sure when the videos will be removed from the regular site, but they should remain for some time on the Now site. Plus you can always skip around and read English language recaps at El Cohete to get caught up.

Mexican Slang Vocabulary from ¿Quién es Quién?

aguafiestas – spoilsport, party pooper, wet blanket

andar de parranda – to be out partying; go out on the town

apapachar – to spoil, indulge

babosada – nonsense; stupid thing

baboso – stupid, silly

bajeza – vile deed, nasty thing to do

berrinche – tantrum, fit

billullo – money

bola – lie, fib / ball, marble, scoop of ice cream

bote – jail / container / small boat / bounce / jackpot

bronca – fight, quarrel, scolding

burrada – nonsense / a lot of

callejón sin salida – dead-end; problem without a solution

canijo – untrustworthy / good at sports / weak, sickly, puny

carnal – brother, buddy, pal

chafa – lame, shoddy, cheap

chamba – job, work / fluke, pure chance

chambear – to work

chela – beer

chido – fantastic, cool

chorro – loads, tons / stream, jet

chueco – crooked, dodgy, illegal

chulo – pretty, good-looking

coscolino – playboy, womanizer

cuate – friend, buddy, mate

cursi – sickly sweet, corny

dar carpetazo – to put an end to

despachar – to finish off, bump off

dizque – so-called, supposed

encuerada – stripper; nude

entero – calm, collected, have it together

fanfarrón – show-off

feria – money, change, coins / fair, festival

flojo – slacker, deadbeat, good for nothing

fregada – mess, mix-up

fregar – to mess with, hurt, ruin

fulano – so-and-so, what’s-his-name

gacho – mean, nasty, cruel, unlucky, ugly

gandalla – thug, scoundrel, lowlife

gatada – sly trick

jalarse – to run, hurry, rush, dash

jarabe de pico – sweet talk, verbal persuasion

lana – money

lata – bother, nuisance, hassle / tin, can

matón – thug, brute, bully

méndigo – despicable, terrible, loathsome [not to be confused with mendigo – beggar, panhandler]

menso – stupid, silly, dumb

mono – cute, adorable / overalls / cravings / monkey [not be confused with moño – bow, ribbon / bun (in hair) / sweet bun (pastry)]

morra / morrita – girl

mujeriego – playboy, womanizer

neta – truth

padre – good, great

pelado – lowlife / peel, skin / bare, empty, bald

picaflor – playboy, womanizer

piropo – flirtatious remark

pleito – fight

raite – ride, lift (in car) [this is very American/Northern Mexican Spanish; you can also use aventón]

re- / rete- – very, a lot

ruca – old lady, spinster

tarado – idiot, fool, moron / crazy, loony

tarugada – nonsense, stupid thing

tarugo – stupid (blockhead as a noun)

tener la espina clavada – to be dying to do something

trago – drink, sip, gulp / hard time

trepadora – social climber


Reductions in Spanish Speech

‘tá instead of está

‘perate instead of esperate

pa’ instead of para

Estamos? instead of estamos de acuerdo?


Phrases and Expressions

¿a poco no? – isn’t it, don’t they, etc. [general tag question]; isn’t that right?

ahueca el ala – beat it; get out of here!

al grano – get to the point

hijole – gosh! wow! jeez!

me lleva – damn it!

me vale gorro – I don’t give a damn!

menos mal – just as well; lucky for me

ni hablar – let’s not even go there/talk about it

ni que ocho cuartos – my foot! yeah right!

o sea – I mean; in other words

vé tú a saber – who knows; your guess is as good as mine

yo qué sé – don’t ask me!


Cultural Notes

The emergency number 911 is pronounced nueve once.

When answering phone calls, most characters said si, bueno? or si, diga?


¿Quién es Quién? is set in Los Angeles, but was largely filmed in Miami in case you’re wondering why some house doors open outwards (a Florida building code for hurricane safety).

Ugly Betty Adaptations and Other Telenovelas for Language Learning

The Telenovela Method, as explained by Andrew, is a great way to learn languages quickly, which a recent study suggests actually helps your brain grow. The main reason I like this method is the authenticity of language and culture which is usually lacking from language learning resources. Finding subtitles to go along with the movies or TV series can be a problem though, especially with telenovelas.

Ugly Betty Adaptations in Spanish

The most famous telenovela and the original Ugly Betty, Yo soy Betty, la fea, was made in Colombia and you can watch all of the episodes (many with subtitles in Spanish and English) at The European Spanish version, Yo soy Bea, also has a quite a few episodes on though not all have Spanish subtitles yet.

The Mexican version, La Fea Más Bella, is available on DVD through as a shortened/edited version with English subtitles only.

Ugly Betty Adaptations and Other Telenovelas for Language Learning Mexican version of Ugly Betty

Mexican Telenovelas

If you are interested in using Mexican telenovelas to learn Spanish, I highly recommend Las Tontas No Van al Cielo. It is actually better than La Fea Más Bella, even funnier and much more addictive. The DVD available on is, of course, a shortened version of just over 15 hours but the editing was actually done quite well. There was only one storyline that I don’t remember seeing the end to, but everything else made sense.

Ugly Betty Adaptations and Other Telenovelas for Language Learning Best telenovela ever.

The male lead is Jaime Camil, who was also the male lead in La Fea Más Bella. The female lead is Jacqueline Bracamontes… who also had a small role in La Fea Más Bella. I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that the theme song, Esto es lo que soy, is sung by Jesse y Joy, my favorite Mexican band.

Ugly Betty Adaptations and Other Telenovelas for Language LearningThis dude is hilarious.

If you prefer to have actual DVDs so you’re not stuck in front of a computer all the time, there are a lot of Mexican televenovelas sold on for less than $10 each. They will be the edited versions because the full versions that aired on TV are more than 100 hours long and that is a LOT of DVDs. They tend to only have English subtitles but their price is rather cheap for how many hours of Spanish you’ll get to hear. If you don’t mind using the computer, Andrew also has lists of sites for watching Spanish-language TV online as well as Spanish videos with Spanish subtitles.

Ugly Betty Adaptations in Languages Other than Spanish

For Portuguese, Brazil has Bela, a Feia and many clips can also be found on Youtube. There are no French or Italian versions, but Germany has Verliebt in Berlin and you can get the (many) DVDs which include every single episode on from third-party sellers (region 2 only though!).

There are two versions in Dutch, Sara from Flemish-speaking Belgium and Lotte from the Netherlands. A few clips from Sara can be found on VTM’s site and LotteTVChannel is still uploading all of the episodes of Lotte to Youtube. Plus Lars Oostveen is the male lead. You should recognize him as Sam Scott, a.k.a the American, from the Extr@ series. Now you get to hear him speak his native language.

Ugly Betty Adaptations and Other Telenovelas for Language Learning

And he’s instantly ten times cuter when he speaks Dutch.

A few other adaptations of Ugly Betty exist in languages such as Greek, Croatian, Polish, Russian, Tagalog, Mandarin, etc. but I don’t think they’re available on DVD. Some clips may be available online though.

Update: Learn Spanish by Watching Telenovelas (with recommendations for more telenovelas to watch)