So, you’ve been told you need to improve your English listening skills but the idea of spending hours listening to BBC news fills you with horror. Not to worry, we’ve come up with a great list of shows (in both British and American English) to help you improve your vocabulary and have fun at the same time! These amazing English language series are the perfect accompaniment to your online English course.
TV Series in American English
Okay, so this is an obvious one. But the chances are you’ve already watched Friends once or twice in your native language. In which case, when you start watching it in English it’ll be much easier to follow because you already know the storyline.
Vocabulary to look out for: “We were on a break”
Meaning: A ‘break’ is when two people in a relationship are separated for a period of time.
2. Grace and Frankie
Grace and Frankie follows the story of an unlikely friendship between two older women after their husbands leave them. Not only is this show completely hilarious and totally cute, but it also has super short episodes making it easy for people new to learning English!
Vocabulary to look out for: “Del Taco”
Meaning: A Mexican fast food chain in the United States that is Frankie's favourite place to eat.
3. Brooklyn 99
Brooklyn 99 is a fun twist on a regular American “cop show.” It’s a lighthearted sitcom made up of short 30-minute episodes and adorable characters. The fast-paced comedy might be a little hard to understand at first, but after series one, you’ll be speaking like a real Brooklynite (person from Brooklyn, NY).
Vocabulary to look out for: “Noice”
Means: 'Nice' spoken with emphasis. It refers to something exceeding the limit of nice, i.e. something really, really nice.
4. Stranger Things
You’ve probably heard of the addictive SCI-FI series, Stranger Things, but have you thought about watching in its original English? Yes, some of the kids’ slang words might be a little bit hard to understand, but, in general, children speak a lot slower and clearer than adults, making the series pretty easy to follow.
Vocabulary to look out for: “The Upside Down”
Refers to: The parallel universe that is opened in the show. You can also get started with this awesome guide to Stranger Things slang from Collins Dictionary.
5. Russian Doll
When Nadia gets trapped in a Groundhog Day loop she ends up learning a lot about herself and the people around her. Although this might seem like a bizarre choice for a TV show to help you learn English, the repetitive storyline actually makes this show a lot easier to understand. Not forgetting the fact that it’s super addictive!
Vocabulary to look out for: "Sweet Birthday Baby"
Signifies: When her friend wishes her "Happy Birthday," it signifies the start of the loop in the show's story.
6. Jane the Virgin
For Spanish speakers, there’s probably no better show for improving your English than Jane the Virgin. The show follows the life of a young Latina woman who is accidentally artificially inseminated. If this sounds like the plot of a telenovela, then you’re right. Jane the Virgin is based on the Venezuelan soap Juana la Virgen and a couple of the characters in the show even speak Spanish- so there’s no need to get overwhelmed if you’re an English beginner.
Vocabulary to look out for: “Grilled cheese”
Meaning: A fried cheese sandwich, which is Jane's favourite food in the show.
7. The Good Place
Although the premise for the good place might be a little strange, it takes place in a fictional ‘Good Place’ that represents heaven, the Good Place is a great show for improving your English vocabulary. As well as its fairly slow-moving plot, many of the stories are repeated- making it the perfect starting point for someone new to English TV.
Vocabulary to look out for: "Forked up"
Meaning: You can’t swear in the 'Good Place', so common bad language is replaced by similar sounding words.
8. Modern Family
Like with ‘Stranger Things’, the best thing about learning English with Modern Family is that most of the cast are children. With the kids speaking a lot slower and using simpler vocabulary, you’ll find it easy to learn English with this hilarious show. The cast also explains a lot of English phrases to Colombian Gloria (played by Sofia Vergara).
Vocabulary to look out for: "Male cheerleader"
Meaning: Cheerleaders are performers at American Football games who are normally female. The joke in the show is that Phill was a male cheerleader in college.
British English TV Series
So this may be one for Advanced English speakers, but there’s no better introduction to the vast range of different British accents than Misfits. This SCI-FI/drama has main characters from all over the British Isles including Yorkshire, Derby, London and Ireland so is a great way to test your listening skills.
Vocabulary to look out for: "Pic n Mix"
Meaning: A selection of sweets you choose yourself.
2. The Crown
What better way is there to learn ‘the Queen’s English’ than from the Queen herself? The Crown follows the life of Queen Elizabeth from coronation to modern times as she deals with the pressures of life in the royal family. Not only will you pick up an incredibly posh British accent, but you’ll also learn loads about the history of the British monarchy.
Vocabulary to look out for: “Sovereign”
Means: a supreme ruler.
3. Downton Abbey
Much like the Crown, if you find ‘the Queen’s English’ easiest to understand then Downton Abbey is the perfect TV show for you. Despite being set in Yorkshire, all of the character’s speak with clipped, posh British accents making it easy to follow the show’s plot.
Vocabulary to look out for: “Squiffy”
Meaning: An old-fashioned way of saying slightly drunk. You can also check out these Downton Abbey phrases for advanced learners.
4. The Great British Bake Off
The Great British Bake Off is an excellent example of British Television. Twelve amateur bakers compete for the title of Britain’s best baker. There’s drama, competition and a lot of innuendos. Not only will you learn a lot about British food, but you’ll also learn a lot about British humour on the way!
Vocabulary to look out for: "Soggy bottom"
Meaning: This is a regular joke on the show with a double meaning. When the bottom of a cake isn't cooked properly it goes 'soggy,' meaning wet. But a 'soggy bottom' also means that your bum is wet.
5. Call the Midwife
Call the Midwife follows the lives of British midwives in the 1950s and deals with a lot of issues that British women faced in the 20th century. The cast speak clearly and slowly, helping you to understand the story - you’ll also find out a lot about the history of the UK!
Vocabulary to look out for: "An old hand"
Meaning: A person with lots of experience and expertise.
Get to know an iconic British literary character in a fun and modern format. Although Benedict Cumberbatch might speak pretty quickly, the show is a great example of British Television that you’ll find too captivating to turn off.
Vocabulary to look out for: There’s plenty of new words to learn in Sherlock, but you can get started with this fab video guide to the show’s vocabulary.
7. Killing Eve
Killing Eve is an intense and addictive spy-drama that has won multiple awards at both the BAFTAs and the Golden Globes. But aside from this, with Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy) speaking in a clear, Canadian accent and Jodie Comer speaking slowly with a Belgian twang, it’s also a great show to start improving your English vocabulary.
Vocabulary to look out for: “You should never call a psychopath a psychopath”
Meaning: A psychopath is someone suffering from a mental disorder, but saying this to them would upset them.
Tips for using TV series and Netflix to learn English
- Choose shows with shorter episodes so that you don’t get too overwhelmed with all the new vocabulary.
- Watch the TV shows with English subtitles NOT subtitles in your own language. Reading and listening to English at the same time is the best way to get your brain to absorb new vocabulary.
- Try not to pause and look up words you don’t understand, as this will stop you from enjoying the plot. Instead, try and work out the word’s meaning from the show’s context.
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