Now, there’s a content piece that’s really popular in the English learning world, whether on YouTube or other English learning blogs.
Maybe you’ve seen it around too. Maybe you even like this type of content and are searching for it.
What is it?
Well, it’s those lists of the best TV series or movies for English learners.
Sometimes they get a bit more specific like – the best British TV shows for English learners. I’ve even compiled one about Christmas movies with a little help from some other teachers. And another one about reality TV shows. I’m not immune!
But even when they’re more specific, they suffer from a serious flaw. And that is – how the hell am I supposed to know which TV programme or movie to recommend to you?
So in this post, I’m going to talk about:
- the problem with this type of list
- 3 reflection questions to help you decide which TV show or movie is the right one for you to watch
- TV series and movies I’ve watched recently and whether or not they’re suitable for English learners
So, let’s get into it.
Watch the video:
The Problem With Lists Of “The Best Movies/TV Series For English Learners”
Now then, the problem with these lists is that they’re often full of TV series that are simply recent and popular – so everyone is talking about them anyway. Or they contain popular or old classics like Friends.
And that’s fine I guess. But then that makes these lists very general and so not necessarily specific and useful to you.
And frankly, you don’t really need these lists if you already have access to a streaming service.
So for example, if you have Netflix or Amazon Prime or whatever, you can just start typing keywords into the search bar to find a series or movie that corresponds to what you’re interested in.
And in fact, I imagine that these services have clever algorithms that suggest things to watch based on your viewing history.
This is already much more personalized to you than a generic list of top-5 or top-10 movies for English learners.
Also, if the list is quite generic, you don’t need an English teacher to help. You could just search online for top 10 lists on sites like IMDb.
You can even go on Wikipedia. For instance, the other day I was looking for a list of movies about time travel and came across an entire Wiki on Wikipedia about the topic.
Plus, you probably see a lot of British and especially American TV shows already on TV that are dubbed into your language.
So if you’ve already seen a dubbed version of a show and you like it, well then, find the English version and try watching it.
You have an advantage here because you’re already familiar with the series thanks to watching it in your native language.
Right, so we’ve established that there’s absolutely no issue finding things to watch in English or finding lists.
And the problem with these lists for English learners is that they’re usually so generic that they’re not particularly useful to you and your needs.
So, with that in mind, I want to share 3 reflection questions that will help you choose a TV show or movie to watch that will be useful to you.
Now this process might take some time and experimentation – this is normal. A good way to start is by just searching for clips of a movie or series so that you can test it out and see what you think.
Because my number 1 recommendation is that you should watch things that you enjoy and don’t let anyone tell you differently!
Ok, so let’s get to the reflection questions
3 Reflection Questions To Help You Choose The Right Movie or TV Series for You
#1 Would I enjoy watching this?
Now the funny thing about language learning is that you sometimes end up watching things you would never watch in your native language.
For example, some Spanish or Portuguese learners end up addicted to Telenovelas even though they would never watch that in their native language.
Sometimes you end up watching something simply because it’s easy to understand. And that’s great, you have to start somewhere.
But also consider what you like to watch in your native language and what you’re motivated to watch.
- Do you love romantic comedies?
- Are you obsessed with detective series?
- Do you love dramas?
- Are you addicted to sitcoms?
Because motivation is the key to watching something and learning from it no matter what, even if it’s super-hard to understand at first.
Here’s an example from my life. So, the series Fleabag is super-popular at the moment. And it’s the type of programme you’ll see on lists of TV series for English learners.
But I watched it. And to be honest I didn’t really understand it or enjoy it and had to stop watching. I don’t force myself to watch something I’m not enjoying, even if everyone is raving about it, leaving good reviews and recommending it.
#2 Will the language in this series or movie be useful to me and my goals?
So this is the key – you only have limited time in your day. And there’s no point in wasting it watching something that’s not helpful to you. So what I mean by this is that not all movies and TV shows are created equal.
Take for instance a series like The Crown which seems to come up all the time on these lists of TV shows to watch.
The thing about this series is that you’re going to hear a very specific type of English which may not be relevant to your needs.
In this case, it’s how the Royal Family talk to each other in Queen Elizabeth the 2nd’s younger days. By the way, no-one really talks with that accent any more.
Personally, I have no interest in the royal family and so I won’t be watching this series, even if everyone is talking about it.
What I find is that most people want to understand native speakers when they’re talking fast. Because that way you can connect with them in conversation.
So the best movies and series to watch for that goal are ones with lots of fast dialogue like comedies rather than action movies.
Also the best movies will be contemporary ones with current informal language and slang, not old-fashioned Hollywood movies for example.
Of course, I re-emphasise my point above that you should watch what motivates you. But also be mindful of your learning and listening goals.
Think about things like the accents you need to understand, or vocabulary you need for your situation – if you work in the legal profession or the police then detective series could be fantastic for you!
#3 What type of TV series or movie is this?
So I’ve recommended before that you listen to comedies rather than dramas simply because they’re easier to understand.
Now this isn’t 100% true all the time. Because life isn’t black and white like that. And I’m sure you could find examples of comedies that are tricky and dramas that aren’t too hard.
But comedies, especially sitcoms will be easier to follow, especially if you keep watching them regularly. Hence the enduring popularity of a series like Friends.
Sitcoms are easier because you have a familiar cast of characters who you see every episode. And the episodes have the same structure.
So you get used to the way the characters speak and you know for the most part what to expect from an episode.
You might even get used to hearing them use the same words and expressions all the time.
Plus in comedies, they usually want you to get the joke so that tends to make the plot and the dialogue clearer.
Dramas tend to be harder because the dialogue is very realistic. And action movies can be a nightmare because there’s often not a lot of dialogue to listen to.
Then when there is, there are loads of explosions and background noise that make it hard to hear what’s going on.
And movies will always be trickier (unless they’re sequels or by a director like Wes Anderson who often uses the same actors) because the characters are brand new, you’re following a story from scratch and you don’t have much context or familiarity to help you.
So just bear that in mind when you start watching!
3 Viewing Suggestions From Me
Finally I wanted to share some TV series I’ve enjoyed recently and tell you if I think they’re suitable for English learners who want to understand fast-talking native speakers:
I love this TV series that’s now into its 4th season. Better Things stars Pamela Adlon who’s famous for doing the voices in the King of the Hill series.
In this show, she plays a former child star with 3 daughters (basically her actual life) who she’s bringing up as a single mother.
The show is a comedy. But it’s not exactly a traditional sitcom. It can get a bit surreal which may or may not be your cup of tea. But I find the dialogue to be natural and realistic.
Also the relationships between the characters are really tender, even if her daughters often say the most shocking things to her and they get into a lot of fights!
I think it’s definitely worth testing out as an English learner given that it is a sitcom style show, just a bit more drama.
This TV show starring Jim Carey is now in its second season. It’s all about kids TV host Jeff who presents Puppet Time and is adored by children around the world.
Jeff is struggling with grief after losing his son in a car crash and is desperate to talk about what happened on his show. But his father, who manages the Puppet Time empire refuses to let him.
We watch as Jeff’s life slowly unravels, and his cheery persona starts to crumble as he lets out his feelings.
This is another family-based dramedy (mixture of comedy + drama) with lots of surreal moments (do you see a pattern developing here in my TV series preferences?).
Again there’s plenty of realistic, contemporary dialogue that will test you if you want to understand fast-talking native speakers.
The good news is that Jim Carey actually speaks quite slowly in this series, as does Frank Langella who plays his father.
Back to the Future Trilogy
I’ve been working with some students on the Back to the Future trilogy starring Michael J Fox as Marty Mc Fly, the time-travelling teenager.
I guess you could describe this trilogy as an action-adventure sci-fi comedy. But it has plenty of dialogue.
Although the movies were made in 1985, 1989 and 1990 respectively, the language is still relevant. And the story is excellent so I’m sure you’ll be motivated to watch these films.
Plus a trilogy has the obvious advantage of enabling you to see the same characters again and again so you can get used to their voices and accents.
So I’ve given you some ideas. But what I’d like you to do now is take my reflection questions and then decide what would be most useful for you to watch.
That way, you can use these lists of recommended movies and TV shows in a mindful way.
Also, you can go onto a streaming service and start looking in particular categories to find TV series and movies that might fit your needs.
And if you’re not sure, try before you buy!
- Search for movieclips or clips of TV shows on YouTube for example and test them out.
- Read about the shows before you watch them.
- Check out online reviews.
- Ask for recommendations.
Tell me in the comments – what TV series and movies in English have you enjoyed? Why did you start watching them? Would you recommend them to others?
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