We often talk about how important it is to watch movies without subtitles to maximize your listening comprehension and vocabulary. And as we wrote in this article, we have even designed our own method for using TV shows for learning English. American researchers have concluded that watching movies with subtitles helps comprehension (except for ultra beginners). Read on to find out what TV shows you should watch if you want to improve your English, and how to do it.

Last Updated: 18/11/19

list-of-the-best-tv-shows-for-learning-english-mosalingua

Why You Should Watch TV Shows in English

Personally, I alternate between movies and TV series without subtitles. But I think that TV offers two distinct advantages:

  • TV shows for learning English are ideal for learning step-by-step: you can start with subtitles in your native language, which are eventually replaced after a few seasons by subtitles in English. Your ultimate goal is to watch the show with no subtitles at all. When you learn English with TV series, you can take the time to get used to the characters’ voices and accents. The plots often involve repetition, and little by little, you improve your understanding of what’s going on.
  • Series are engaging and often create a “dependence effect”: If you choose a good series that matches your tastes, it’ll be hard to stop watching! You’ll be exposed to hours upon hours of a language without even noticing how much you’re learning.

This database of movies with subtitles is a good resource: http://www.opensubtitles.org/en.

Below is a list of series in English that I particularly enjoy. They are all educational in certain respects, too. It’s a win-win!

Best TV Shows For Learning English: Sitcoms

Funny shows known as “sitcoms” (situational comedies, like Friends) are easiest for beginners. If you’re not sure where you stand (beginner, intermediate, or advanced), take our free English level quiz to find out!

 

Take our English level test

 

Back to our main topic… here’s why we generally recommend sitcoms for beginners:

  • The episodes are not long, so you can stay focused despite any problems you may have understanding. That also means they’re easy to watch multiple times.

  • There are usually not a lot of characters, but the ones who are in the show have a lot of dialogue. You get the chance to get used to their voices, accents, and any slang they might use a lot.

  • Vocabulary comes from everyday conversations. It’s more useful to learn common vocabulary, as opposed to specialized jargon.

Up until a few years ago, I had a bad impression of sitcoms. I never really had watched one regularly. The canned laughter and poor quality of some can be a turnoff. But then I forced myself to watch the first 5 episodes of Friends. Since then, I’ve really learned to appreciate sitcoms, to the point of not being able to turn them off sometimes! And I can tell you that my English has considerably improved because of them. Now, I truly believe in the power of TV shows for learning English or any other language.

Friends

TV Shows to Help You Learn English

[United States – 1994-2004 – 10 seasons – Sitcom/Comedy]

Nearly everyone knows Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Joey and Phoebe, the famous cast of Friends. This sitcom follows a group of New Yorkers in their 30s. It aired for 10 unbelievable seasons, and it is full of wit and laughter. It’s perfect for a relaxed evening. You get attached to the 6 characters quickly, and I admit, I felt rather sad when I watched the last episode of the last season.

From a Language Perspective:

This show is ideal to start with because the English is not hard to understand. They use vocabulary that you would use in real-life situations. I started with subtitles but stopped using them by the last season. I owe a large part of my English comprehension skills to Friends. You can easily find used copies for pretty cheap online. Or, buy all 10 seasons here: Buy Friends on Amazon Unfortunately it’s going to be taken off Netflix at the end of 2019, but it will be added to the streaming service HBO Max.

How I Met Your Mother

how-i-met-your-mother-how-i-met-your-dad

[United States – 2005-2013 – 6 seasons – Sitcom/Comedy]

A sitcom that resembles Friends in many ways, this show is a more modern version that has been tremendously successful. It’s about a group of friends who live in New York (sound familiar?) but it’s more obviously about relationships, drinking, etc. The actors bring their characters to life, and they’re constantly involved in some sort of sticky situation. Even though I loved Friends, I think this sitcom is a close second.

From a Language Perspective:

Like Friends, the English is not too difficult (although there is a lot of slang). You’ll pick up plenty of practical vocabulary that’s relevant for socializing. Plus, you’ll want to watch every episode to finally find out how he actually met their mother! Download it on iTunes.

Malcolm in the Middle

list-of-the-best-tv-shows-for-learning-english-mosalingua

[United States – 2000-2006 – 7 seasons – Sitcom/Comedy]

This sitcom is about a typical American family. It’s quite a silly show with tons of jokes and entertaining plot lines. It’s named after Malcolm, the middle child, who has genius-level IQ. He’s known to have a bit of a superiority complex, which is often what gets him into so much trouble. Besides Malcolm, the show also stars his overly strict mother, immature father, and four brothers, each with their own sets of worries and storylines.

From a Language Perspective:

Malcolm in the Middle is a casual sitcom with simple storylines, and there’s a lot of visual comedy. This makes it an ideal show for beginner English learners, as it’s not too hard to understand. On top of this, the hilarious script will have you entertained and coming back for more.

The Simpsons

list-of-the-best-tv-shows-for-learning-english-mosalingua

[United States – 1989-present – 31 seasons – Animated Series/Cartoon]

The Simpsons isn’t technically a sitcom, but an animated series (also known as a cartoon). That said, the vocabulary in it is nothing like what you’d hear in a cartoon for kids! It is somewhat of a satire of American society, as imagined by its creator Matt Groening. But you may already know that… who has never met Homer, Marge, Lisa, Bart, and Maggie Simpson? This show is extremely well known and has received tons of awards. The creators have produced over 30 successful seasons since 1989, and it has been translated into at least 18 languages (including different Portuguese versions for Brazil and Portugal, French versions for Canada and France, and Spanish versions for Spain and Latin America).

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From a Language Perspective:

The dialogues include a lot of cultural jokes, and the characters speak quickly… which can sometimes make it hard to follow. However, the vocabulary of everyday life is quite interesting to listen to, especially the American slang. Additionally, the speed of the dialogue is a good challenge!

The Big Bang Theory

list-of-the-best-tv-shows-for-learning-english-mosalingua
[United States – 2007-2019 – 12 seasons – Comedy]

The Big Bang Theory is a very modern, fun show. With 279 episodes over 12 seasons, you’ll stay busy with hours and hours of English. This American TV show follows a group of four scientists (okay, geeks) and their next-door neighbor, a pretty, aspiring actress. Although the characters come from opposing universes, they end up getting along well. And, spoiler alert: even fall in love. The characters are endearing, and it is easy to keep up with their daily adventures, even in English.

From a Language Perspective:

The vocabulary used in the series is very accessible, the speech is clear and the subjects are interesting. Even though they use quite a bit of scientific jargon, they don’t expect even “normal” viewers to understand most of it, so you won’t feel left out. Just be sure you don’t try to learn any highly technical vocabulary that won’t be of any use to you. Overall, I think The Big Bang Theory is of great linguistic interest. Plus, the episodes are short and easy to binge-watch.

The Office

list-of-the-best-tv-shows-for-learning-english-mosalingua

[United States – 2005-2013 – 9 seasons – “Mockumentary” (Fake Documentary)]

We are talking about the American sitcom, adapted from the British series of the same name. In both cases (British or American), the story is the same: the day-to-day life of office workers at a paper company. Steve Carell, who plays the role of the narcissistic (and a little silly) boss, tends to steal the show. The sitcom is shot as a fake documentary. A film crew comes to film the office life of this company 24 hours a day. All the employees are aware that they are being filmed.

From a Language Perspective:

The English in The Office is quite basic and the premise of the show is very fun. The result: you find yourself easily addicted, and you learn English every day without realizing it! 201 episodes, 22 minutes each… makes for hours of learning! All of that makes this one of the best TV shows for learning English!

That 70’s Show

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[United States – 1998-2006 – 200 episodes – Comedy]

The series traces the adventures, or rather the daily life, of a group of young people in the seventies. Love, drugs, friendship, and high school years are all topics that come up in this amusing and engaging American TV show. All the characters have unique personalities, and this is what creates such a dynamic show.

From a Language Perspective:

The series touches on different subjects, so you can increase your English vocab in these categories. You’ll mostly hear “everyday” vocabulary, which is accessible and understandable. You’ll also learn some popular 70s slang, so make sure you look it up before you use it in 2019! This sitcom is not really addictive, per se. But it’s interesting and easy to watch, which is a bonus if you are starting out.

Other sitcoms

There are loads of different sitcoms for every taste. If you don’t like the ones on our list (though we’ve given you a lot to choose from), take a look at this list. And share the TV shows for learning English that you’ve fallen in love with in the comments section below!

Before you start watching all these TV shows, make sure that you have downloaded our FREE English phrasebook. It will help you with the basics you need to understand English.

Best TV Shows for Learning English: TV Series

Beyond comedic sitcoms, there are also more dramatic TV shows for learning English. Some shows are major productions with huge budgets, much like movies. But with series, the writers and producers can develop the story on a deeper, more nuanced level since it’s spread out over a longer period.

Lost
lost american tv show

[United States – 2004-2010 – 6 seasons – Adventure, Science-Fiction]

Following a plane crash, a group of survivors finds themselves on an apparently remote, lifeless Pacific island. While waiting for help, they must learn how to survive on the island and with each other. But the isolated island also contains many mysteries… Lost is a very captivating series and was well made. The action unfolds in two dimensions: in the present, you see the mysteries unfolding on the island; in flashbacks, you learn about the past of one of the characters each episode. What’s amazing is that this show manages to pull you in and keep you interested, with scenarios that build on each other in interesting ways. I’ve watched 3 or 4 episodes at a time, only stopping because I couldn’t stay awake any longer.

From a Language Perspective:

In Lost, the characters have a wide range of accents, which is great for English listening comprehension practice. You can hear the differences in the characters’ English, whether they are young, old, American, British, Australian, or Scottish. The vocabulary is varied since each character has his or her unique way of speaking. You can download season 1 on iTunes.

Prison Break

TV shows for learning English

[United States – 2005-2009 – 4 seasons – Action/Thriller]

Lincoln Burrows is waiting on Death Row in Fox River Penitentiary after having been found guilty of assassinating the U.S. Vice President’s brother. However, Michael Scofield thinks his brother Lincoln is a scapegoat and being blamed for a crime he didn’t commit. He devises a plan, to not only get locked up in the same jail as his brother, but to also escape together. The young protagonist’s knack for architecture helps him craft a brilliant plan, which is one of the most fascinating things about the show. The political angle and major suspense also make it a good watch.

From a Language Perspective:

After having watched all 4 seasons, I’ve mastered vocabulary about criminal behavior, life in prison, and engineering. Since the plot takes place in an American prison, there’s plenty of slang and a good amount of strong language. Download Prison Break on iTunes.

Breaking Bad

TV shows for learning English
[United States – 2008-2013 – 5 seasons – Drama]

The series begins with an honest Chemistry professor (Walter White, 50 years old) who finds out that he has cancer. To pay for his treatment and care for his pregnant wife and son, who has a disability, he begins making drugs with one of his former students.

This American television show is one of the best. It’s got suspense, beautiful visuals, and great acting. It’s our co-founder Sam’s favorite TV series for learning English (and probably favorite in general, too).

From a Language Perspective:

A little like Prison Break, the vocabulary you learn from Breaking Bad is mainly about crime and drugs. Jesse Pinkman, White’s accomplice, uses a lot of slang, but Walter White, the teacher, speaks rather normally.

Grey’s Anatomy

TV shows for learning English

[United States – 2005-present – 16 seasons – Medical Drama]

The Grey in the title refers to Meredith Grey, a surgeon in residence at the made-up Seattle Hospital. The series alternates between the stories of patients and those of the doctors. Slowly but surely, we learn about each person who works there and their relationships with each other. Grey’s Anatomy is well written. Each case involves a mix of themes, including friendship, love, jealousy, life, and death.

From a Language Perspective:

Obviously, in a TV show like this one, there’s a lot of medical and scientific terminology. Even native speakers may not understand much of this jargon. Besides the specialized vocabulary, there are also many idiomatic expressions (common phrases that don’t translate easily into other languages). Click here to download it on iTunes.

Californication

californication american tv shows

[United States – 2007-2014 – 7 seasons – Comedy]

Californication tells the existential ups and downs in the life of Hank Moody, a writer from New York who is working on his nihilistic book, God Hates Us All. Forced to move to Los Angeles, which he hates, the protagonist is torn between his attempts to salvage his career and his relationship with his ex (who he’s still in love with, and the mother of his child). David Duchovny plays the main character. Between sexual adventures, alcohol, and writing, Californication explores hedonism and transgressive philosophy in a very funny way. It also gives the audience a look into the media industry in California.

From a Language Perspective:

Curse words, slang, and strongly suggestive language are the main ingredients of this series. You’ll hear informal, crude, and “very real” English, and it’s particularly useful if you want to watch TV to learn English wordplay and humor. Download it on iTunes.

Desperate Housewives

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[United States – 2004-2012 – 8 seasons – Dramedy]

Susan, Lynette, Bree, and Gabrielle live on Wisteria Lane. They are stereotypical, suburban-chic American women who live with their families. They live very quiet, tidy lives, until one day they discover that their friend, Mary Alice, has committed suicide for unclear reasons. Their lives are turned upside down. The genre of comedy is quite appropriate for the series since the women are full of humor in their own way, yet the underlying theme of the series is very dark. Find the entire series on DVD.

From a Language Perspective:

Although very stereotypical, the series traces the adventures of modern, upper-middle-class families. The vocabulary covers several topics (e.g. love, friendship, money, sexuality).

Mad Men

mad men period TV shows for learning English

[United States – 2007-2015 – 7 seasons – Period/Historical Drama]

This show takes place in 1960s New York and revolves around one prominent advertising firm. This series in English is known for its visual style and for its fairly authentic and realistic portrayal of the social changes that occurred in the United States in the 1960s and 70s. Experience these social changes through the professional and personal lives of the main character, Don Draper, and several other agency employees. On top of that, there’s a good dose of mystery and (often illicit) romance! You can stream it on Netflix in many countries.

From a Language Perspective:

The series is not very accessible for beginners in English. However, characters speak with very clear pronunciation due to the time period in which it is set. It can help you improve your listening and speaking skills if you already have a basic grasp of English. Main vocab themes include the field of advertising, infidelity, and office life.

The Sopranos

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[United States – 1999-2007 – 6 seasons – Drama]

Tony Soprano is a gangster and head of the New Jersey mob, who goes to a psychiatrist for therapy. He confides to her about his anxieties, his conflicts with his family, and his life of crime. This series is hands-down the best mafia show.

From a Language Perspective:

OK, there is a lot of vulgar language, slang, and vocab related to organized crime. The characters also have quite thick Italian-American New Jersey accents, which may take some getting used to. However, all things considered, this classic American television show is easy to watch even if you don’t understand every word.

Fringe

fringe english tv show

[United States – 2008-2013 – 5 seasons – Science Fiction]

The Fringe section of the FBI deals with a mysterious science: rare diseases, teleportation, parallel universes… For fans of science fiction, Fringe is ideal for people who want to learn English with TV and have fun at the same time.

From a Language Perspective:

Honestly, the dialogues are not always accessible. The series is for science fiction fans who already have some basic skills in English. If the subject does not interest you, don’t try to stick with it for too long, because it likely won’t get more interesting. However, if you do hang on, you’ll learn a lot of vocabulary. 

How to Get Away With Murder

list-of-the-best-tv-shows-for-learning-english-mosalingua

[United States – 2014-present – 6 seasons – Legal Drama]

Annalise Keating is a famous, and formidable, lawyer and law professor. Each year, Annalise hires some of her best students to help with her practice. But this year, her students become involved in a murder. This is a particularly addictive American TV show, with a lot of suspense. Very well done, and very interesting, especially due to the use of frequent flashbacks.

From a Language Perspective:

The vocabulary related to law and justice is not always accessible (or useful). The dialogues can be complicated and difficult to follow if you’re just starting out with English. The show is therefore best for people with intermediate to advanced levels of English. (Want to find out what your level of English is? Read this article!) The series airs in the United States on ABC. It’s also available on Netflix, with or without subtitles.

Misfits

misfits TV shows for learning English

[United Kingdom – 2009-2013 – 5 seasons – Dark Comedy/Sci-Fi]

How about a British series, for a change? This is a great way to also familiarize your ear with the British accent. Five young adults were sentenced to do community service. On their first day, they are struck by lightning and end up with superpowers! You can probably imagine what happens next…

From a Language Perspective:

The main interest here is that it is a British television series. Some words and intonation are different from American English. The result: it’s great for training your ear and getting used to another type of accent. Watch this series on Netflix.

American Horror Story

american horror story scary american tv show

[United States – 2011-present – 7 seasons – Fantasy/Horror]

Next, let’s change things up again: American Horror Story. Since, unsurprisingly, it is a TV series with elements of horror and fantasy. Also, there is a new theme for each season, which makes AHS different from most other traditional series. For example, Asylum, Freak Show, and Cult. This American TV show is well crafted, with high-quality cinematography. And it is scary! Perfect for horror fans.

From a Language Perspective:

The majority of characters change from season to season. And when you get new characters, you also get new accents to familiarize yourself with, which can be quite interesting. The language also changes from one season to the next, depending on the theme. However, it is always in some way related to horror! The dialogues are relatively accessible. This series is aimed at people with average levels in English. You have to have some basics, but since a lot of it is visual, you should be able to follow along if you do.

Ozark

ozark thriller drama tv show for learning English

[United States – 2017-present – 2 seasons – Drama/Thriller]

Lastly, Ozark is a Netflix series that was first released in the summer of 2017. There are currently 2 seasons, and a third on its way. This TV series is particularly addictive: an important quality if you want to use it to learn English fast. Marty is a financial advisor in Chicago, who launders money on behalf of a drug lord. But when his partner betrays him, Marty has to quickly move his family to the Ozark Mountains where he must launder $500 million. Not easy, especially when he realizes he has to deal with local drug dealers.

From a Language Perspective:

Drugs, money laundering, finance, and manipulation… These aren’t topics that you talk about every day, but aside from that, American English is clear and easy to understand. Stream this American TV show on Netflix. Episodes range from 50 minutes to 1 hour, so if you’re an absolute beginner, pick something else to start with.

The Top 50 American TV Shows for Learning English

There are so many great options! For more, check out this list of the all-time best TV shows.

Where to watch TV shows to learn English?

Watching series in English is far from complicated nowadays. There are tons of sites to stream shows or download torrents… It’s easy and accessible, but it’s illegal, so, we don’t recommend this option. Other possibilities?

  • DVD: Buy full seasons on sites such as Best Buy, Amazon, or even find used DVDs on eBay. Many series in English are now available on DVD, and those that aren’t on the air anymore are usually pretty cheap.
  • FLEEX: You can watch English series online, with the subtitles moreover, on the Fleex website. You have to pay to watch, but it’s a useful service if you want to improve your listening comprehension in English.
  • NETFLIX: Netflix is ​​a paid service that gives you access many to series, some produced by Netflix and some not, and movies in English (and other languages). Netflix also offers many documentaries. There is something for everyone. You can spend hours in front of Netflix and greatly improve your level in English without realizing it.
  • OTHER STREAMING SERVICES: New streaming services seem to be popping up every day, and they all feature different content. Depending on what you want to watch, consider getting a subscription to Hulu, Disney+, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Now, etc.

Looking for some great Netflix shows in English? Stranger Things, Narcos (work on your English and your Spanish!), and Orange Is the New Black are a few of our favorites.

Difficulties Understanding when Watching TV Shows for Learning English

If you have difficulty keeping up with these TV shows for learning English, don’t get discouraged. You may lack vocabulary and/or listening comprehension skills. The quickest way to learn vocabulary is with the spaced repetition method.

Download our app to learn English. It contains 3000 of the most useful words and phrases in English. In less than 10 minutes a day, you’ll learn more than 300 words a month, and you’ll be able to quickly follow along with your favorite shows. As I mentioned above, you can also download our conversation guide for more help.

One last tip: if you hear words or phrases in English series that aren’t already in your MosaLingua app, you can always create new cards to add existing ones. Then you can study them in the same way that you learn other words with MosaLingua, using our powerful Spaced Repetition System.