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How to Learn American and British English with 10 Cool TV Shows

Want to learn real, authentic English?

Then turn on your television! Watching popular TV shows is an extremely fun and effective way to study English.

After all, TV shows can teach you how native English speakers really use their language in a natural way.

You can’t just watch any show, though!

Some TV shows have two different versions—one version is British and one version is American. These special shows are amazing tools for learning the English language.

You know that British English and American English are pretty different. We’ve talked about the differences before.

Through these TV shows with two versions, you can better understand the unique vocabulary that’s present in each variety of the English language. You’ll learn about things that British and American people find interesting and the way they interact with one another.

Get ready to take a trip to Britain and the United States through these 10 TV shows, which are available in both varieties of English!

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)


How to Learn from British and American TV Shows

You might already know how to learn English with TV shows in general. But how do you learn English by watching two TV shows?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Watch one episode of each version of the show and note the differences. Do they say exactly the same words, or are the shows written differently? How are the events, stories and characters different in each show? Try to understand why these changes were made.
  • Watch both shows and pay attention to the accents, slang and vocabulary. You’ll begin to see the differences and similarities between the two versions of English.
  • Study the culture. How do people speak to each other in an office? How do family members and friends speak to each other? When are they casual and when are they professional? These lessons can be important if you choose to visit either country.
  • Find out what each country considers “dramatic” or “funny.” The ideas of drama and humor seem like they should be the same no matter where you go, but both are actually very cultural. For example, a show that’s listed as just a drama for one country might be a comedy-drama in another—it all depends on how the drama is shown.
  • Choose one version of the TV show. Of course, you can always just choose one show to watch, depending on which type of English you’re interested in learning.

There are so many things to learn from shows that have both American and British versions!

American or British TV Shows: What’s the Difference?

The most obvious difference between American English and British English is the accent. Each country has a range of accents, and it can take a while to understand some of these pronunciations.

The language and phrases used by British and American people can be very different too. Some words commonly used in one country would sound strange in the other, like the British use of the words “brilliant” or “cheers”—words that Americans don’t really use in the same way.

But that isn’t the only difference between American and British TV shows. Shows are created with the audience in mind. That means that a show for an American audience will be different from a show for a British audience. Here are three examples:

  • Some names are changed to sound more “American” or “British.”
  • Situations can be different based on the culture. Characters develop and interact with each other differently.
  • Things that one culture finds more exciting than the other are added in (like sexual content or violence).
  • The tone is different. British TV shows tend to be calm and slower-paced, while American TV shows prefer quicker action.

This means that, in addition to getting a language lesson from your TV shows, you can also get a lesson in culture. Once you see the differences between American and British TV shows, you’ll start to understand the differences between the two cultures in general. And that’s an important lesson!

Learn English with TV: 10 Cool Shows with American and British Versions

1. “The Office”

Type: “Mockumentary” / Comedy

What You’ll Learn from This Show

“The Office” is a “mockumentary,” which is a type of show that pretends it’s a documentary. This means that each episode is filmed like everything is unplanned. When you watch the show, you’ll feel like you’re seeing real people in a real office.

The show is very funny and very awkward, so it might make you laugh or it might make you a little uncomfortable—or both!

The best thing about “The Office” is that everything happens in an office.

This means you can see how the coworkers and the boss talk to each other in English. Of course, the interactions here are a little bit different from real life. In this office, there are some very weird characters and silly personalities, but there are also many great English lessons to learn.

You can see American English and British English being used in an office. You can hear plenty of office vocabulary and phrases, as well as some casual language.

Each version of the series also shows each culture’s idea of a terrible boss. The other characters can teach you what’s considered “weird” in each culture. How is the “weird” character in each version different?

British Version

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The British version of the show stars the popular comedian Ricky Gervais. He’s the boss of a paper company in a little town in England.

Watch: You can view this on Netflix or buy episodes on YouTube, iTunes or Amazon.

American Version

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The American version stars the comedian Steve Carell and takes place in a paper company in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The series is based on the British version, but people speak and behave in very American ways.

Watch: View it on Netflix or buy episodes on YouTube, iTunes or Amazon.

2. “Being Human”

Type: Drama / Fantasy

What You’ll Learn from This Show

In “Being Human,” three young people start living together as roommates. These are not ordinary people, though

Both the British and American versions use the same idea and basically the same plot, but they’re shown differently.

Watching both versions is an interesting look at what American and British people like to watch on television. The show is also a good way to learn how young people in both countries speak with their friends.

If you watch both versions of the show, you’ll notice many differences between the two.

British Version

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Like I said before, these are not ordinary people. One is a vampire, another is a werewolf and the third person is a ghost. The show follows them as they try to hide their secrets from the world.

The British version of the show is very focused on the challenges they experience because they aren’t human.

Watch: See it on Netflix or buy episodes on YouTube, iTunes or Amazon.

American Version

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When America adapted (changed) the show from the British version, the characters and plot stayed the same.

However, the American version focuses more on the characters and their relationships. It also tries to be more realistic, creating scenarios and personalities you can actually believe instead of focusing on action.

Watch: See it on Netflix or buy episodes on YouTube, iTunes or Amazon.

3. “Changing Rooms” (British) / “Trading Spaces” (American)

Type: Reality Show

What You’ll Learn from This Show

Two people are given a small amount of money and time to change a room in each other’s houses. It’s a fun “reality show” (a show that has no script) that shows what happens when you trust someone else to decorate your home.

How do people interact with each other in the two different countries?

How do people speak when they’re under pressure and feeling stressed?

Watch these two versions of the show and hear some real language use by native speakers. There are no actors reading written lines. All of these things are really happening to them, and they’re really reacting to everything that happens!

What do people say in English when they’re very happy or excited? What do people say in English when they’re very sad, frustrated or disappointed? Watch this show to find out! Because the language usage is very authentic, you’ll see some very real differences in language and culture.

British Version

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The British version is called “Changing Rooms,” and it’s a very positive show.

Watch: Buy a “best of” DVD collection on Amazon.

American Version

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The American “Trading Spaces” is very similar to the British “Changing Rooms.” People try to decorate each other’s rooms.

However, the American version loves to make things more dramatic. They show you negative emotions as well as positive ones. In one famous episode, a woman is very upset about some of the changes made to her home. She said some very strong, negative things in English!

Watch: Buy a “best of” DVD collection on Amazon.

4. “Skins”

Type: Teen Drama / Comedy

What You’ll Learn from This Show

“Skins” is a dark comedy. A “dark comedy” is a funny type of show, but it often includes some sad, scary or ugly things.

This show is about the lives of teenagers as they learn more about themselves and each other. They are trying to do the best they can in life while growing up.

The series shows teenagers facing both adult and teenage problems, and it uses plenty of slang in both versions. This means that you can learn two different types of English slang!

British Version

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There’s plenty of drama in the British show, but the characters also try to find humor in the things that happen to them. The British version changes the main actors often, so you can hear a wide range of English accents and ways of speaking.

Watch: See it on Netflix or buy episodes on iTunes.

American Version

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The series didn’t last long in the United States.

This is possibly because it tried to discuss some difficult issues. The American version shows some sexual scenes, and some are difficult to watch, so it’s definitely not a good show for everyone to watch.

Watch: Buy episodes on iTunes or Amazon.

5. “Law & Order”

Type: Crime Drama

What You’ll Learn from This Show

This show will teach you a little bit about the justice system of both Britain and the United States.

Of course, it’s still a television show and it isn’t completely accurate. Many times, it doesn’t show exactly how things work in the real world.

However, it’s still a good show to watch if you’re interested in a career in the justice system or anything related to it. You’ll learn lots of legal and formal vocabulary. Both versions of the show also have a good mix of casual and professional language.

American Version

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You might know the American crime drama “Law & Order” already. It shows the way the American justice system catches criminals and takes them to court.

Impressively, the show has been on television for 20 seasons! There are many, many episodes to watch.

Watch: Buy episodes on YouTube, iTunes or Amazon.

British Version

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You might not know that there’s a British version of the show. The British version is very similar to the American version, but the location isn’t New York City, it’s London.

Watch: Buy episodes on Amazon.

6. “Whose Line is it Anyway?”

Type: Comedy

What You’ll Learn from This Show

“Improvisational comedy,” often shortened to “improv,” is a type of comedy where the actors make up their jokes as they go. The jokes are not written before the show. Everyone must be very creative and say new jokes based on the situation!

“Whose Line is it Anyway” puts some great comedians together, gives them ideas and then lets them make up their own funny jokes.

Watch this show to see what Americans and British people find funny. Is it the same kind of humor? What’s different?

Humor is a great way to learn more about a culture, and understanding humor is a huge steps towards really understanding a language. Which country’s humor do you prefer?

British Version

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This show began as a radio show in Britain and was later turned into a TV show. Of course, the British version features many British comedians.

Watch: See the series for free on Hulu.

American Version

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The American version has some of the same games. However, the same group of American comedians appears in many, many episodes.

Like the British show, the American series also uses some musical games and often asks for suggestions from the audience.

Watch: See any episode for free on the CW.

7. “Hell’s Kitchen”

Type: Reality / Game Show

What You’ll Learn from This Show

The biggest star of this show is the famous chef Gordon Ramsay. Ramsay is a British chef who is known for his bad temper, and he appears in both the American and British shows.

Watch these shows to see the different ways the British and American chefs act around Ramsay—and how differently Ramsay acts around them. The yelling Ramsay you might know about is more normal and even kind in the British version of the show. Consider why the American version made him so mean!

Since the chefs come from many different places and backgrounds, you can also hear many different styles of speaking. Please be aware that Ramsay is known for using plenty of bad language. Expect lots of cooking terms and cursing.

American Version

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“Hell’s Kitchen” is another reality show, but it’s also a “game show”—a show where people compete to be the best at something. Contestants in “Hell’s Kitchen” compete to cook the best dishes under difficult circumstances.

Watch: You can view full episodes for free on Fox, or buy episodes from YouTube, iTunes or Amazon.

British Version

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The British version is very different from the American show. It’s less about the competition and more about learning to cook and maintain a restaurant business.

Watch: You can find clips of the series on YouTube, or buy a boxed set on Amazon.

8. “Prime Suspect”

Type: Crime Drama

What You’ll Learn from This Show

Watching the two, you might begin to see the differences—and understand why they’re different. It’s a great way to understand the different cultures a bit better.

British Version

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“Prime Suspect” is a crime drama about a woman leading a team of mostly male policemen and investigators on the hunt for a killer. This series has a serious tone, and focuses on the drama and the interaction between the different genders.

Watch: You can view the series on Hulu, or buy episodes on iTunes or Amazon.

American Version

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Both versions of the show share the same basic story, but the American version has been changed to appeal to an American audience. The lead character’s entire personality has changed, and the drama is exaggerated (made bigger and more dramatic).

Many other changes make the American version a completely different show from the British one.

Watch: Buy episodes on YouTube, iTunes or Amazon.

9. “Sirens”

Type: Comedy

What You’ll Learn from This Show

“Sirens” is a show about a group of EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) who show up with ambulances to help anyone who’s injured.

Instead of focusing on the medical part of the show, the series is more about the characters. This means you get to see people interacting naturally, in many different kinds of situations. (Please be aware that “Sirens” has sexual content and language.)

British Version

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The British version is dark, but it’s also very funny. An odd group of coworkers have to deal with many strange situations. They like to make jokes, and they use dark comedy to make sense of life (and death).

Watch: Get the first season on Amazon here (make sure your DVD player will play Region 2 discs first!). You can also get more information about the show on the official website.

American Version

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The American version takes place in Chicago, and takes things much more seriously. It isn’t as funny as the British version. It’s more dramatic!

Watch: Stream it on Netflix, or buy episodes on iTunes, Amazon or YouTube.

10. “The Two of Us” (US) / “Two’s Company” (UK)

Type: Comedy

What You’ll Learn from This Show

This show is a great addition to this list. It’s a classic from the 1970s!

It’s an especially interesting look at the differences between British and American cultures and language, since it shows people from both places interacting.

The language can be a bit outdated (old) because this is an older show. However, it’s a good way to see how things have changed—or not—over the years.

It’s also a good way to hear the differences between accents and ways of speaking. Keep in mind that the butler (in both shows) speaks in a very exaggerated way.

British Version

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An American author hires a British butler to take care of her house while she works. The series shows how the two get along, or—more often—don’t.

Watch: Buy the seasons box set from Amazon (make sure your DVD player will play Region 2 discs).

American Version

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In this version, an American TV show host hires a British butler.

Watch: Buy the first season on Amazon.

 

The language and culture of the British and the American isn’t all that different… is it?

With these 10 shows, you’ll get to see both and decide. You’ll learn a lot about the English language in the process.

Have fun!

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)



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