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The 5 best TV shows for learning English

Ready to watch some TV in English? This can be a great activity to help you unwind but you’ll still learn something, even if it’s just a word or phrase. One piece of general advice about choosing a programme is to look for something you’ve seen before in your first language, that way you know the plot, and even some catchphrases (phrases that certain characters repeat, usually in comedies). Streaming services like Netflix have a huge variety of English language programmes or foreign language programmes which are dubbed into English, and you can choose what language you want your subtitles to be in as well. You might want to watch the same episode a couple of times, changing the dubbing (a voiceover in a different language) and subtitle settings. Below, I’ll make a few suggestions on which programmes you might want to start with and explain why I’ve chosen them.

1. Friends

This famous American comedy is a great place to start, as it has been broadcast all over the world in many different languages, so the plots, characters and catchphrases will very likely be familiar to you. Many learners of English also find the American accent easier to understand, because American culture and TV is so popular internationally. Even if this is your first time watching, try it with English audio and subtitles.

2. The Good Place

The concept of this American comedy is a little strange (people stuck in heaven), but it’s a good show to start with because the characters speak clearly. The plot moves slowly, and many storylines are repeated from a different perspective. Try this one in English with English subtitles.

3. The Crown

This historical drama has been extremely popular since it came out, with recognizable characters like the Queen, Charles, Diana, William, and Harry. It’s a great way to learn about British history (though remember that it’s not all factual!) and the RP (received pronunciation – the Queen’s English) accent is clear and easy to understand. Remember though, that almost no one in the UK speaks like the members of the royal family do!

4. Downton Abbey

Another drama about the English upper classes. The characters speaking with an RP accent which makes them easy to understand. The servants have regional accents, which can be more difficult, so make sure you watch this with English subtitles on as well.

5.The Great British Bake Off

Once you’re feeling confident with TV in English, give this baking programme a try! As well as picking up lots of verbs and adjectives for cooking, you’ll get an idea of the British sense of humour, with plenty of innuendos (words or phrases with two meanings) and self-deprecation (gently criticising yourself).

Shows to avoid until you’re really confident:

Standup comedy: any special by a comedian is very difficult for learners. They often have a regional accent, speak quickly and use advanced comedy techniques like sarcasm, innuendo and wordplay.

Peaky Blinders: this is a great show but most of the characters have a strong Black Country (Birmingham) accent, which I find hard to follow at times.

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