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5 Shows You Can Stream Online to Improve Your English

by Sheridan Orr


When we learn anything new and unfamiliar, it can be a real effort and often we concentrate so hard that our brains want to explode!


Fortunately, you can improve your English skills with your feet up, allowing your ears and eyes to do the hard work - this is commonly known as watching TV. 


Studying an English course through a quality school such as WSE will build a solid foundation across all the English language skills, and learning grammar is also important, but in the outside world you may find that everyday English speaking and listening is a little different to what the course books teach you.

TV shows provide an opportunity to discover tons of new language such as common colloquial terms and sayings, and you will also hear a whole range of accents, some will be familiar and some may sound like they’re not speaking English at all but are from another planet, possibly Mars.

If you are beginning your English course, try watching kids shows as the language is easier to understand and it’s a great way to improve your English listening without the stress of complicated words and phrases. Disney and Pixar movies are also fun and entertaining, so sign-up for a free trial on Disney+ and get streaming all the classics.

Regardless of your level, the main thing is to find a programme in English that you like and watch it. Watch it over and over, watch the whole series, rewatch it until you know the story and can say the lines.

Challenge yourself and practise your English listening by listening to the show (or movie) without watching the action. What are the characters saying? What can you tell about the story and characters from the way they talk? Do they sound posh or upper class? Do they sound sad? Excited? Angry? How can you tell? Is it the words they are saying or the intonation they use?

Another fun thing to try is to stream a show or film you know well with the sound off, this way you can practise your English speaking. You take the part of the character and say what you think they would say! Try this with a friend and have a laugh improvising, creating your own funny conversations.


Perhaps you’d like to improve your English speaking so that you sound just like Hermione Granger or Harry Potter, unless you prefer Dobby? Well, just watch and listen, use subtitles if you like, then pause the film and repeat the lines - you can even record yourself on your phone using ‘Voice Memos’. Did you say the words correctly? Do you sound the same as the character? Say the lines in different accents if you can!


So, how do you choose what to watch? Easy, just choose something you are interested in and enjoy, whether it’s Stranger Things, Prison Break, Peaky Blinders, The Umbrella Academy, or Tiger King.


Here are a few suggestions that you can find on your favourite TV or streaming channel…


Downton Abbey

Set in a ‘posh’ mansion in the idyllic English countryside in the early 20th century, this popular award-winning series follows the fortunes of an upper class family from the British aristocracy. It shows the British class system - there are ‘snooty’ Lords and Ladies, and their humble lower-class servants. It is a historical drama which highlights a number of important events from that era including World War I and The Spanish Flu.


English listening tip: Notice the differences in the way the characters speak. The characters’ accents denote their social class. The aristocracy sound like The Queen, but the servants don’t!

Where to Stream Online: BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video


Upstart Crow

This is a clever and highly entertaining comedy set in ye olde days of William Shakespeare, which was during the Elizabethan era (1558-1603). It’s a chance to travel back a few centuries to see what life was like in merry old England.

It is satirical, which means that people, ideas, or other things are criticised in a humorous way to show their faults. This is a great show for English listening practice for learners with a reasonably high level of English as this style of English speaking is quite uncommon today.

The main character is William Shakespeare and the situations he faces often have many parallels with contemporary life, such as transport problems, panic buying, and daytime drinking. There is a particularly hilarious episode that came out during lockdown in December 2020, called ‘Lockdown Christmas 1603’, which I’m sure everyone can relate to!


English listening tip: There is a lot of irony used - so pay attention to what the characters say as it often means the opposite of the literal meaning of the words!

Also, can you spot the made-up swear words?

Where to Stream Online: BBC iPlayer



Peaky Blinders

You can’t beat a good crime series…unless it’s a brilliant, amazing, awesome, fantastic, spectacular crime series - which Peaky Blinders most certainly is!

The Peaky Blinders series is set in the early 20th century in Birmingham and the main characters are the Shelby family who are involved in a whole range of criminal activities.

There is plenty of action which will have your heart racing, and they confront numerous villains - including the not-so-peaceful police. You can’t help cheering for Tommy Shelby with his blue-steel eyes, dubious morals, and sometimes misplaced loyalty.

This show is highly addictive. Luckily, there are 6 seasons so it’s an excellent way to broaden your knowledge of the English language as well as improve your English listening skills! (Warning: It does show some graphic violence.)

Note: If you are studying an English course in the UK, you can visit the Black Country Living Museum and step into the smoky underworld of the 1920s where Peaky Blinders was filmed! Be sure to wear your flat cap.


English listening tip: How many different accents can you identify? What regions are they from? What social class is the speaker? Can you even understand what they’re saying???

Where to Stream Online: BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video



The Serpent

More crime - hooray!

This time we visit a more recent time period and a sunny part of the globe.

The Serpent TV series is a murder mystery set in the 1970s in Thailand and is based on true events. The deviousness of the murderer, Charles Sobhraj, is genuinely disturbing.

From the comfort of your armchair, you are transported back a few decades before all of our travel and freedom of movement was tracked with technology. Young people from all over the world, inspired by the hippie era, travelled to Asia to explore different cultures and perhaps find some spiritual enlightenment.

Instead, a number of unfortunate ones were befriended by a creepy guy who offered them accommodation, and they were never seen alive again…

Fortunately, there are also the good guys, a Dutch diplomat and his wife, who fight to find out who the killer is.

This is a fascinating series, with cool costumes, hair styles, and music. The language level is good for most levels wishing to improve their English while watching a show. Give it a shot and see for yourself!


English listening tip: There are characters from many different countries, do you recognise their accents when they speak English? Can you tell which country they are from? Which accent do you like?

Where to Stream Online: BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video




If you’re looking for superb award-winning documentaries, then Storyville will definitely have something intriguing for you!

Storyville has hundreds of the best documentaries from all over the world and these are a great way to enhance your English speaking and listening skills as you hear real people using authentic language.

Whatever subject you’re interested in, the chances are that Storyville will have a documentary that will entrance, entertain, and educate you. There are documentaries in English about cults, crime, politics, religion, music, sports, relationships, the military, women’s liberation, slavery, art, medicine, gangs, history, money…and more. If you can’t find something you like, then you’re not looking hard enough!

My personal favourites are the docos about The Mystery of Dan Cooper (who hijacked a plane and jumped out with the ransom money), The Mole: Infiltrating North Korea, The Hunt for Ghaddafi’s Billions, and O.J. Made in America.


English listening tip: What common phrases or words are used repeatedly in each documentary? Note and words and phrases that are specific to the topic.

Where to Stream Online: BBC iPlayer


That’s it! There are your 5 shows you can stream online to learn English. We hope these suggestions help you on your English language learning journey.


If you are looking for more shows in English to binge-watch, take a look at our 5 English Netflix Series You Should Watch To Improve Your English.



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