Which sounds more exciting to you:
(1) The life of a high school science teacher who grades homework at night and likes to play soccer on the weekends.
(2) The life of a high school chemistry teacher who makes an illegal drug to pay for his cancer treatment. Oh yeah, and his brother-in-law works for the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), a federal law enforcement agency which finds and arrests drug smugglers.
The second situation just sounds so much more interesting, right?
Most people are drawn to drama—exciting, unexpected events.
People especially like drama when it is happening to someone else on TV, not in their real life.
As an English learner, you can use the appeal (attractiveness) of dramatic situations to learn new words, improve your listening skills, get to know American culture and become closer to reaching fluency.
How? With TV dramas!
TV shows can be classified as “dramas” when they have a lot of characters and conflicts. Instead of focusing on being funny, dramas often have serious themes.
Dramas can take place in any time period, and can be realistic or fantasy-based. Even though there are many kinds of dramas, they are generally all serious and use higher levels of English.
With the eight captivating TV shows we have below, you can start soaking up English from TV dramas today!
Why Learn English with Drama TV Shows?
They are addicting. Dramas are very popular because they are so intense. Many people will even say they are addicted to a show because they can’t stop watching. Some people will binge watch a show, which is when you watch several episodes of a show in a row, sometimes for many hours at a time. When TV shows are interesting to you, you will watch them more often.
Lots of people watch them. Smaller-budget TV shows that have many fans who know every detail about the show are called cult TV shows. That is because they have a small but very dedicated fanbase (a name for the group of people who are fans of a show, film or book). When you watch shows that many people like, you can talk about the show with more people.
They use specialized vocabulary. Since many of these shows take place in different time periods or situations, the vocabulary for each show is unique. That means you can learn words and phrases from each show depending on your interest. This includes Old English, science terms, as well as police/crime terms. You can later use these words in real-life situations, such as reading an older English novel, discussing newest science discoveries and understanding news and political reports.
How to Learn English with TV Dramas
Simply watching the show is always a basic way to learn some English, but there are other ways that you can get even more out of these dramas. Here are three ideas to get you started:
Make a family tree
One way to learn English from dramas is to make a “family tree” of your show. A family tree is a diagram that shows the relationships between people. For example, here’s a simple family tree from “The Simpsons.” If someone is married to another person, you can draw a horizontal line connecting the two characters, with a heart. To separate generations, children should appear below their parents.
In this case, though, we want to show the relationships between characters in the show. But not all of these TV shows involve full families. So you could also draw out work relationships (boss, coworkers, departments, etc.), show who are friends and enemies, or any other connections that you think are important.
In “Game of Thrones,” for example, there are a ton of characters and family connections to keep track of. Writing these down in a clear chart/diagram will make the show easier to understand, and also helps you pay more attention to details.
As you watch more episodes, you can even add character details to your diagram. These could be visual traits (i.e. glasses, blue eyes), personality traits (i.e. shy, powerful) or any other details about the character.
Look up fan theories
The second way that you can learn from dramas is by looking up fan theories online. Fan theories are predictions (guesses) about what will happen next in the series. These ideas are written by fans (people who love the show) on online communities. They look at small clues in the show to try to predict what will happen.
Reading fan theories is a great way to learn more about not only the show, but other fans as well. You can find these theories by searching Google for “[TV show name] fan theory,” or by searching Tumblr under the name of your show or a character. The more complex and popular the show is, the more theories there are for you to read.
After catching up to the newest episodes, challenge yourself to create a fan theory of your own!
You can watch behind-the-scenes videos and interviews of the cast members to learn more about the show and the actors. Many talk shows have them on as guests, and you can simply use a search engine to look for “[Actor/show name] interview” and enjoy.
Many of these interviews go into details about the characters personalities, or small things that the director hid on the set. You can use this information in your family tree or charts, to write down any fun facts or secrets about the show to look out for as well.
Using these new ideas, as well as writing down and looking up new words and phrases that you hear, can help you get the most out of your dramas.
Watch on FluentU
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But it’s not just a video player. Every video has been transformed into a personalized language lesson.
For example, there are interactive subtitles. Click or tap any unfamiliar word and the video will automatically pause to show you an in-context definition, grammar info and memorable picture. After you’re done watching, FluentU will give you flashcards and fun quizzes to make sure you remember the vocabulary that you just learned.
The videos are organized by genre and level—just select “Shows” to watch all the TV clips. FluentU will even suggest new videos based on what you’ve already watched.
It’s an entertaining but effective way to learn real English language and culture, and you can take it anywhere on the mobile app for iOS or Android.
8 Dramatic TV Shows You Will Love Watching in English
Below are eight different dramas that you can watch right now to start practicing. There are many genres available, so choose one that you think you will like best. Most dramas are for more mature viewers because of the serious themes that they have, but some are rated higher or lower than others.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Dramas
1. “Firefly” (2002 – 2003)
“Firefly” is a short sci-fi series that is considered a cult classic, because although it is a short series, there are many fans. Because the show was canceled before they finished filming, you can watch the end of the series with the film “Serenity.” This series combines classic western and sci-fi influences and follows the adventures of a crew on a transport ship.
You can learn many scientific terms while watching this show, including genetic words. For example, you will hear the term “artificial incubators,” which is where people can keep and grow animals and humans using technology.
2. “Game of Thrones” (2011 – present)
“Game of Thrones” is one of the most popular shows today, and is based on books written by George R. R. Martin. It takes place in the fantasy world of Westeros and Essos. It follows the drama of different people trying to become the ruler of the land by fighting wars with sword and magic.
The series is made for adults, so it is rated R and airs on HBO. Because it is in a fantasy world similar to the Dark Ages (500 – 1500 AD) it uses Old English. You will also hear many fantasy terms, such as “valyrian steel,” which is the strongest material for swords in that world.
“Game of Thrones” is available to watch online with HBO Go.
Crime and Mystery Dramas
3. “Nikita” (2010 – 2013)
“Nikita” is a show about a woman spy and assassin who tries to get revenge on the people that she used to work for. This series is packed full of action and different love interests, making it a thrill to watch.
It is made for a more mature audience, but is rated for ages 13+. The show has words and phrases related to the government and spies, such as “espionage,” which is the use of spies by governments.
You can watch “Nikita” online with Amazon Prime.
4. “Dexter” (2006 – 2013)
Dexter is a brilliant man who both solves and commits crimes. Even though the show is about catching killers, the main character is secretly a killer himself, which brings even more intensity to the drama.
There is a lot of violence in this series, because it is about police work and crimes. This show can teach you terms about the justice system, medical terms and police terms. For example, you will hear “crime scene,” the area where the crime happened, and “dismember,” to take something apart.
Political and Legal Dramas
5. “House of Cards” (2013 – present)
“House of Cards” is a revenge story of a politician who was denied a job that he was promised in the past. This drama is still ongoing and is one of the most popular shows in the US.
It is rated for mature audiences and has a complex plot about politics. You can learn phrases and words about the government from this show, such as “Secretary of State,” which is the person in charge of relationships with other countries.
6. “Suits” (2011 – present)
“Suits” follows the lives of Harvey Specter and Mike Ross, who work as corporate lawyers—even though Ross is not a lawyer himself. The show is about their work (legal cases), relationship and personal lives.
You will hear different legal terms while watching this show, such as “witness,” someone who saw (witnessed) a crime, and “will and testament,” which is a document where you write what should happen with your possessions and money when you die. Because the legal cases (problems between two sides, which are resolved by lawyers in court) can be serious or violent, this show is also rated as mature.
You can watch “Suits” on USA Network.
7. “Breaking Bad” (2008 – 2013)
“Breaking Bad” is about Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher that finds out he has cancer. He decides to make drugs with a past student and sell them to pay for his cancer treatment.
The show involves drug rings (people involved in making, selling and buying drugs), crime and the struggles of illness. The show has won over twenty TV awards. The show is rated for mature audiences, and you can learn science terms and modern English slang.
8. “Revenge” (2011 – 2015)
“Revenge” is a show that follows a woman named Emily Thorne who moves to the Hamptons to find the people who hurt her family when she was a child—to get revenge on them. She investigates (researches/studies) families to get information, and meets new friends and enemies while she does.
This show is rated for ages 15+ and has formal or elite (people who are wealthy or very successful) level English used—with brand names like “Couture”—as well as casual modern English.
Now that you have several dramas to get you started, you can make some popcorn begin binge watching. Pick one of the shows from above and don’t forget your pen and paper!
Christine McGahhey is an American writer currently living in South Korea who has volunteered for several years to teach students and adults English.
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