Suggest a good TV series for learning English
November 23, 2010 8:24 AM   Subscribe

Can you suggest a good television series (preferably with available English subtitles) for people learning English?

I am doing private English lessons in Germany. I've found that television series are a good way for people to learn the language, particularly if they also get English subtitles. Series are great because they have recurring characters and motifs, and that repetition is helpful.

The problem is that my selections thus far reflect my personal preferences, which may not match those of my students. For example, in the past I've used The Wire, but women don't always like it.

Note that I am not looking for simple English, but things that are real and which reflect English as it is actually used in daily life. I'm looking for suggestions across a broad range of genres (I'd prefer something rather more sophisticated than, say, Sex and the City). In other words, they should be good, not just "good for learning English" :)

Any ideas?
posted by rhombus to Media & Arts (13 answers total)
How about the Gilmore Girls? I know it sounds girly, but my husband used to watch it with me. And there is TONS of dialogue. (I was going to suggest Friday Night Lights, but the football-ness of it would probably seem odd - no such problem with Gilmore Girls - it's just a story about small town life, mostly).
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:34 AM on November 23, 2010

I learned much of my English by watching a few television shows. The Wire, in my opinion, would be a horrible choice . . . not because it's bad (in fact, it's one of the few shows I've watched in the past decade), but because it has a lot of innuendo, sarcasm, slang and things that are hard to pick up on at first.

The best sorts of shows are sit-coms. I'm embarrassed to say it, but The Golden Girls and Alf were the best for me when I was learning. There's little ambiguity, the characters are very one-dimensional, the situations and catch phrases very repetitive.

I also tell people that few things helped me with my Hungarian as much as the dubbed Magyar version of the wretched German 'action' show Cobra-11. And I tell them that because it's true. In Romanian, soppy Hallmark Channel melodramas helped a lot.

I realize that none of these are very good, butthey are what worked for me, and I reckon my English is pretty good these days.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:36 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

English as it is actually used in daily life

In which country? i.e. should we be recommending British shows or American shows?

Also, what format do you want? Does it have to be available on DVD, for example?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:38 AM on November 23, 2010

I have it on good authority that Friends is sort of the de facto show for learning English among my non-native language friends. The dialog is simple, there's a lot of breaks for jokes (so you may digest what was just spoken) and it is mainstream conversational English.
posted by geoff. at 8:45 AM on November 23, 2010

Let your students choose what is most interesting to them. As to your example of The Wire, it is too complicated and uses way too many idioms. Even native English speakers had trouble following it when it was on.

When I taught English, the shows my students chose were not the ones I preferred but they kept the students engaged and interested. I'd say let them choose anything but animation-- animation is bad because you can't see people's mouths moving. That's a drawback when learning a language.
posted by vincele at 8:47 AM on November 23, 2010

I'd suggest you compromise a bit on your aesthetic standards a bit. Well written dialogue is often eliptical and stylized. It's much harder for new English speakers to understand the text when the real stress is on the subtext. When I was in China, Friends seemed to be the go to English-language program to watch to practice English. I can't stand the show but watched a few episodes and came to agree that it would be great for ESL. Other shows I'd try: Heroes and Prison Break.
posted by bluejayk at 8:50 AM on November 23, 2010

I have a friend in the Netherlands who was years ahead of his classmates in English thanks to Star Trek and Star Wars. He also has passable Japanese before taking classes in it, from watching anime.

I think it's much more important that the student feel motivated to watch lots of whatever it is, than anything else. I mean, I ended out learning a lot of Russian from pop songs and the Kremlin twitter feed and translations of Harry Potter.
posted by SMPA at 8:57 AM on November 23, 2010

Response by poster: Should we be recommending British shows or American shows?

Also, what format do you want? Does it have to be available on DVD, for example?

It doesn't really matter, provided that the language isn't excessively idiomatic. The points made about The Wire are well taken :)

It should be available on DVD, if possible.

Friends makes sense -- Heroes and Prison Break were ones I hadn't considered. Any others?
posted by rhombus at 9:06 AM on November 23, 2010

I'd pay attention to the pace of the show when making selections. Action shows like Heroes have complex plots and a lot of action that is really distracting from the "read along story time" goal you're trying to achieve here. Things that worked for me in other languages were shows that really just focused on one to one character interactions, like soap operas and light comedy.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:34 AM on November 23, 2010

A couple of really excellent, dialogue-heavy (and smart-dialogue-heavy) shows from recent years that come to mind are Once and Again, My So Called Life and Joan of Arcadia. I believe they're all on DVD.
posted by jbickers at 11:18 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

My old German roommates said the best was the Simpsons. It helped that as a pretty international empire, they were already familiar with the characters (although they were very, very taken aback by the voices, which are way different overseas).

Some sitcoms (especially more contemporary ones) I'd shy away from, mostly because sarcastic tone (common in newer shows) can get confusing for a beginning English speaker. A former Chinese roommate had a really, really hard time figuring out The Office because of it (which otherwise is great because all the characters speak in very basic middle American accents).

Looking just above, My So-Called Life might actually be a great choice, although I wonder if some of the slang is outdated (it's been awhile since I've seen it).
posted by General Malaise at 12:24 PM on November 23, 2010

Nthing Friends. One of my roommates teaches ESL and regularly uses Friends episodes to help her high school and adult students pick up on the language.
posted by thewestinggame at 12:47 PM on November 23, 2010

What about Friday Night Lights? I noticed on the imbd page it has a German title. It is really good and easy to follow.

But yeah, I think Friends is the go-to show for your purposes.
posted by vincele at 5:59 AM on November 24, 2010

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