Why watch TV series in English?
Have you ever heard of Leon Boden? Probably the answer is No but if your native language is German, you may have heard his voice, if not his name. Mr. Boden was the brilliant voice-over artist who synchronized Denzel Washington and Jason Statham for the German versions of their movies. Unfortunately, he passed away only weeks ago, leaving millions of German TV enthusiasts without one of their favorite voices.
Watching movies and TV series in the original language doesn’t only help you prevent an awkward adjustment when the synchronizer of a famous actor changes. It also gives you the right to become one of these well-loved people who constantly say “It really loses so much in the translation” or “OMG, it’s so much funnier and deeper in the original”.
In case that’s not enough of a reason for you to switch to the original, we have a few more:
- You learn to understand real people in what could be real-life conversations
- You build up your vocabulary with words, phrases and slang
- You familiarize yourself with different accents
- You learn about the culture of the place in which the show is situated
- You’ll enjoy the learning experience (well, at least if you go with our list)
How to go about it?
Before you get started with your new favorite TV series to learn English, we want to give you 3 things to keep in mind to get the most out of it:
- Feel free to turn on subtitles at first but try to get rid of them at some point. Use English substiles. Only resort to subtitles in your own language if you can’t follow the show AT ALL. This will get you used to the pronunciation while making sure you don’t get fully lost. Once you start feeling comfortable, turn the subtitles off. Even if you understand 20% less, you will still be able to follow. Your English will benefit a ton and you will also gain confidence because you’ll inevitably notice that you can actually understand what’s going on. It’s important to keep yourself on your toes. When you understand everything it’s a sign that you’re not learning anything new.
- You can start out by watching a show that you had previously watched in your native language but try to watch a new one soon. Just switching the language of a show you have already seen can be a great start because it will make it easier for you to understand. However, do move to new shows before you’re at the point where you’re 100% comfortable. Remember, keeping yourself out of your comfort zone is key to ensuring an effective learning experience.
- Apply what you learn in conversations. It’s great that you’re improving your understanding with TV series. But don’t shy away from using your new skills and becoming active. Even if things don’t come out the way they’re in your head, this is the only way to become truly fluent. If you want to learn to have a conversation in English, listening alone won’t cut it – so whether it’s with friends or tutors, be sure to get speaking!
What TV series to watch?
Now where to get started? Well, the first thing you need is the right show that suits both your preferences and your English level. We recommend a bunch of great TV shows to learn English below and to help you find the right one for yourself, we throw in some key info for each and every one. You may look for something where you can binge 200 episodes, or a mini-series. American accents or British accents. A comedy show or a drama. If you know what you’re looking for, just check out the summary table and then jump to the show(s) that fulfill(s) your criteria. If you’re open to anything, you may want to go through the list with more detailed descriptions.
Now with no further ado, here’s our list of the best TV series to learn English with. Depending on where you are in the world, the platform on which you can watch these shows may vary. If you want to check where a specific show can be streamed in your country, you can do so here. If you want to find out in which country Netflix is showing a specific show (for instance if you were using a VPN), you can do so here.
|Series||Main accent||Difficulty||Genre||# of episodes||Ø length||Sbique Top-10|
|The Big Bang Theory||American||Easy||Comedy||232||20min|
|How I Met Your Mother||American||Easy||Comedy||208||20min|
|Malcolm In The Middle||American||Easy||Comedy||151||20min|
|Grey’s Anatomy||American||Easy||Drama (Medical)||363||40min|
|The O.C.||American||Easy||Drama (Teen)||92||40min|
|Tiger King||American||Medium||Documentary (True Crime)||8||45min|
|The Morning Show||American||Medium||Drama||10||60min|
|Orange Is The New Black||American||Medium||Drama (Comedy)||65||60min|
|Breaking Bad||American||Medium||Drama (Crime)||62||45min|
|When They See Us||American||Medium||Drama (Historical)||4||60min|
|The People vs. O.J. Simpson||American||Medium||Drama (True Crime)||10||60min|
|The Handmaid’s Tale||American||Hard||Speculative Fiction||36||60min|
|House Of Cards||American||Hard||Thriller (Political)||73||55min|
|Peaky Blinders||British||Medium||Drama (Crime)||30||60min|
|Downton Abbey||British||Medium||Drama (Historical)||52||60min|
|The Crown||British||Medium||Drama (Historical)||30||60min|
|Game Of Thrones||British||Hard||Drama (Fantasy)||60||60min|
Best American TV series to learn English
Arguably THE best TV show to learn English out there. It’s funny, it’s witty, it’s relatable and people speak about everyday life and everyday problems, making it relatively easy to understand. The show ran from 1994-2004 but neither the humor nor the vocab is out of date. Available on Netflix in many regions (though not anymore in the U.S.)
The Big Bang Theory
Still one of the most popular shows on TV, TBBT is another great “gateway show” that works well as the first series you watch in English. The pronunciation of the characters is clear and, being a comedy show, the story isn’t too complex so you’re fine even if you don’t understand everything. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get some of the scientific jargon – most likely, you wouldn’t get it in your native language either.
How I Met Your Mother
This show has been described as the “modern day Friends” and in fact, there are a lot of parallels. There’s even a video of how HIMYM has “ripped off” Friends (you can find it here). What they definitely do have in common is that they’re both hilarious and quite easy to understand. However, unlike Friends, How I Met Your Mother becomes worse, not better, as the seasons go on. So don’t feel bad if you don’t make it to the end.
The first comedy show we introduce that doesn’t have a laugh track (you know, people off camera laughing at jokes just at the right moment). The first episode is a killer – if you don’t like that one, you won’t like the show altogether. The show actually goes into some of the detail of the English language as one of the main characters is not a native speaker. Just a heads-up though, it gets a bit repetitive after six or seven seasons.
Like Modern Family, Scrubs is hilarious without needing a laugh track. It’s definitely deeper than some of the previously mentioned shows and may not only get you laughing but also thinking or even crying at times. Some of the characters tend to speak quite fast (looking at you, Dr. Reid) but all in all it’s still relatively easy to follow.
Malcolm In The Middle
A real classic of American comedy. The show follows Malcolm, a genius kid, and his crazy working-class family (the dad is played by the great Bryan Cranston). Throwing in a challenge here: try to figure out the last name of the family just by watching the show (no Google allowed). No laugh track here either.
Leaving the world of American comedy, we come to a real institution of 21st century TV. With a whopping 363 episodes of about 40 minutes, Grey’s Anatomy is one of the shows with the longest screen time on the planet. So if you’re looking to binge, you definitely can. Since the show has been on for so long it’s ever-evolving with old characters dying off and new ones joining all the time. That’s why some people will tell you the show got better or the show got worse or it got worse and then better. All in all definitely worth watching (if you have a lot of time).
The only American teen drama on our list and so much better than One Tree Hill, Dawson’s Creek and all the others. The show is both hilarious and deep but make no mistake, if you’re just not into teen dramas you won’t be into this one either. Lots of modern, everyday life vocabulary and our favorite choice of easy, non-comedy, shows to watch.
What would a list like this be without a classical crime show? The profiler team of Criminal Minds solves one complex crime after the other – 40 minutes at a time. The vocab is a bit less casual than in the previously listed shows and the plot of every episode is a bit more complex.
Surely the weirdest show on this list. Kind of a documentary but not quite like you may imagine. Great if you want some exposure to American Southern accent. We’ll leave it at that.
The Morning Show
Genius! Casts a light on the MeToo movement from all kinds of angles. It’s fun, it’s dramatic and it makes it really hard for you to turn off. With Steve Carrell, Jennifer Anniston and Reese Witherspoon, the cast is way up there. Season 2 is supposed to come out in November so if you want to binge, you may want to hold your horses until then.
Orange Is The New Black
Never actually seen this one but everyone always talks about it so it must be really good 😉
The #4 best rated TV show ever on IMDb. Bryan Cranston (you may know him from Malcolm in the Middle) has received endless praise for his role and rightly so. The story of him slowly going from nice family father to ruthless drug lord is captivating. It can feel a bit slow at times and doesn’t necessarily make you stay up until 3am but that doesn’t mean it’s not brilliant.
When They See Us
A historical drama that has no equal, covering the 1989 Central Park jogger case. You’ll want to watch it in one go but at the same time it will make you want to turn off the TV because it’s so inconvenient to watch. Not something for a light and fun evening but 100% a show that you won’t forget so easily. Special recommendation!
The last “hospital show” on our list and quite a special one. It’s funny but not a comedy like Scrubs. It’s a drama but not as overly focused on relationships and, well, drama as Grey’s Anatomy. House is all about moral conflicts, difficult choices and being rational rather than emotional. Another show that can spark a discussion between viewers and another special recommendation.
The People vs. O.J. Simpson
This true-crime drama narrates the story of former football star O.J. Simpson and his court case over the murder of his wife. The dialogue can be a bit hard to follow but you don’t have to be completely fluent to watch it. Just like When They See Us, it will get you thinking about some of the more serious topics in life.
This is a bit of a weird one. It’s not quite like anything else you’ve ever seen. The real asset of the show is the main characters – almost all of them are kids. If you’re wondering why everyone is talking about Millie Bobby Brown, this show is your answer. A Netflix Original and as such available on Netflix (almost) everywhere.
Westworld is not easy to follow even in your own language so don’t get frustrated if the original is difficult to watch. The series depicts a dystopian future, in which Artificial Intelligence is so near-human that it’s hard to say whether or not it’s still artificial. This very discussion is the essence of the show so if you’re into the Simulation Hypothesis then this is for you. The computers in Westworld definitely pass the Turing Test…
The Handmaid’s Tale
Based on a book by the same name, the Handmaid’s Tale depicts a dystopian future where fertility rates drop and a theocratic group takes over the Unites States, forcing some women to become concubines. Not the most light-hearted show out there but it does cast a light on some interesting social issues and the action is so palpitating, you won’t want to turn it off!
House Of Cards
The very first and one of the most successful Netflix originals. A political thriller that Barack Obama himself admitted to watching on a regular basis. Classified as “Hard” not because the characters are so hard to understand but because the story is a bit complex at times. The show takes a surprising turn when its main actor Kevin Spacey leaves. Definitely worth watching, especially if you’re into scheming and politics.
Best British TV series to learn English
A great start to your journey of improving your understanding of British English. Every episode follows one particular character and explores topics like depression, (adolescent) sex, gender, bullying and death. The name of the show is derived from the British slang word for cigarette rolling papers, or “skins”.
If you don’t appreciate crude humor, you won’t appreciate this show. But if you want to immerse yourself into what many people would call classic, British humor, then this is for you. It can be immature, it can be disgusting but it’s always fun. Not super easy to understand when you’re not familiar with British (teen) slang but the plot is not complex so you’ll be fine. In some countries, you can even access it via the official website of BBC.
Set in Birmingham, England, in 1919, you won’t learn a whole lot of modern slang in this show. Cillian Murphy is as brilliant as ever, though, and if you like gangster shows then you’re guaranteed to love this one.
The story of a British aristocratic family and their staff who find their future uncertain as they are launched into the 20th century. Romance, action, politics, history and lovely British accents – you will find it all here and with a killer soundtrack, what more could you want.
Based on a series of books by Diana Gabaldon, Outlander tells the story of a British woman who, whilst on her honeymoon, accidentally touches an ancient stone that launches her two centuries back where she finds herself in the middle of a war between the Scots and the Brits. Although there is a time-travel component, the show is not fantasy per se, and you if you love the Scottish accents (and hunky men), you are guaranteed to love it.
If you like a beautiful soundtrack (by Hans Zimmer!) and have always wondered what it’s like inside Buckingham Palace, the Crown will cater to your needs. Telling the story of the longest reigning monarch in British history, the Crown turns history into drama and will tell you all about the woman who has lived through some of the greatest crises in British power. You’ll hear a lot of wonderfully British dialogue – but don’t expect too much slang from Her Majesty.
At 861, this is by far the show with the highest number of episodes on our list. The first 26 seasons appeared between 1963 and 1989, the latest 12 seasons between 2005 and 2020. A show with this many episodes just has to be good, right?
Crime, wit, and a winning duo. That sums up Sherlock. We can’t promise that the show will make you feel smart, no one can rival with Sherlock’s intelligence, but we can promise you will find him fascinating. Benedict Cumberbatch is inspiring in this brilliant show and you will find all the usual Sherlock Holmes suspects, including Dr. Watson. One piece of advice: stop after season 3 because season 4 is way off the rails.
Game Of Thrones
What a show. Don’t start watching this today if you have important things to get done over the next days because seriously, you won’t be able to turn off. Set in a fictional past (think Middle Ages), the show won’t teach you a ton of casual modern-day vocab and as such is rather suited for people who already feel comfortable watching the easy shows. Do turn off after season 7 because the (final) season 8 may be the biggest disappointment of your life. By the way, if you like the show, you’ll love the books. Another great way to learn English from anywhere and 100% a page-turner.
Every episode of Black Mirror has a completely different cast and topic so that it’s actually more of a collection of standalone episodes rather than a coherent series. You can just flip through the episodes and see whether one of the dystopic future versions resonates with you. Great show if you don’t want to commit to bingeing for a long time and if you enjoy a good discussion about modern-day society and where it is going.
If you’re contemplating how to learn speaking English, watching English-original TV series is a great step. It’s arguably the most fun and the most flexible language learning solution out there. You can simply learn English from anywhere and enjoy the experience. So go ahead, choose the show that best fits your preferences from the list above or watch your favorite English show in the original version. Keep in mind, though, the best way to learn English conversation skills is to combine your passive learning with active practice – this combination is what effective language learning is all about. So don’t rely only on TV series to learn English but apply the new vocab, slang, phrases and even accents in real life – be it with friends and family or tutors.
And of course, if you feel like the best TV series to learn English is actually missing from our list, do let us know in the comments…