How to Learn English with TV Series and Movies (Best Methods)


During college, I spent many hours cooped up in my dorm room, watching American TV series and films.

It was a lot of fun.

Some shows were so addictive. I often skipped classes so I could finish the entire series.

I didn’t feel guilty about it though. Watching those shows improved my English. I wasn’t just having fun. I was being productive.

How TV Series Improve Your English

TV shows and movies not only entertain you, they can help develop your English skills.

Here’s how:

1. Vocabulary

When you watch a TV series, you get to learn new words, phrases, and idioms, especially those that are commonly used in spoken English.

An example of idioms is “put yourself in someone’s shoes,” which means to try to look at a situation from someone else’s point of view, as if you were that person.

Unlike books, which some people find boring, TV shows contain visuals and sound. So they’re more appealing to most people.

2. Listening Comprehension

To most English learners, movie dialogues are quite hard to understand.

Which is why they are great for listening practice, especially for intermediate and advanced learners.

You see, if you only listen to easy English, your listening won’t improve much. (It’s like lifting very light weights and expecting your muscles to grow big. It won’t work so well.)

A more effective way to improve your listening skills is to listen to something difficult, like movies and TV shows.

By watching various shows, you’ll encounter both standard and regional accents of the English language.

With enough practice, you’ll become more familiar with all the common accents, and you’ll get better at making out what native speakers are saying in real life.

3. Social Skills

TV shows contain a ton of human interaction. So you’ll learn useful verbal social skills such as:

  • Different ways to greet someone
  • How to make polite requests
  • How to ask questions
  • How to order food

Of course, films aren’t 100% realistic and some of the interaction is exaggerated. But they still reflect reality and you can still learn a lot from them.

4 Ways to Learn English Through Movies

You can use movies and TV series to improve these skills:

  • Vocabulary
  • Reading comprehension
  • Listening comprehension
  • Spoken English

There are several ways to do it. Let’s discuss the first one.

Method #1: Watch TV series with subtitles in your native language

This method is probably the most enjoyable. Reading subtitles in your own language makes it easy to understand the story.

But it’s the least effective way to learn English with TV shows.

Since the subtitles aren’t in English, you don’t know the actual English words that the actors are saying.

I would recommend this method to only beginners, and only if they combine this method with the next one.

Method #2: Watch TV series with English subtitles

With this method, you know the exact English words that are being spoken.

It’s a good way to learn English vocabulary.

But this approach can be challenging if your English reading skills are poor. (It’s not easy to speed-read the subtitles during a fast-talking scene.)

So if you have trouble with English subtitles, you can watch a show with subtitles in your language first (to learn the plot), then watch it again with English subtitles to learn the vocabulary.

Method #3: Watch TV series without subtitles

If you want to improve your English listening skills, this is the best method.

You see, the problem with the previous methods is that they aren’t effective in improving your listening skills.

Why? Because when you watch a film with subtitles, your attention is on the subtitles, not the speech sounds. So you’re practicing your reading skills, not listening skills.

But if you disable to subtitles, something interesting happens.

Now there’s nothing to read! You have no choice but to pay full attention to the spoken sounds.

This method can be split into two separate approaches:

Method 3.1: Watch with subtitles first

Watch a show with English subtitles first to learn the plot details, then watch it again without the subtitles.

The first viewing improves your vocabulary and reading comprehension, while the second viewing targets your listening skills.

Method 3.2: Watch without subtitles first

This is like the reverse of Method 3.1.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Watch the first scene (or dialogue) without subtitles. Listen carefully. Do you best to understand what the actors are saying.
  2. If you can understand the scene quite well, that’s great! Continue watching with no subtitles.
  3. But if you don’t understand some parts of it, turn on the English subtitles and watch it again. After that, move on to the next scene and repeat the process.

Method 3.2 is the most effective way to improve English listening skills.

The first time you watch each scene, there are no subtitles, and you have no prior knowledge about that scene. So you have to rely solely on your listening skills to understand what’s going on.

This will improve your listening comprehension like nothing else.

But the problem with this approach is that you cannot watch an entire movie or episode in one go. You have to rewind and rewatch some scenes with the subtitles turned on. So if you don’t want to do this, use Method 3.1 instead.

Method #4: Imitate the actors

Unlike the previous methods, this one targets your English speaking skills.

Basically, you learn to speak English by copying the actors. When an actor speaks, pause the video and repeat what you hear. Try to say the line in the exact same way, with the same pronunciation. (You can even copy the body language and facial expressions.)

I already discuss this speaking practice in detail in another article. If you want to learn more, check out my guide to practicing speaking English.

Best TV Series for Learning English

Do you know what I love about learning English with movies and TV shows?

There are so many options to choose from!

Best Shows for Beginners

If you’re a newbie, animated movies are your best friend.

Most animated films are easy to understand (because the studios have to make sure that kids can enjoy them). They have relatively simple plots and don’t usually require prior knowledge about any particular topic.

Here are animated shows both kids and adults can enjoy:

  • Toy Story (4 movies)
  • The Incredibles (2 movies)
  • Monsters, Inc. and Monsters University
  • How to Train Your Dragon (3 movies)
  • Kung Fu Panda (3 movies)
  • Shrek (4 movies)
  • Back to the Future (3 movies) These aren’t animated films but the stories are easy to understand too.

If you want more suggestions, check out this page.

Best Shows for Intermediates

If you’re an intermediate, you have a lot more options to choose from.

Here are the British and American shows I like:

  • Harry Potter (8 movies) (British)
  • Stranger Things (American)
  • Peaky Blinders (British)
  • Breaking Bad (American)
  • The Crown (British)

For more TV show suggestions, check out IMDB’s Top Rated TV Shows.

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