10 Best ’90s Sitcoms for English Learners
Learning English from TV…
…but run out of shows to watch?
You could learn English with songs.
You could also learn English through movies.
And you could also learn from the best TV shows of all time—sitcoms from the ’90s.
“Sitcom” means “situational comedy”—they’re about people sitting in a familiar place, and having a laugh.
Chat with your English speaking friends about ’90s sitcoms, and you’ll get a big reaction.
Great conversations will be had.
Because everyone loves a good ’90s American sitcom!
They’re not filled with bad language.
And they’re actually more real than some of the series today.
Learning English from ’90s American sitcoms will allow you to learn “real life” English like you’ve never heard it before. It’s an awesome way to improve all of your English skills.
So there’s no need to panic.
If you feel that you’ve simply run out of things to watch, here are the 10 modern sitcoms that you can sink your teeth into.
We’re big fans of the ’90s sitcoms and you’ll soon be too!
Sit back and relax with your notebook in hand, turn on the TV or computer and enjoy some of America’s best sitcoms ever. They will make you laugh and cry at the same time—not to mention that you’ll pick up some great vocabulary and improve your listening and speaking skills! What more could you want?
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Top 10 ’90s Sitcoms for English Learners and ESL Students
Before we dive into the top ’90s sitcoms for English learners, I wanted to let you know about a great way to learn authentic English with ease: the FluentU YouTube English channel!
In the video below, you’ll learn heaps of great vocabulary and phrases from the world-famous ’90s sitcom star turned TV presenter and comedian Ellen DeGeneres! For more great videos about English culture and language, subscribe to the FluentU English YouTube channel.
And if the idea of learning English with videos excites you, check out FluentU.
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1. “Cheers” (1982-1993)
Number one on our list of favorite ’90s sitcoms to watch and learn English is “Cheers.” You’ll love it from the opening when the sitcom’s theme song—“Where Everybody Knows Your Name”—will get stuck in your head. Although it’s an oldie (old one), you’ll be singing it wherever you go.
Sam Malone is the main character of this hit show. Once a famous pitcher for the world famous Boston Red Sox baseball team, he ends up losing his career due to his drinking problems and buys a small bar, which he names “Cheers.”
The story follows a group of people who come together through meeting at the bar. Diane Chambers, a young teaching assistant, is left suddenly by her fiancé. As a result, she’s left with no money and is forced to take up (start) a waitressing job. She finds herself in a relationship that is on and off with Sam, the owner. Other regular customers include:
- Sam’s old baseball coach
- Woody, a very naïve boy from the farm
- Cliff, a guy who thinks he knows everything
- Carla, a waitress, who’s negative about everything
- A psychiatrist, Frasier, who ironically has problems
- Norm, a funny guy with perhaps the world’s biggest bar tab (a bar tab is a bill at a bar that you have over a period of time).
Why “Cheers” is a great sitcom to learn English: The great thing about “Cheers” is that it’s only filmed in one location and you don’t get distracted by different sets. Therefore it’s easier to focus on what’s going on. It’s funny and the humor is easy to understand. You’ll learn how to use it at the appropriate time which will make communication with your friends a lot easier and funnier too.
2. “Frasier” (1993-2004)
Another favorite show from the ’90s would have to be “Frasier.” And if you just read the above description of “Cheers” or have even watched a few episodes of Cheers, Frasier is no stranger. This is a spin-off show (a show that follows another) and follows the life of a famous Boston psychiatrist, Frasier Crane (which is where the show took its name).
He was last seen in the bar “Cheers,” but after his divorce, he decides to move back to his home town of Seattle. There, he starts a new job as a radio psychiatrist on a popular Seattle radio station.
On his radio show he has the opportunity to communicate with his listeners and spread the word of all his wisdom and knowledge. Frasier as a character is a little strange, but extremely intelligent and witty, and you can’t help but love him.
He ends up sharing his apartment with his dad, Martin, who is a retired police officer, and his dad’s health care assistant, Daphne. Another frequent face on the show is Frasier’s brother, Niles, who is a little bit strange. There is such an odd mix of characters and some very strange situations that take place and you can’t help but laugh. This is an excellent show that uses a lot of intelligence and humor which will make you laugh for sure.
Why “Frasier” is a great sitcom to learn English: Frasier, Niles and Martin all have clean accents which are really easy to understand. There is a lot of intelligent humor used in “Frasier” and after watching a few episodes, you’ll begin to understand what it means to be witty (intelligent and funny at the same time).
3. “The Simpsons” (1989-present)
Of course you’re all aware of “The Simpsons.” This has been perhaps the longest running TV series in history, as it is still produced and aired (shown on TV) today. However, “The Simpsons” is worthy of being categorized in the ’90s because this is when the show really took off (became popular).
“The Simpsons” is an animated sitcom that follows the lives of a very dysfunctional and not-so-normal family: the Simpsons. It is about a family we’re all familiar with—Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie and Grandpa.
Homer is the lovable, but somewhat incompetent, member of the family who somehow manages to survive his crazy family and job at the local nuclear power plant. Marge is a bossy yet responsible mom. Bart is a fourth grader who isn’t academic, and also is the enemy of the school’s principal.
Because of his naughty behavior, he spends a lot of time in detention (after class punishment) writing lines on the blackboard. Lisa, the sister of Bart is the complete opposite of her brother and is the super brainy member of the family. And then there’s Maggie, the baby of the family who is often forgotten because of all the other crazy things that go on in the family household (mainly caused by Bart’s terror and misbehaving).
Why “The Simpsons” is a great sitcom to learn English: Although this is an animated show, the conversations that take place between the characters are very real, and often touch on family topics that we can relate to. “The Simpsons” is the perfect way to learn real-life phrases that are more natural than any phrase you’ll learn from your course books or CDs.
4. “The Wonder Years” (1998-93)
Kevin Arnold, now an adult, looks back on his life as an awkward teenager during the ’60s and ’70s. This is perhaps the best show ever that depicts all the difficult moments a teenager goes through while making the change from adolescence to adulthood. It follows the everyday trials and traumas that come with being a teenager, and it’s something we can all relate to.
Kevin lives in a quiet middle-class neighborhood with his family. His close friend Paul and sometimes girlfriend, Winnie, do not live too far away. We see Kevin go through middle and high school and we get an insight into all the terrible moments that go with these years. We see how he deals with or doesn’t deal with puberty (the physical changes a teenager goes through) and this show is full of funny and very embarrassing moments.
His older brother, Wayne is cool and spends most of his time teasing and tormenting Kevin making his home life sometimes unbearable. The TV series is seen and told through the eyes of Kevin and when you watch it, you’ll just nod your head and say “Yes, I completely understand you Kevin!”
Why “The Wonder Years” is a great sitcom to learn English: Because we’ve all been through the same problems as Kevin and his friends, we can automatically relate to the storylines which will help you understand what’s going on more. It’s a great way to learn how young people communicate in English. You’ll also learn how to resolve conflicts in English from the interactions with Kevin and all the other characters.
5. “The Fresh Prince of Bel-air” (1990-1996)
You’re probably already familiar with “The Fresh Prince of Bel-air.” This is the hit comedy show that made Hollywood actor Will Smith shoot to fame (become famous quickly).
The troublesome teenager Will is sent from Philadelphia by his mom to live with his rich aunt and uncle and their family (the Banks). Life in Bel-air is the complete opposite to what Will is used to, and the story follows his adjustments into his rich family’s home and the constant trouble he’s getting into. It’s funny with great acting and it still remains one of the most popular hit shows from the ’90s with today’s youth.
Why “The Fresh Prince of Bel-air” is a great sitcom to learn English: First of all you’ll fall in love with all the characters of the show and Will Smith’s character will be your favorite. He’s funny and comical, but his jokes are obvious and easy to understand. Also, it’s a great way to learn street English and recognize how Americans of different social classes speak English.
6. “Married With Children” (1987-1997)
The Bundy family is what we would call a typical dysfunctional (with many problems) family. Al Bundy, the father, is a salesman in a shoe store and he likes to spend his time remembering his 20 seconds of fame on the American football field.
Al’s wife, Peggy, is what we’d call a ditzy woman (a woman who doesn’t really think too much) and she spends most of her time spending all of Al’s money at the hair salon and the mall. They have two kids: Kelly, who is extremely beautiful and likes to socialize and party, and Bud, the son who loves himself so much that he very rarely considers other people’s feelings.
It’s a funny show and shows a dysfunctional family trying to deal with life’s everyday problems.
Why “Married with Children” is a great sitcom to learn English: The acting is very over-the-top and what you don’t understand in words will be made up through the acting. It’s a comedy and you’ll really enjoy the funny one-liners (short jokes) and Al’s very dry sense of humor.
7. “Ren & Stimpy” (1991-1996)
You probably will never have heard of the “Ren & Stimpy” show before, but during its time it was one of the most popular animated sitcoms on American TV. The show follows a Chihuahua called Ren who is not okay emotionally, and Stimpy, a friendly cat who is a little brainless. Ren and Stimpy form an unlikely friendship, and together they come up with some crazy plans, which often land them in some funny but rather difficult situations.
The show is hilarious and often is quite risky (dangerous) in the humor it uses, which is why it became popular so quickly with its American audiences. Many people from this era would claim that this show was just as great and as popular as “The Simpsons.”
Why “Ren & Stimpy” is a great sitcom to learn English: The animation is simple and the storyline is funny and witty. But because it’s aimed at younger audiences, it’s really easy to understand. The creators filled the dialogues with obvious pictures, which gives the humor away and allows you to enjoy it too.
An example of this is when Ren, the Chihuahua, tells Stimpy he’s “wasting away” and that he’s nothing but “skin and bones.” As he says this, Ren shows Stimpy his insides revealing only his bones. To which Stimpy replies, “Yeah, and I’m nothing but skin and fat” as he grabs the fat of his stomach.
8. “Family Matters” (1989-1999)
The American TV family, the Winslows, seem like a pretty normal everyday family apart from one thing: their annoying and somewhat geeky (likes to study and is intelligent) neighbor, Stephen Urkel. They are a middle-class family living in the suburban areas of Chicago. Stephen is very intelligent, but at the same time a klutz (a person who has silly accidents) and always has avoidable accidents. He loves to invent weird things and he spends his days annoying his neighbors, the Winslows.
He is the typical “nerd” (like geek) kid and his favorite outfits consist of him wearing his pants too high and his shirt tucked in, and of course the suspenders that hold his pants up. His voice is annoyingly high, but at the same time it will make you laugh out loud—especially when he makes a mistake and repeats his catchphrase, “Did I do that?” Stephen means well, but always manages to get himself into trouble especially with the father of the Winslow family, Carl, who is Chicago police officer.
Why “Family Matters” is a great sitcom to learn English from: Despite his nerdiness, you’ll fall in love with the character of Stephen Urkell. He’s hilarious and he is very over-the-top with his actions, which will have you laughing. And of course, you’ll be able to understand what’s going on easier. T
he acting is great, and there is a lot of expression and gesture used, which makes it perfect for any English language learner. The accents are clean and comprehensible (apart from Urkell’s) and the actors use everyday English idioms and expressions related to the family. For example, you’ll hear phrases like, “being grounded” (punishment from parents when the kids can’t leave the home) and “I don’t want to hear a peep out of you.” (A warning meaning I want you to stay completely quiet and say nothing).
9. “Hanging with Mr. Cooper” (1992-1997)
“Hanging with Mr. Cooper” is set in the city of Oakland, California and it follows Mark Cooper, a former NBA basketball star who decides to move back to his hometown of Oakland to coach the basketball team at his former high school. In the beginning, he shares a home with his old high school friend, Robin, who is a music teacher, and Vanessa, a very sexy and attractive woman.
The stories follow the three housemates’ different adventures and disasters in dating various people. It also focuses on Mark’s new career as a teacher.
Why “Hanging with Mr. Cooper” is a great sitcom to learn English: The language is simple and is typical of a normal American high school student. Therefore you’ll be able to learn the everyday language that high school kids use with each other, and also the appropriate language to use when communicating with teachers.
10. “The Nanny” (1993-1999)
Fran Fine is from a Jewish family and comes from Flushing, NYC. She’s recently been fired from her job, and at the same time her boyfriend has left her—which has left her with nothing. She is forced to work as a cosmetics saleswoman in Manhattan in order to make enough money to survive. Her sales job takes her to the home of a very wealthy and prominent (well-known) theater director, Maxwell Sheffield.
Maxwell, who lives in a huge town house in one of the richest areas of Manhattan, has recently been widowed after his wife died. He needs to hire a nanny to look after his three children and is interviewing potential nannies in his home. Fran rings the doorbell with the intention of trying to sell cosmetics and Maxwell mistakes her for a nanny trying out for the position he’s advertised and hires her to mind his three kids.
Although she wasn’t meant for the job and the whole incident was a big misunderstanding, she grows very close to Maxwell’s three children, Maggie, Brighton and Gracie. She also becomes good friends with Maxwell’s butler, Niles. However, her relationship with Sisi, Maxwell’s personal assistant, is not great because of Sisi’s jealousy of Fran.
Why “The Nanny” is a great sitcom to learn English: Firstly, you’ll see and hear different accents which help you become more accustomed to the variety of accents. It’s also a great show to learn English because the language is natural. You’ll also get more of an understanding of how the rich people speak in comparison to the average person.
Just because these sitcoms are “older” doesn’t mean they’re not worth watching. They are perhaps more real than the shows we see on TV today, and the storylines are more believable.
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)