As a kid, I loved to watch TV—especially English cartoons.
But there were often words and phrases I didn’t understand.
So, I would guess at the meaning from the context and the reactions of other characters. Sometimes, I would repeat lines out loud. I also liked to act out some scenes.
My acting skills didn’t improve… but my English abilities certainly did.
If you’re learning English, watching English TV is a must. In my experience, the visuals on the screen are a huge bonus in figuring out what the words mean.
However, unless the show is extremely kid-friendly—like those cartoons I used to watch—you may run into trouble.
Popular shows like “Friends,” “The Simpsons,” “Game of Thrones” and more can be really confusing for English learners. Accents, slang and fast speech can all be difficult to understand.
The good news is that you don’t need to just turn on your TV and hope you figure things out.
Instead, try one of the websites in this article, which are specifically designed to help you learn English through TV series and movies.
They come with explanations of difficult language, subtitles, exercises and more to turn your TV watching time into English learning time.
How to Learn English While Watching a TV Show
Like we said, the resources below will use TV to teach you English, with lots of interactive exercises and practice opportunities.
But you can still learn English with your regular, everyday TV watching routine! Just keep these tips in mind whenever you turn on the TV:
- Watch in short periods: Try to take breaks every 20 to 30 minutes to process what you’ve watched and learned so far. That way, you won’t get overwhelmed.
- Keep a notebook by your side: Always have a notebook nearby to write down important words, confusing phrases and anything else you want to look up or review later.
- Watch without subtitles first: When you’re watching something for the first time, try not to rely on subtitles. Instead, focus on the plot and the general meaning of what the characters are saying.
Then replay it using subtitles. This will test your comprehension skills and also improve pronunciation.
- Pay attention to the body language of the actors: Body language and facial cues are vital to understanding English speakers when they talk. They may also help you notice cultural norms in English-speaking regions.
Want to Learn English with TV? 7 Sites That Make It Easy
The resources listed below all use elements from TV series and movies to teach various aspects of the English language.
Most of the resources are pretty affordable and come with a free trial or some free content so that you can test it out before signing up, while others are completely free.
Sometimes, while watching TV in English, you may come across a scene or a conversation that you don’t fully understand. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a private tutor explain it for you?
Well, this is what makes the website Skype Lessons a wonderful resource.
The site was created by Dave, a British native speaker who’s had over 15 years of experience teaching English. His teaching method is pretty unique — students are expected to watch TV shows and complete exercises. Then, they summarize the TV shows during lessons, using new vocabulary that they learned from the exercises.
Sounds fun, right?
In fact, Dave has designed a number of vocabulary, comprehension and grammar exercises based on popular TV shows such as “House Of Cards,” “Firefly,” “Sherlock” and even movies like “Harry Potter.” Most of them are for intermediate and advanced learners, with a strong emphasis on listening. However, Dave provides lessons on reading and writing skills as well.
FluentU is one of the most useful and fun resources to learn English with TV. It has thousands of authentic English videos—including TV clips, commercials and movie trailers—that have been transformed into personalized language lessons.
Every video clip comes with interactive subtitles. Click any word for an instant definition, grammar info and useful examples. This way you naturally learn new English words and phrases while you watch.
There are also flashcards and fun quizzes with every video to make sure you remember what you’ve learned.
FluentU has video lessons for every English learning level. Beginners might enjoy this “Game of Thrones” parody (funny imitation) by the famous kids’ show “Sesame Street,” while this interview with Chris Evans on “Late Night with Seth Meyers” is perfect for upper-level learners.
You can explore the full video library with all the learning features for free with a FluentU trial.
“Friends” is one of the most popular and entertaining American sitcoms. Every episode is approximately 20 minutes long, which makes for easy viewing. The story follows six buddies as they go about their daily life in and around New York.
However, for non-native speakers, many of the cultural references, jokes and colloquialisms may be lost. Some exchanges may be even difficult to follow, which can get frustrating.
That’s where this online, 48-week course comes in. It promises to teach you to speak English fluently by watching “Friends.” You’ll learn how to understand native speakers and pick up hundreds of vocabulary words, idioms and slang terms that are used in daily conversation in the U.S.
You’ll also be added to an online community of other English learners and get access to exclusive video lessons, among other perks (benefits).
Fluent with Friends also has a 30-day money back guarantee, meaning you’ll get a refund if you’re dissatisfied with the contents of the course.
This website has several interesting exercises and engaging activities for intermediate and advanced learners. They’re all based on popular films such as “Iron Man 3,” “Skyfall,” “The Hobbit” and many others.
There are creative exercises based on the trailer and poster. These include fill-in-the blanks that test your reading and listening skills, matching games, spelling questions and more.
While these are all suited for beginners and above, each movie lesson also has a “Homework” section which advanced students can look into to develop their critical thinking and writing skills.
Learn English with “Prison Break”
The YouTube channel Learn English with Movies teaches English with (you guessed it) movies—but also has several lessons focused on the popular American TV show “Prison Break.” It’s perfect for absolute beginners.
Certain lines of dialogue are played three times with subtitles, after which the meanings of the words are provided on screen. Then the line is played again, so that you can comprehend it fully without subtitles and other aids.
The channel uses the same format for lessons with movies, which include “Iron Man,” “Interstellar” and more.
Each clip is very short and you don’t need to watch the show or movies before viewing them—although that’s always a plus. Each video also comes with a PDF transcript that you can download for future reference.
Voice of America (VOA) Learning English has several programs designed for students at various levels. One of their audio programs is called English@TheMovies and is aimed at intermediate learners looking to improve their speaking skills.
Each lesson uses a short movie clip to teach something new about the English language—such as a much-used idiom or the correct pronunciation of a certain word.
Here’s one example with the English comedy movie “Life of the Party,” which is used to teach the English idiom down the tubes:
This website was been created for teachers, but advanced English students might also find it useful.
While the main focus is movies, you’ll find some TV show lessons in here, too. They have a huge variety.
A typical lesson plan begins with a brief description of the film, which might help you in writing a review or talking about it to other people. Then there’s a vocabulary list, so if you’re unfamiliar with certain words, you can look them up.
There are also conversation starters and discussion questions that encourage you to think about the movie and form your own opinions. You can either write them down or think out loud, or even discuss them with friends and other students. You can even form a study group and try the various exercises together.
A lot of people think watching TV is a waste of time, but now you know for yourself that it isn’t true. Watching English TV can become a productive learning session if you follow the steps I’ve outlined and the TV-learning resources that I listed above. In that way, you can have fun and learn English while you watch TV.
Archita Mittra is a freelance writer, journalist, editor and educator. Feel free to check out her blog or contact her for freelancing/educational inquiries.
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