Written by Helena M., a TEFL Certified English tutor who has taught 500+ online classes. Visit Helena’s profile here.
Let’s be honest, everybody likes to spend way too much time watching shows on Netflix these days. It’s a fun way to relax and forget about everyday stress. However, it can also be a great way to acquire new English language skills.
Unlike reading a book, watching a TV series improves your active watching and listening skills. You listen to native speakers use their mother tongue, follow some interesting plots, and learn a bunch of new vocabulary along the way!
If you already like watching Netflix shows and you would also want to improve your English, why not do both? Talk about a great way to have fun and to save time. Take a look at our great Netflix shows and tips to learn English!
4 ways to boost your language learning with Netflix series
Since watching Netflix is entertaining, it is really easy to get yourself to do it on a frequent basis. Follow these tips the next time you watch a Netflix show for maximum learning efficiency.
Watch with the subtitles on
The first step is to keep the English subtitles on. Watching shows with the subtitles on is a great way to learn new vocabulary. You can easily recognize frequently used words and phrases. It also makes it very clear how a particular word is pronounced. English spelling and pronunciation can sometimes be confusing which is why subtitles can help beginners a lot, because you’re looking at the word spelling and listening to its pronunciation at the same time. You could try watching an episode with subtitles first, and then rewatching it with the subtitles off again to increase the difficulty.
Rewatch sections you don’t understand
Native speakers of English usually speak very fast. For language learners, this means that there will sometimes be sections of the episode you don’t understand. A lot of words and phrases used depend on context, so once you finish the episode try rewatching the section you didn’t understand and look for things you might have missed. Try answering questions like: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? Don’t worry too much if you still don’t understand everything, learning a language is not about perfection but about progress. Once your English skills improve, you will see that your understanding has improved as well.
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Write down words you don’t recognize
Learning new vocabulary from shows is really easy. Just pause the video and write the new word down. Then, look it up in an online dictionary. This makes you more engaged in the learning process and transitions you from a passive to an active role in language learning. Additionally, you can use this Google Chrome extension which helps you compare two subtitle languages and offers a pop-up dictionary that saves even more time on looking up new words.
Repeat what you hear out loud
Listening is only one step of the learning process. If you want to improve your English speaking skills, you need to practice speaking as well. Another great thing about Netflix is that you can choose the character you want to sound like and repeat after him or her. Listen to one sentence, pause it, and repeat it out loud. Record yourself doing it and then compare your pronunciation to the original. If it is similar, great job! If it sounds very different, don’t worry, just try again! Make sure to also use the right intonation. Is the character happy, sad, angry, or excited? Remember, you are not only learning how to pronounce words but learning how to use them in the right context.
8 best Netflix shows for learning English
What kind of shows do you like to watch? The good news is that you can watch whatever show genre you already like (drama, fantasy, crime, romance, etc.) and have great fun while simultaneously learning English. Choose one of the following based on their accents, difficulty level and subject matter to find the best show for what you want to learn.
The Big Bang Theory
This popular American sitcom follows the story of four socially awkward scientist friends from California (Leonard, Sheldon, Raj, and Howard) and their normal neighbor Penny. It’s 12 seasons of short and funny episodes are perfect for learning informal spoken English, everyday expressions and American cultural references. The episodes are short which makes rewatching convenient. A lot of the series, especially in the early seasons, focuses on physics and the jokes are often science-related so be prepared to learn some advanced words as well. There are also instances of engineering and scientific vocabulary. Since the show has many characters from different cultural backgrounds, you can also hear different English accents.
Difficulty level: easy to intermediate.
Another popular American sitcom is Friends. Do you remember this iconic series? Six friends from New York who have been making us happy for 16 years, are now returning to Netflix again. If you loved watching the series, now you can recall the interesting stories about the long-term friendship of six friends (Rachel, Phoebe, Ross, Chandler, Joey, and Monica), and at the same time improve your English language skills. We recommend this series because the plots are not complex, and the dialogue is often slow and nicely paced. It is useful for getting acquainted with everyday speech and sentence constructions that are often used. Although the show’s humor often focuses on word-play, you can still understand the plot and have a load of fun while watching.
Difficulty level: easy.
Another great show to watch is Suits. It is perhaps the best show to learn business English vocabulary. The show is a legal drama set in New York City spanning 9 seasons of around 40 minute episodes. The story is focused on a former student who escapes getting arrested during a drug sting. He stumbles on Harvey Specter, the best lawyer in New York, and gets a job in his company even though he never went to law school. The plot features a boss who is willing to do anything to get the job done, and his employees who would do anything for him. This show is great for people pursuing a legal career since it offers a lot of legal vocabulary. It’s probably not a good fit for people learning everyday English, but it is perfect for those studying business English. If you want to improve your language skills for your work, give it a try.
Difficulty level: intermediate to upper-intermediate
The Great British Bake Off
If you would like to focus on British English, give this show a try. Besides being one of the most popular British shows ever produced, it creates a cozy atmosphere which helps you to learn in a very easy going way. The Great British Bake Off (also known as The Great British Baking Show in the UK) is a television baking competition consisting of 11 seasons of 60 minute episodes dedicated to baking. Unlike other American cooking shows which can be quite stressful and very fast, this show’s combination of calming music, beautiful British accents, and people supporting each other is excellent for smooth language learning. The language used is predominately simple and evenly-paced with phrases used in everyday communication. Vocabulary mostly revolves around baking, but often also includes words to describe the contestant’s personal lives. If you like baking, friendly people, and British accents, this show is perfect for you.
Difficulty level: easy.
How about watching the most expensive drama series Netflix has ever produced? The Crown is another British hit show on Netflix that follows the life of Queen Elizabeth II. The plot begins in 1947, six years before her coronation. The first part of the six shows the last years of Elizabeth as a princess and the first year of her reign as a queen. It was announced that the series will have six seasons of 10 sequels (four seasons are currently made). The accents are obviously British (received pronunciation) which makes this show a great fit for anybody wanting to learn more about standard British English. The show’s setting is more formal and the language less commonplace than that of The Great British Bake Off, but still a fantastic way to learn more about Britain’s history and its current monarch.
Difficulty level: easy.
House of Cards
If you’re a fan of politics on the other side of the pond, try watching one of the most intriguing television series of recent years, House of Cards. This show is a sharp political drama, which, in line with current American politicians, realistically depicts the world of high politics. It reveals the world of greed, corruption, unquenchable ambition and backstage games in modern Washington. The show predominantly follows the character of Frank Underwood, an ambitious Democrat politician who, with the help of his wife Claire, wants revenge on the current President so that he can finally get into the presidential seat. The language is a mix between simple everyday speech and more complicated political jargon. Although the plot and situations the characters find themselves in are fiction, the show offers many examples using language to get yourself out of harm’s way.
Difficulty level: easy to intermediate.
For medical language learners, Grey’s Anatomy is an excellent choice. The show’s 17 seasons with approximately 45 minute episodes provide an insight into the stressful lives of doctors who do everything in their power to succeed in the world of medical professionals. The story takes place in the fictional Grace Hospital in Seattle, where five interns begin their surgical careers, with special focus on the career and life path of Dr. Meredith Grey. It guarantees viewers a wide range of more intricate plots relating to numerous and increasingly strange medical cases along with all kinds of personal relationships such as superficial friendships in the workplace or passionate love, all spiced with a great deal of drama. Due to the show’s unique mix of professional and romantic plots, it offers an abundance of medical vocabulary as well as phrases for interpersonal communication.
Difficulty level: intermediate to upper-intermediate.
Sherlock (TV series)
Sherlock is a modern adaptation of Sir Arhur Conan Doyle’s detective stories about Sherlock Holmes. Knowledge of the original is not necessary, but can change your view of the show. It’s a British crime series consisting of 4 seasons with episodes of about 90 minutes. The series follows “consulting detective” Holmes, who assists the Metropolitan Police Service, primarily Senior Inspector Greg Lestrade in solving various crimes. He is assisted by his roommate, John Watson, who has returned from military service in Afghanistan. Although the series depicts a whole range of different criminals, Holmes’ conflict with his mortal enemy, Jim Moriarty, is a constant feature of it. This is a good pick for people who want to practice learning modern British English and who at the same time enjoy a good detective story. Despite the fact that there are many Sherlock Holmes adaptation series, this one steals the shows with brilliant performances by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. If you like classic detective stories with a modern twist, you will definitely enjoy this one.
Difficulty level: intermediate.
Combine Netflix series with private language classes
Although Netflix is great for developing your listening and comprehension skills, to really learn a language you also need to practice your speaking. Why not use your newfound knowledge of English phrases and vocabulary and take them to the next level? Browse Preply for a perfect tutor for you depending on the type of English you want to learn, and show off what you’ve learned on Netflix.
Working with a tutor one-on-one will significantly decrease the time you need to master English, and give you a unique chance to have your progress monitored by a professional tutor who will check your progress in your fluency, grammar, pronunciation, and overall communication skills.
Learning new words and phrases at home is great, but combining it with speaking practice will catapult you into the world of being fluent in English!