English movies and shows can be hard to understand.
The actors speak too fast.
Too many people speak at once.
Sometimes things are blowing up in the background.
Other times, we are simply distracted by the beauty of the set.
Of course, most movies and shows are not made for English learners.
But what if you could change that?
What if you could somehow magically make them much easier to understand?
Let me introduce you to the world of subtitles.
Subtitles are a language learner’s best friend. They help you understand what people are saying and add to your learning in a way that videos alone never do. In this post, we will explore why exactly subtitles are so great and how to use them.
Then, we will show you 14 movies, TV shows and web series that are wonderful for English learners to watch with subtitles—and super entertaining, too!
Why Should I Use Subtitles to Learn English?
- Subtitles help you follow the dialogue. While the actors are speaking, you can read what they are saying in the subtitles. So if they have a difficult accent or speak quickly, subtitles make them much easier to understand.
- You will practice reading and listening simultaneously. That means your comprehension skills get a double boost. Plus, unlike reading a book or magazine, you get a fun challenge by following along with the moving subtitles. (Do not worry—you can always pause if it gets too difficult!)
- You will learn the correct pronunciation of words. English has lots of silent letters and varied vowel sounds—so it can be very difficult to understand how a word is pronounced just by reading it. Subtitles give you the perfect opportunity to see and hear new words simultaneously.
Whenever you see a word where the spelling looks very different from its pronunciation, you should always note it down somewhere for later practice. Keeping a small notebook beside you while you watch these videos is a good idea.
How to Find Subtitles for English Learning
- Enable captions on YouTube. Whenever you open a video on YouTube, look towards the bottom of the video screen. Most of the time, there will be an icon that says “CC” on the right side of the black bar, which means “Closed Captions” (which display dialogue just like subtitles).
Here is a complete guide to using subtitles on YouTube.
- Enable captions in Netflix. If you are watching English programs on Netflix, you can also easily turn subtitles on. Here is Netflix’s subtitle guide, which will tell you how to do it.
- Watch videos with interactive subtitles on FluentU. Want to get even more English value out of subtitles? Try FluentU!
Just click any word in the subtitles and you will instantly get a definition and native pronunciation. FluentU will also show you other videos where the word appears, so you can see it in different contexts.
Better yet, FluentU also has flashcards and exercises to make sure you remember the new words. And you can take your supercharged subtitles everywhere with the FluentU mobile app.
- Download subtitles for movies. Maybe there is a movie you want to watch for English practice, but it does not come with English subtitles. Well, you can find subtitles for almost any movie online. Just search for a movie name along with “.srt” (the file format for downloadable subtitles).
Here is a guide to all the video playback programs where you can use .srt files.
- Download subtitles for TV shows. English TV shows generally already have captions that have been made by the shows’ producers. But in case you need to download them, the process is the same for both movies and TV shows.
English Learning Goldmine: 14 Movies, Shows and Videos with Subtitles for Language Learners
Ready to watch, read and learn? Below, we will show you 14 options for learning English with subtitles, organized by video type.
Best English Web Series with Subtitles
A web series is a collection of videos released only on the internet for entertainment or education. They can be stories, interviews, animations or even documentaries released in episodes.
No matter what kind of videos they are, there will always be a theme that is common to all the episodes.
Level: beginner to intermediate
Best episode: “Crushes”
This web series is like a friend telling you about their life while you visit them on a weekend. Created by Dominic Panganiban, it consists of animations depicting his own personal stories.
Many English learners will connect to him since he was an immigrant (a person who permanently moves to another country) to Canada and learned English as a second language. Perhaps because of this experience, he uses casual and easy words that anyone can understand with a basic knowledge of English.
This show is especially useful for learners who not only find English difficult but are also unaware of the common practices and daily life of English speakers living in Canada or the U.S. He very often talks about his own problems adjusting to a new lifestyle mostly during his school and college years.
Best episode: The third one with dinner dates.
It is very rare for a web series to have such a brilliant and sensitive story. Since most of them consist of short videos for quick entertainment, they usually do not focus so much on plot (narrative/story line). But this is simply one of those shows where you feel like you have known the characters for years.
The plot revolves around three women. Two of them are transgender (when a person’s gender does not match the body they were born with). The third character is a lesbian, or a woman who likes women. The story is about their unique experiences, how society treats them and how they fight to live their lives with respect and freedom.
It is a goldmine for English learners as the series is filled with conversations and interactions of every kind. Since each episode is only seven minutes long, you can easily watch them as many times as you need.
I recommend the episode where they go on dinner dates (linked above) as it follows two long conversations. One couple is in a restaurant where you can observe how to order food, decide what you want to eat, make special requests and compliment your date.
The other couple is walking on the street and are getting to know each other for the first time.
“Single by 30”
Genre: romantic comedy
Best episode: “Too Fast, Too Thirteous”
Two high school friends make a promise that they will marry each other if they do not find a partner by the age of 30. Over time, they lose touch and completely disappear from each other’s lives. But when they turn 30, they unexpectedly meet again and their friendship transforms into something else.
The best thing about this show is that the dialogues are almost always short. You may want to slow down the speed of the videos when you watch the show from the settings menu.
The first episode is incredibly useful for English learners as you get to see more than four conversations in various settings including a party, a restaurant, a workplace and a family discussion.
Genre: science fiction
Best episode: “Driving Under”
This one is for the people who are interested in how technology will change our future. The series is surprisingly good, on par with any movie, and is the most sophisticated internet show I have ever seen.
It is a story about a device that is put inside the brain of humans so that they are always connected to the internet. When a virus infects the whole system, disaster strikes.
This show will interest learners who are seeking to learn the more formal and technical English that is spoken in news channels and debates. The first episode is a mix of various different scenes involving interviews, debates and a couple driving in a parking lot.
In the beginning of the show, they also give the definition of a philosophical concept called “Transhumanism,” which is the theme of this story. Check out the video linked above to learn its meaning.
Best Netflix TV Shows with Subtitles
Genre: children’s animated series
Best episode: “Doctor Robert” (season 1, episode 7)
Although this show is meant for kids, the concept of it comes from the famous band The Beatles. It is about five young characters who learn a life lesson through one of the band’s songs in each episode. This makes the show two times more useful since you get to learn simple English through both conversation and songs.
I recommend the episode “Doctor Robert” since you get to observe how to have a conversation in a doctor’s office and the special words used there.
Level: intermediate (appropriate for teenagers)
Best episode: “I Lost My Poor Meatball” (season 1 episode 7)
There are a lot of shows that involve romance and relationships, but I am sure you have seen nothing like this.
Atypical, in plain English, means “unusual.” This series is about a teenage boy called Sam who has autism. It is a mental condition where people are born with a different kind of brain and experience the world differently. People with autism generally have difficulty understanding what other people are thinking and feeling. This creates situations where they behave in a way that may seem strange or wrong to other people.
Sam is on a journey to find the love of his life. In the process, his whole family is transformed in a way that no one could have guessed.
For language learners, this show can help you understand the proper and improper ways of communicating with a person in the English and what you are supposed to say in different contexts according to social rules. This is best seen in the episode “I Lost My Poor Meatball.”
Genre: science fiction/dystopia
Level: advanced (this show also contains adult/mature content)
Best episode: “Nosedive” (season 3, episode 1)
Similar to “H+,” this series looks into the near future to imagine how our lives will change because of technology. But each episode has a different, often dark story for its viewers.
The actors mostly speak British English but some episodes also feature American actors. It is good for learners as they get a wide range of conversations—from political campaigns to phone calls.
“Nosedive” is the perfect episode for learners as it is literally about social interactions and how the characters make themselves more likable according to society.
English Movies with Subtitles
Find these movies on popular streaming services like Amazon Prime, Hulu or Netflix—or download them with subtitles according to the process described earlier in this post.
Level: beginner to intermediate
Gru is the second-best super villain in the world, who wants to steal the moon. He has powerful weapons and a group of “minions,” who are little yellow people working under him. But his plan runs into problems when three orphan girls want him to adopt them as a family. What happens next is both adorable and funny.
For English learners, you can directly see the difference between how children talk and how the adults interact with them. This is also good for beginners as you will get an idea of how language learning progresses (from children to adult or beginner to advanced).
Additionally, you get to see what expressions the children use as well as the adults. This is one of the many reasons why animated feature films are great for beginners in English, as explained in this video taken from the FluentU YouTube channel.
For beginner English film recommendations and more, don’t forget to subscribe to the FluentU channel on YouTube.
“The Odd Life of Timothy Green”
A married couple is not able to have a child. The doctors tell them that nothing can be done, but they still do not lose hope. One day, they write down everything that they want in a child and bury it in the garden inside a box.
The next day, they find a magical boy covered in mud in their bedroom. He says his name is Timothy and he has leaves growing out of his legs. This story is about how he wins the hearts of everyone around him and how he changes their lives.
For English learners, this is a great opportunity to learn how native speakers interact within their families. It is especially suited for intermediate level learners as the words used in it are sufficiently challenging but not advanced.
Juli Baker immediately falls in love with Bryce when she sees him for the first time. They grow up together as neighbors and Juli tries hard to impress him. Bryce just seems to get irritated by her attention and tries to push her away.
Their families try to know each other better when Juli becomes friends with Bryce’s grandfather. But rumors about the Baker family ruin their relationship until the teenagers get to know more about how they feel with each other.
This might be a delightful journey for English learners as you can see how the young characters learn to communicate their emotions to each other and their friends in the context of a school.
Genre: coming-of-age drama
Level: intermediate to advanced
What is special in this movie is not just the story but the way it was made. It took the filmmakers 12 years to create it and you can see the actors aging in real life as they grow older in the story too.
Mason is a boy whose mother gets in violent marriages and he grows up in this environment. He also has an older sister who fights with him a lot, but both of them know that they care for each other. It is about family life and how these two children manage to grow up in a healthy way despite the odds.
Once again, learners can trace the change in the language as the characters grow older and move from school to college. It is like a crash course in language learning starting with simple words and moving on to the more hard parts of it.
Genre: science fiction
It is rare for a science fiction movie to handle both the past and the future in a way that makes us understand our present better. Unlike the other sci-fi (science fiction) options on this list, “Her” shows us a comfortable and happier version of the future. It is a love story between a human being and his computer, who is much smarter than him.
Unlike the usual stories about technology, in this film even the computers are fully human and the movie treats them like real characters. “Her” makes us think about the future of our relationships and what the difference between a person and a computer is when both have thoughts and feelings.
Most of the movie is about the conversation these two characters have and how their relationship progresses. It might be strange in the beginning since the computer has no physical body and you only hear her voice. But this is precisely why it will be better for English learning since you can focus fully on the words instead of the actors playing the characters.
Genre: historical drama
You might know about NASA, America’s space program that was responsible for sending humans to the moon for the first time. This story is about their first successful mission and three African-American women who were part of the program.
It shows us their struggles and the kinds of unjust treatment these women had to deal with while working for their country, and it shows us how they overcame racism in NASA.
The movie includes the different accents spoken among ethnic communities of the U.S. and the intense office interactions are good language learning material.
“The Man Who Knew Infinity”
Srinivasa Ramanujan was an Indian mathematician who began studying at Cambridge University in 1914. Although he had no formal knowledge of math, he contributed to the field in such a way that it was changed forever. The story is about the relationship between him and his teacher G. H. Hardy and how Ramanujan survived as an Indian in Britain.
This movie is great for people who want to learn English as it is used in universities, and since it shows early 20th century England, the spoken language is more formal compared to our times.
As you can see, we have selected a wide range of movies hoping to present relevant material for all kinds of learners. So start following those subtitles on your screens and push your English learning to the next level!
Dhritiman Ray is a writer of fiction, poetry and non-fiction. He specializes in topics like education, psychology and lifestyle. To know more click here.