Learning English with TV Series

As readers of this blog know, I am not a big fan of learning English by studying grammar books and attending a class once or twice a week. These days, motivated, self-directed learners have so many better, more effective, more efficient tools at their disposal to learn real, authentic English in a fun way.

Three cheers! No more tears for English students!

So on this website, in this blog and in my podcasts, I like to motivate and inspire you to seek out materials in English that are interesting and useful to you. Sometimes I create them, like with my Success with Stories program and podcast episodes, and other times I just share quality resources with you.

Today, I’d like to tell you about a nice resource that a student of mine reminded me of the other day during our writing class, namely TV series.

Of course, this is not a new idea, but these days the variety you have to choose from is pretty amazing, so there must be something that will strike your fancy.

Last year, a lot of people were talking about Breaking Bad and the Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. This year, I have heard a lot about Game of Thrones and Orange is the New Black.

One of my students from Turkey just recommended a series that she recently devoured. I’m not sure if she binge-watched multiple seasons over the weekend or took it more slowly, but whatever the case, it sounds like it might be a good one. You can read what she wrote about it at the end of this blog post. Thanks, Nihan!

Benefits of watching TV series for English Learners

1. Listening to dialogues: Understanding two speakers speak to each other in English can be quite challenging, but even though the dialogue might be difficult at first, you have the ability to listen to it over and over again. Remember, repetition is key! The rewind button is your friend!

2. Context clues: You can also use context clues to help you understand the language that is being used (e.g. the characters, the scenery, what you already know about the story). Idiomatic expressions and everyday language will be more easily understood while watching the characters act out the scene.

3. Culture: You can learn about modern U.S. culture and/or the history and customs of different time periods. (Nihan mentions this in her essay.)

4. Engagement: If you enjoy the TV series, you will be more engaged in the learning process. In fact, it won’t even feel like “a learning process,” it will just feel like life. When you get into the story, you will want to know what happens next. You will be motivated to listen and watch, over and over again until you get it.

5. Knowing the characters: With a series, you have the opportunity to get to know the characters deeply, and you look forward to the next episode and then the next season. Knowing the characters helps you get used to their language, the way they speak, their style of expression.

6. Modeling: You can use various characters in the series you are watching as models for how you want to speak English. Maybe you want to work on a particular accent or use certain expressions. You can learn to do this by watching them in the various episodes, over and over again.

7. Fun/Motivation: Of course, it’s only fun if you are enjoying it, but if you are, then it is a great way to motivate yourself to spend some time listening to English.

A Few Drawbacks

1. Too Difficult: If you find that the series is just too difficult, then it may not be the most effective thing for you to be doing with your time. Try to find a series that has a level of language that isn’t too far above your level. You want to understand a lot of it and learn the things that you can’t quite understand, yet.

2. Too Boring: Well, of course, only watch something that you find interesting. If you aren’t motivated, then do something else with your time.

3. Time Sucker: If you only have a limited amount of time, you may not want to get sucked into a TV series. Some people can regulate the time they spend watching TV, but others get totally addicted to some of these TV series and find that they waste too much time with them. Of course, the benefit to you is that you may actually be using it for learning English, not just passing time. Use your own good judgement.

Overall, finding a TV series that you enjoy can be a good way to improve your English by listening to authentic dialogues, learning new jokes and idiomatic expressions, and training your ear to understand different accents and ways of saying things. It can also be a great discussion topic to use in conversations with your private tutors, friends and language-exchange partners. If you don’t understand something, ask your tutor!

What is your favorite TV series? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Here is what my student Nihan wrote about during a writing class this week. Thanks for the reminder and the recommendation!

Boardwalk Empire
I would like to write about a TV series which I have been watching. I just finished the fourth season a few days ago. It’s called “Boardwalk Empire,” starring Steve Buscemi, who is absolutely one of my favorite actors, and produced by Martin Scorsese, for which we could easily call him Mr. Money.

It was really a great experience for me. The first reason is about the history. I didn’t have any idea about that era; speaking of the era, the whole story was set around the alcohol prohibition of the 1920s in the United States. I also need to express my admiration regarding the costumes and the settings, that’s because Mr. Scorsese had to have had a lot to do with that. They were quite impressive and I bet they spent a considerable amount of money on them. The last reason and the most important one for me, the script, it was well done; the dialogues and the unexpected series finales were very brilliant.

I have to warn you about one thing, some scenes were quite full of violence. If you don’t have a strong stomach, do not bother to take a look at them. And the nudity, I can assure you that you wouldn’t want to watch it with your kids. Other than that, it’s worth a shot; it absolutely is.

If you’d like to spend some quality time while you are improving your listening skills during the summer, it’s just the ticket.

By the way, it wouldn’t be fair if I did not mention the soundtrack. The songs were beautiful, just great, which makes you feel like you are really living in those years. Check out the fantastic song “Some Of These Days” on YouTube after the class, please. Have a great time!