Love TV comedies?
Interested in characters who are unlike the rest?
Want to learn English?
Then I’ll show you exactly how to learn English by watching one of the most popular American comedies, “The Big Bang Theory.”
- Who Are “The Big Bang Theory” Characters?
- Why Is “The Big Bang Theory” Useful for English Learners?
- How to Learn English While Watching “The Big Bang Theory”
- Bazinga! The One-stop Guide to Learn English with “The Big Bang Theory”
Who Are “The Big Bang Theory” Characters?
For those of you who don’t already watch this awesome show, “The Big Bang Theory” is a popular comedy TV series about four genius scientists who are what most of us would call extreme nerds—people who know a lot about a specific topic, in this case, science. The word nerd usually also implies some strange or awkward social behavior. Because these characters’ outlook on life is so different than those around them, they get into some hilarious situations.
The original group is made up of Sheldon, Leonard, Howard and Raj. Sheldon is the most awkward in social situations and constantly points out how much smarter he is than everyone else.
Howard is a grown man still living with his mom. He’s obsessed with getting a girlfriend but is terrible when it comes to women. Like his best friend, Raj is also terrible with women and cannot even speak when there’s a woman in the room.
Leonard is very sweet but dorky (uncool) and lives with Sheldon. Throughout the series, they also befriend Penny, a waitress who lives next door and wants to be an actress, and fellow scientists Bernadette and Amy.
The show first aired in 2007 and is set to end in 2019 with a total of 12 seasons.
Why Is “The Big Bang Theory” Useful for English Learners?
This sitcom is great to pick up colloquial language and American cultural references. Not everyone on the show is a scientist—which is why it’s funny to see all of the characters interact—so there’s plenty of everyday language for you to learn.
You’ll also learn the nuances (small details) of English humor, including intonation, timing and word stress.
As you probably guessed, the series is also full of scientific language and advanced vocabulary. While these are great to learn, it can sometimes make it difficult for English learners watching the show. You’ll likely feel more comfortable watching it if you’re at an intermediate level or higher.
If you want to build up your English skills first and get used to learning with video content, you can always practice first with shorter clips. You can focus on videos related to “The Big Bang Theory” but you can also watch all kinds of clips, whether they’re from a TV series or not. The point is that you become familiar with the natural, realistic English that’s used in shows.
One resource that can help is the language learning program FluentU. It has English videos made for native speakers, including TV show and movie clips, that are less than five minutes long. They have interactive subtitles so you can learn about any word or expression in context, as well as flashcards and quizzes for memorizing vocabulary.
Once you’re comfortable enough watching and learning from English videos, grab some popcorn and get ready for a Big Bang Theory episode. Below, we have some tips to make sure you learn from each episode and don’t get confused.
How to Learn English While Watching “The Big Bang Theory”
There are many different approaches you can take to learn English with “The Big Bang Theory.”
- I recommend first watching an episode or scene (short part of an episode) with subtitles in your native language, especially if you’re a beginner. This will help you understand the general plot.
- Then, rewatch it with English subtitles, writing down any unfamiliar words or phrases as you hear or read them. If you’re already an intermediate student, feel free to start with English subtitles and skip the first step.
- When you’re finished, try to summarize the episode or scene you just watched to see if you understood the gist (main idea) of it. Be sure to look up the definitions of words you didn’t understand as well.
- Finally, if you feel you’re ready to watch the show like native English speakers do, turn off the subtitles.
Specifically, listen for the new vocabulary you learned and see if you can catch any fresh details as well. Often, we see many things we hadn’t noticed before when we watch a show for the second or third time.
Listening also helps you focus on intonation. In addition to turning off the subtitles, consider closing your eyes so that you can zero in on intonation and delivery. This in turn helps you better understand English humor, in “The Big Bang Theory” and beyond.
There’s much more you can do with the show than just watch it, too!
For starters, many of the episode transcripts (written dialogue) are available on the “Big Bang Theory Transcripts” blog. You and your friends can read them together and act out your favorite scenes to practice your speaking skills.
If you want to practice English conversation, connect with other fans of the series on sites like Fanpop. Discuss what you like or don’t like about each character, what your favorite episode is and which scenes and jokes you think are the funniest.
You can also test your knowledge with fun trivia quizzes like the ones on Absurd Trivia and Zimbio. This is a great way to see if you understand what you’re watching.
Lastly, if you’re really dedicated, write your own scene or episode. You’ll get to be creative and practice your English writing skills at the same time.
Bazinga! The One-stop Guide to Learn English with “The Big Bang Theory”
Without further ado, check out the following scenes for some great new English vocabulary!
Scene 1: Penny, Leonard and Sheldon Get to Know One Another
This scene is from the very first episode of “The Big Bang Theory,” which you can watch on YouTube Premium here. Leonard and Sheldon have recently met Penny, their new neighbor, and invited her to their house. Penny notices a whiteboard covered with difficult scientific equations written on it.
Penny: This looks like some serious stuff. Leonard, did you do this?
Sheldon: Actually, that’s my work.
Sheldon: Yeah, well, it’s just some quantum mechanics, with a little string theory doodling around the edges. That part there, that’s just a joke, it’s a spoof of the Bourne-Oppenheimer approximation.
Penny: So you’re like one of those beautiful mind genius guys.
Penny: This is really impressive.
Leonard: I have a board. If you like boards, this is my board.
Penny: Holy smokes.
Sheldon: If by holy smokes you mean a derivative restatement of the kind of stuff you can find scribbled on the wall of any men’s room at MIT, sure.
This is a great scene to introduce you to the show. You can see that you don’t need to understand every single scientific word to understand the jokes.
Rather, the scene is funny because Sheldon acts like everyone should understand those difficult terms, and Leonard wants to impress Penny by showing her his whiteboard of equations as well.
Still, it’s nice to understand some of the more common scientific words as well as some new vocabulary and cultural references.
Here’s a look at some words you may not have heard before:
Quantum mechanics — a science that has to do with the atoms and particles that make up the universe
String theory — a theory that deals with particles and explains how the universe works
Doodling — drawing without thinking about what you’re drawing
Spoof — a funny imitation of something else
Genius — someone who’s extremely intelligent
Holy smokes — an expression that shows surprise (like “Oh my gosh!”)
MIT — short for the very prestigious (respected) Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Now that you know some new vocabulary, go back and re-read the scene to see if things are clearer. You can get the full transcript for this episode here.
Scene 2: Watching “Gremlins”
Here’s a scene from episode four of the third season, in which the group is watching the well-known comedy horror film “Gremlins.”
Sheldon: This movie baffles me every time we watch it.
Leonard: What do you mean?
Sheldon: Well, the instructions are very clear, don’t feed the gremlins after midnight, don’t get the gremlins wet. How hard is that?
Penny (arriving): Hi, guys. Hi, honey.
Howard: Oh, we’re “honey” now, are we?
Sheldon: Yes. Since their relationship became carnal, Penny has upgraded his designated term of endearment, thus distinguishing him from those she calls “sweetie,” usually in an attempt to soften a thinly-veiled insult.
Penny: You’re boring people, sweetie.
Sheldon: Although, sometimes, she omits the veil entirely.
The main joke in this scene comes from the slightly mean things that Penny and Sheldon say to one another. Here’s some vocabulary to help you better understand it:
Baffles — confuses
Terms of endearment — words like sweetie and honey, which you call your significant other or close family member
Insult — a mean statement used to offend or disrespect someone else
Veil — an either literal or figurative covering to hide something (in this case, to hide Penny’s true feelings)
As in this scene, the jokes in “The Big Bang Theory” can sometimes depend on understanding one or two words, so it’s important to look up vocabulary you don’t recognize at first.
Scene 3: Sheldon’s Story
This scene comes from the 18th episode of season three, which is available on YouTube Premium here. Sheldon is nervous because he has to give a speech while accepting an award. He hates public speaking with large crowds and tells his friends a story about when he gave a speech at his college.
Leonard: Sheldon, you’re being ridiculous.
Sheldon: Am I? Let me tell you a story.
Sheldon: I was 14 and graduating summa cum laude from college. Summa cum laude is Latin for “with highest honors.”
Penny: I just love how you always skip over the part where no one asks.
Sheldon: I was valedictorian and expected to give an address. Even now, I can remember that moment when I walked up to the podium and looked out at the crowd. There must have been thousands of people. My heart started pounding in my chest. I began to hyperventilate. My vision became blurry, and before I knew it… oh, dear. (He faints.)
Here are some words you may not have understood right away:
Ridiculous — absurd or laughable
Valedictorian — the person who graduates with the best grades
To give an address — to give a speech
Podium — the platform where one gives a speech
Hyperventilate — to breathe really quickly
Faints — to pass out, unconscious
Apart from the vocabulary, this scene is a great example of using the past tense to tell a story. Sheldon uses the past tense of many verbs such as to be (was), to walk (walked) and to begin (began). You can read the full episode transcript here.
Scene 4: Fighting Friends
This scene, from season seven, episode 17 (full transcript here and full episode on YouTube Premium here), shows the group of friends fighting with one another. It begins just after Leonard questions Penny’s decision to turn down (not accept) an acting job and Sheldon suggests that Howard’s career is far less important than his own.
Bernadette: Can I ask you something? Why do you constantly feel the need to put down my husband?
Penny: Oh, I’m sure he does it out of love. The same way my boyfriend makes me feel terrible about my life choices.
Amy: I think we’re gonna go.
Leonard: No, no, no. This is not a fight. I was just excited that someone offered you a part and a little surprised that you’d rather sit at home and do nothing than take it. Now it’s a fight.
Sheldon: Well, with that sorted out, I’m happy to answer your question, Bernadette. Howard started it.
Howard: I didn’t do anything. I was just sitting here.
This particular scene is full of great phrases that English speakers use quite frequently.
To put down — to criticize someone and make them look foolish
Out of love — done with good intentions
Started it — a phrase used when you want to blame an argument on someone else
Notice that these phrases can mean different things if you take them literally. For example, you could easily use to put down when referring to the act of putting down an object.
As you can see, it’s important to recognize the more colloquial ways English phrases are used if you want to truly understand what’s being said.
Scene 5: Amy Is Cooler than Penny
Here’s a scene that comes from season 10, episode 17, in which Penny begs Amy to go to a nerdy event called “Comic-Con” with her and the guys.
Amy: You’re actually going to Comic-Con?
Penny: Well, Leonard wants me to do more stuff like that with him, so I thought maybe this year I’d tag along.
Amy: Well, that’s sweet. I bet you’ll have fun.
Penny: So, do you want to come?
Amy: No, thanks. I already live in a place all the nerds come to.
Penny: Please? I went to your boring thing last month.
Amy: My aunt’s funeral?
Penny: Come on, even you checked your e-mail during the eulogy.
Amy: Well, I’m not going, but I do think it’s nice you want to.
Penny: It’s not that I want to go, I just think it’ll make Leonard happy. And if I have to watch him squeeze into an Ewok costume, so be it.
Amy: Look at you, going to Comic-Con, talking about Ewoks. I really have become the cool one around here.
Let’s take a closer look at some vocabulary in order to understand the jokes in this one.
Comic-Con — an annual comic book convention held in California where people dress up as comic book characters
Tag along — an informal phrase meaning “to go with someone”
Funeral — the ceremony you have when you bury someone who’s died
Eulogy — the speech in which you talk about the deceased person’s life at a funeral
Ewoks — creatures from the famous “Star Wars” movies
This scene includes several specific references like “Star Wars” and Comic-Con, a preview of the many cultural references this show uses in every single episode. Most often, these references are about movies, books, games, authors and famous scientists.
As you can see, there’s so much English you can learn just by watching “The Big Bang Theory.” Grab a blanket and some snacks, and enjoy the show!
Camille Turner is an experienced freelance writer and ESL teacher.