10 Best Modern American Sitcoms to Learn English
Watching TV sitcoms is one of the best ways to improve your English vocabulary and to learn how to speak English more fluently.
(“Sitcom” means “situational comedy”–they’re about people sitting in a familiar place, and having a laugh.)
There’s no better way to learn American slang and how people really talk.
Get ready to get in touch with “real” English–the English you hear on the streets or hear from your friends.
- Why Learn English with Modern American Sitcoms?
- 10 Modern American Sitcoms for Learning English
Why Learn English with Modern American Sitcoms?
Here are 10 reasons why modern American sitcoms should be a regular part of your English learning diet.
- Sitcoms have more realistic contexts of the English language compared to English course books (maybe your teachers would disagree, but it is true).
- You’ll improve your conversational skills.
- The English you hear in sitcoms is more likely to be everyday English – in other words it’s more real.
- You’ll improve your listening skills as you’ll be able to hear a variety of different accents.
- You’ll begin to learn and understand different cultural references that are made and feel more connected to a country and the language.
- You’ll finally move closer towards understanding different kinds of humor.
- When you’re a frequent watcher of one sitcom, you don’t have to continuously get to know new and different characters or plots like you would have to in a movie. Therefore you’ll be able to guess more and understand what’s being said through your background knowledge of the sitcom.
- There’s more repetition of words and phrases in sitcoms which will help you understand them quicker.
- Sitcoms are more predictable in other words you can guess easily what’s going to happen next therefore it’s easier to understand and follow the story.
- If you find a great series that you really enjoy, you’ll end up getting addicted and forget that you’re even learning English.
- You’ll pick up on cultural references and inside jokes among native speakers.
- You can use TV as part of an at-home immersion environment, perhaps alongside a program designed for the task. FluentU, for example, takes video content, including sitcom clips, and turns them into English lessons.
10 Modern American Sitcoms for Learning English
1. “Sex and the City”
Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon, Kim Cattrall and Kristen Davis.
Who hasn’t heard of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte? The four fun-loving women from New York. This is perhaps one of the most romantic sitcoms that has ever been aired (played on TV) or at least lasted the longest.
“Sex and the City” is both set and filmed in NYC and is originally based on the novel “Sex and the City” written by author Candace Bushnell. It follows a group of middle aged trendy women all of whom have different personalities. These women are best friends and you’ll follow their lives and their interesting and somewhat rocky romances.
Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) is the leading lady. A columnist and fashion icon, Carrie writes articles related to relationships. Often Carrie’s writing and voice act as the narrator and it shares different perspectives of living in New York and being single.
“Sex and the City” has proved to be popular with both men and women from around the world and it was so popular they even made two movies based on the series and prequel series called “The Carrie Diaries.”
Why it’s great to learn English from “Sex and the City”: “Sex and the City” is a fun and enjoyable watch and it doesn’t take so much concentration. The more you enjoy a show, the easier it will be to learn from it. The language is simple and they use many phrasal verbs, which will help you to understand the context of these otherwise tricky phrases.
The English that’s used in the show is natural and typical of NYC, so if you’re planning on heading to the Big Apple, this series is a must-watch. It also deals with a few interesting storylines which relate to modern everyday social issues in the US, such as safe sex, friendship and romantic relationships which will help you to understand some important cultural differences between your country and the USA.
2. “The Big Bang Theory”
Starring: Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco and Kunal Nayyar.
If you haven’t watched “The Big Bang Theory” yet, you’re completely missing out on some awesome TV time. This is perhaps one of the most popular shows on TV throughout the world at the moment. It’s about a group of nerdy friends who work together at the university carrying out different kinds of scientific research and experiments.
Sheldon and Leonard are best friends and physicists and not only are they great friends and co-workers but they also live together as roommates. The show follows their relationship as friends, co-workers and roommates and it shows the ups and downs of their relationship which are tested by Sheldon and his very strange ways and behavior.
Their other two colleagues, Rajesh and Howard, are also great friends and their group of four is not afraid to admit they are nerds (lovers of science and study). Together they do experiments, watch sci-fi movies, play video games and read comic books.
Why “The Big Bang Theory” is great to learn English: It’s hilarious and you don’t even need to understand everything that’s being said to understand what’s going on because the actions are clear. You’ll be able to hear and understand everyday slang in context such as “What’s up?”
And if you’re particularly interested in science, you can pick up a lot of vocabulary related to the topic. Because it’s set around a university campus, you’ll also get a feel of what it’s like to learn in an American college and some of the language that students use.
3. “How I Met Your Mother”
Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Josh Radnor, Jason Segel, Alyson Hannigan and Coby Smulders.
This is an interesting and funny series and in the beginning it’s a little bit difficult to understand because it’s set in the future–in the year 2030. However, once you get used to the idea of a show being set so far ahead of time, you’ll really enjoy it!
The main character is Ted Mosby, and he is retelling the story to his kids of how and when he met his wife (their mom). Ted’s story begins in 2005 when he was 27 years old. He was inspired to get married after his best friend from college got engaged.
However, Ted’s friend Barney, who is a big womanizer (likes women a lot and dates many), is not very happy about Ted’s plan mainly because he will no longer have anyone to go out with and find dates. The story is retold to his kids over the series and there are a number of different stories related to all of Ted’s friends.
Why “How I Met Your Mother” is a great sitcom to learn English from: Despite the complex time issue, this is a very easy series to understand once you understand the idea of it. There’s a narrator throughout the series (Ted) and this helps explain what’s going on.
It’s an entertaining show and uses a lot of humor and everyday language. For example, you’ll hear words such as “high five,” “legendary” and “awesome” being used a lot. This is also a great series to watch in order to understand American culture regarding dating and romance. Barney, the womanizing friend, is incredibly funny. You’ll fall in love with his character immediately, which will have you wanting to watch the rest of the series.
4. “Ugly Betty”
Starring: America Ferrera and Vanessa Williams.
“Ugly Betty” is a fun show aimed at the younger crowd, but that’s not to say older people won’t enjoy this lighthearted American sitcom too. Its main character is Betty Suarez (America Ferrera), a kind and sweet Latino girl from Queens, NYC.
Betty is sweet, but she’s also lacking in basic social skills, confidence and a sense of fashion. (Some of her outfit choices are ridiculous!) She goes from just being a typical unpopular girl to a personal assistant at Mode magazine, based in the coolest part of NYC: Manhattan.
The magazine is run by the very wealthy Bradford Meade. Despite not being cool at all and not fitting in with the image of Mode, Bradford hires Betty to look after his son and also the editor-in-chief, Daniel to make sure he stays out of trouble and runs the business properly. At first, Betty wasn’t really welcomed, but over time they both begin trust each other and even become friends.
Since she was a little girl, Betty’s dream was to become a publisher and although she’s very intelligent and extremely hard-working, she never really had the opportunity because of her looks and her lack of fashion. With her new opportunity at Mode, she’s determined to do everything to fulfill her dream.
Why “Ugly Betty” is a great sitcom to learn English: “Ugly Betty” is easy to follow, especially since a lot of the focus is on Betty’s family—whose first language is not English. It’s also a great way to learn specific vocabulary related to fashion, magazines and publishing.
5. “That ’70s Show”
Starring: Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher
As the name of this American sitcom suggests, it is set in the 1970s, when rock music and hippies were popular. One of the main characters is Eric Forman, who is a typical American high school student growing up in the ’70s. It focuses on his life, his friends and his family. They are a typical group of teenagers that experience normal teenage emotions such as happiness and sadness.
Eric lives with his parents (Red and Kitty), and his girlfriend, Donna, lives next door with her parents Midge and Bob. Other group members include Jackie (Mila Kunis), Kelso (Ashton Kutcher), Hyde and Fez, who is a funny foreign exchange student from South America.
The group of friends mostly spend their free time in the basement (the area built below a house in the USA) hanging out doing normal teenage stuff while they think about their lives, families, girlfriends and futures. It shows a number of funny teenage mistakes that most people can relate to.
Why “That ’70s Show” is a great sitcom to learn English: This is a funny show but at the same time it’s very realistic and shows the lives of normal teenagers. It’s full of everyday English that young people use and you’ll also see how people who don’t speak English as their first language can make very funny mistakes if they don’t understand the language properly through the South American foreign exchange student, Fez.
6. “Grey’s Anatomy”
Starring: Ellen Pompeo, Sandra Oh, Patrick Dempsey, Justin Chambers and Katherine Heigl.
“Grey’s Anatomy” is America’s most loved medical sitcom. It follows the main character, Dr. Meredith Grey (Pompeo), and how she started her residency (her in-house training to become a doctor). It follows her training and takes the viewers through to when she eventually graduates and becomes a qualified surgeon.
Together with the other surgeons at Seattle Grace Hospital, they deal with different medical issues in every episode. There’s also a great amount of drama that will keep viewers interested and it follows the deaths of some of the main characters, romantic relationships, personal problems and work issues.
Why “Grey’s Anatomy” is a great sitcom to learn English: “Grey’s Anatomy” has a number of different relationships and there’s a lot of one-on-one dialogue between the different characters which makes it easier to follow as group conversations are often more difficult to understand.
Again, “Grey’s Anatomy” uses a lot of natural dialogue and it’s a great show for learning commonly used English idioms. It’s also a great series to watch if you’re interested in health, medicine or you’re training to become a doctor or other medical professional as it uses a lot of specialized vocabulary. Unlike other shows, their use of medical English and terms is exact, which will give you more of an understanding of the context they are used in.
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Matthew Perry, Matt Le Blanc and Lisa Kudrow.
Almost everyone has heard of Ross, Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Chandler and our favorite funny boy, Joey—the main characters of the world famous sitcom, “Friends.” While this sitcom is no longer being produced, it was and still is so popular that you can always find re-runs (repeat episodes) on TV no matter where you live in the world.
It is a comedy series set in Manhattan, NYC and follows six young friends. Their lives are connected by being blood related, roommates, neighbors and old high school friends and they all find themselves living in the same apartment block. It shows their daily lives, their ups and downs and their daily struggles.
Rachel was a popular rich girl in the past and lives off her dad’s wealth. Monica, Rachael’s best friend, is a chef, a control freak and has trouble with her love life. She was constantly teased and laughed at as a child for being the “fat girl.” Ross is the older brother of Monica and has been in love with Rachel since she and Monica were friends in high school, however, he’s a nerd and his friends often laugh at him about his job–he’s a paleontologist (dinosaur scientist).
He’s also divorced, has a child and is desperate to find a girlfriend. However, he continues to have bad luck with women, including Rachael. Phoebe is a hippy and sometimes acts like she doesn’t know what she’s doing. She’s a masseuse (a person who gives massages) and dreams of becoming a singer even though she doesn’t have much talent.
Chandler works in the office and uses a lot of humor which is often inappropriate. Joey is the most famous character, who is from a traditional Italian immigrant family and loves women. He’s an actor and he dates a number different famous women and his catchphrase (famous saying) is “How you doing?”
The six friends spend most of their time hanging out at Central Perk Café where Rachael works. It’s a very funny show despite it being based on the lives of six everyday people. It’s definitely one to watch.
Why “Friends” is a great sitcom to learn English: This is a funny show and the jokes are very obvious which means you don’t have to understand English perfectly to get what is being said. The characters of the show are all very different and you can learn some excellent English to help you communicate with your friends.
The language is conversational and you’ll also learn how to understand basic humor through the dialogue. The speed of the dialogue also appears to be much slower and clearer than most other sitcoms, which makes it easier for all of you trying to learn English understand more.
Starring: Lea Michele and Cory Monteith
“Glee” is a one-hour series that follows a high school teacher and his desperate efforts to try and transform his school’s Glee Club (a singing choir). It shows him trying to inspire a group of performers who appear to lack talent in the beginning to work hard in an attempt to try and reach the national singing competition. In the past his school used to have the number one choir but there were a number of different scandals which resulted in the choir failing and only attracting kids who were a little strange or didn’t fit in with the rest of the school.
This musical comedy sitcom follows the lives of teenagers and touches on some of the daily problems and reality that some students face in school. This is a funny show and all people can relate to it, and it’s also different to the others due to its musical influence. What’s even more interesting is that it has a number of famous cameos (one time appearance roles) from some of the world’s biggest stars, such as Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears and Demi Lovato.
Why “Glee” is a great sitcom to watch to learn English: It’s been proved in the past that music lyrics help learners of a language learn better as there’s a lot of repetition and the songs are catchy (easy to remember). “Glee” will help you with your pronunciation as the music teacher is shown taking the students through different lessons of pronunciation to help them with their singing. The songs from this hit show will help you memorize English better and it will even help you with intonation.
9. “Gossip Girl”
Starring: Blake Lively
“Gossip Girl” is a popular American teen drama TV series that was originally based on the book series called Gossip Girl written by author, Cecily von Ziegesar. The series has a narrator, who remains unknown to the very end of the series and goes by the name of Gossip Girl. The series focuses on a group of rich high school kids who live in the richest part of Manhattan in the Upper East Side.
The first episode begins with the Upper East Side’s most famous popular girl, Serena Van der Woodsen, who had been sent to a boarding school. The story of “Gossip Girl” also focuses on Blair Waldorf, another popular girl who sees herself as the most popular girl in school and even calls herself the Queen Bee.
Chuck Bass is the ultimate bad boy who goes through a number of issues relating to his family, complicated love life and various addictions. Nate is another main character who’s been dating Blair for a long time until Serena returns from boarding school and destroys everything.
There’s a lot of scandal and friends falling out. When Dan and Jenny Humphrey move to the area to live with their dad after their parents’ divorce, they are sent to the school for rich kids even though they come from a very average family. It shows them trying to change in order to fit in with the high society.
Why “Gossip Girl” is a great sitcom to learn English: “Gossip Girl” is easy to follow because it has a narrator explaining the beginning and end of each episode which will fill in all learners of English whatever they’ve missed. The language is cool and casual and it’s a great example of how young American people communicate with each other.
10. “Desperate Housewives”
Starring: Eva Longoria, Terri Hatcher and Nicolette Sheridan
“Desperate Housewives” is a fun drama that is set on a small suburban street called Wisteria Lane in the fictional (not real) town of Fairview. This cleverly written drama follows the everyday lives of a group of very different women. It has an interesting take and it’s narrated by a woman who died in the first episode aired.
The story spans across 13 years. The viewers are able to become part of the ladies’ lives and watch their everyday domestic struggles in the home with their families. Desperate Housewives is full of drama and there are many secrets on Wisteria Lane with many crimes and love affairs happening. On the surface these ladies seem like they have it all love, family, money and nice homes, however, as you get to know the characters more, you’ll see that these women aren’t so innocent as they first appear.
The pilot (first ever episode) introduces the four main ladies of the show: Lynette Scavo, Susan Mayer, Gabrielle Solis and Bree Van de Kamp. They are all neighbors and very good friends, however, they are shocked when their neighbor and other good friend, Mary Alice Young, dies unexpectedly. They suspect that Mary Alice’s husband has something to do with her death.
We see Susan, a divorced mother of one trying to get the attention of her handsome new neighbor, Mike Delfino. Lynette continues to struggle with motherhood and her four demanding children. Bree, a typical housewife of the ’60s loves to cook and keep a tidy house. However, her life is full of scandal and we watch her struggle to save her marriage to her husband.
Gaby, a beautiful Latino woman and an ex-model tries desperately to hide her love affair from her husband, Carlos. Yes, the lives of these “normal” women are not so normal when you get to know them better. There are many twists and turns and it’s not uncommon for the unexpected to happen on Wisteria Lane.
Why “Desperate Housewives” is a great sitcom to learn English: Funnily enough, “Desperate Housewives” may be one of the best American sitcoms to learn English because of its natural and unforced use of colloquial (every day) and idiomatic language.
The show switches between formal and informal contexts and therefore, you’ll be able to improve your listening skills in a number of different situations. The language used is colorful and it can improve all levels of English and you’ll be able to hear popular sayings such as “it serves him right” and “I want to take a rain check.” (I want to miss this time because I have something to do).
If you watch the right shows, TV can be one of the best ways to learn English.
…so now you’ve got a great excuse! Make the most out of your TV and use it to improve all your English skills and get “real-life” connections instead of the scripted unreal scenarios that you often see in the typical English course book.