Learning English with TV — is this a thing? Can I learn grammar and syntax? Will I be more confident speaking it? Yes, yes and yes.
You’ll be glad to know you don’t necessarily have to pay good money for classes and tutoring to be good in English. There are many success stories from students — and even professional athletes — learning English by watching TV.
Vitoria Mario, a University of Warwick student from Portugal who received a scholarship from Taylor Swift, is a fine example. She became fluent in English by watching Netflix documentaries — for her GCSEs, she scored all As.
If you don’t believe this, believe science. Here’s what research has to say about learning English by watching TV:
Repeat, repeat, repeat
Try reviewing new material at regular intervals over a period of time. Your intervals between reviews would get longer each time.
A study by the Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour found that language learning directly correlates to repetitive practices and space between repetitions which leads to better retention. How would you incorporate this method when you’re learning English with a TV series?
Start by picking a scene in your favourite show, watch it once and write down any new words or expressions you notice. Watch that scene again after one day, then after three days and then after six days until those new phrases stick in your mind (subtitles help — you can see and hear the words at the same time).
Sleep after TV time
The University of California, Berkeley did research where they found one-hour power naps help boost and restore brainpower. They found people in the nap group did much better on the learning task than the napless group.
As sleep clears out short-term memory storage to make room for new information, you should use the half an hour before you plan to go to bed or take a nap, to watch an English TV show you find interesting.
Actively listen and repeat what you hear out loud. After, write a brief summary of what you understood from the show and any new things you picked up. The next day, when you review your notes, pay attention to your brain’s magical ability to recall new words.
Subtitles are there for a reason
In one experiment, candidates (who were all Spanish-speaking English learners) who watched TV with subtitles did better on the listening test than the other group.
If you’re a beginner, it’s best to start with recorded shows that you can pause and rewind. Also, make sure subtitles are available! Major news channels often offer captions in their content and if you’re using Netflix or similar streaming websites, the settings for subtitles are easy to use.
Read along with the subtitles and take notes when needed. Doing this regularly will help you retain new information in your long-term memory storage.
Learning English with TV: The best series to watch
Whether it’s the American or British version, you’ll learn a lot from this mockumentary (a pretend documentary). Everything looks unplanned and feels like it’s with real people in a real office — a perfect way to pick up vocabulary and phrases in English.
For British and American slangs, watch “Skins” — like “The Office,” there are two versions. It’s a dark comedy that revolves around the lives of teenagers.
Law & Order
This show will teach you about the justice system in the UK and the US. Note that some scenes do not reflect the real world. However, it’s a good series to watch with a lot of legal and formal terms you can master.
Whose Line is it Anyway?
If crime and serial killers are too serious, try humour. “Whose Line is it Anyway?” is a great way to see how Americans and Brits make jokes up on the go.
Chef Gordon Ramsay, who’s known for his extremely bad temper and raucous swearing, has two cooking shows (one in the UK and one in the US). As the contestants of the show come from different places and backgrounds, you can hear the differences between many different cultures. Ramsay also swears a lot so expect a lot of cursing with your cuisines!
Other tried-and-tested TV series that are great to learn English from include “Friends,” “Modern Family,” “Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones,” “Sherlock,” “The Walking Dead,” “Misfits,” and “Dexter.”