Want to know a big reason why our corporate language training programs at Fluency Corp are so successful?

When our students aren’t in classes with their Fluency Partners (language instructors), they do fun activities that help them improve their listening skills and ramp up relevant vocabulary in the language they are studying.

This week, we want to share some recommendations for things you can watch or read that will help you learn English. If you’re already taking English language classes, these ideas will help you make faster progress. Our recommendations will help you build vocabulary, improve your understanding and get familiar with the slang, idioms, etc., that characterize English as it’s spoken in everyday life.

Learn English By Watching TV

What to watch: Conversational programs like sitcoms or reality shows.
What to skip: News and documentaries.

Here’s why: In real life, no one speaks English like newscasters or documentary narrators do. News and documentary programs will likely use a different vocabulary than the one your coworkers use every day at the office, not to mention a different cadence and speed. Newscasters and narrators speak more slowly than people do in real-life conversations. Sure, you might pick up some specialized vocabulary by watching news and documentaries. But they won’t help you understand the phrasal verbs and idioms that the English speakers in your real life are using.

So choose a series like “Friends,” “How I Met Your Mother” or any current hit reality show, or popular show on Hulu or Netflix. It should be something you personally find fun or interesting. As a bonus, you can pick up some extra English practice by joining in the conversations at your office about the latest episode of “The Bachelor” or binging this weekend on season 1 of “Handmaid’s Tale.”

What to do while watching: Keep your notebook or computer at hand. If there’s a sentence or situation you don’t understand, turn on the subtitles. Write down the sentence. (Not just the one vocabulary word!) You can then bring it to your next English class to discuss with your instructor (or Spanish class if you’re learning Spanish).

It also helps to say the English phrases out loud that actors are saying on screen. Don’t think about the spelling in the subtitles. Spelling is what makes you mispronounce words most of the time. LISTEN to what the actors are saying, and repeat the phrase exactly as they are saying it. Try to mimic the SOUNDS the actors are making and not focus on each individual word.

For example, take this question:

What are you doing tomorrow?

As a non-native speaker, if you read this sentence out loud, you might separate each word. But a native speaker is likely to pronounce it more like this:


If you focus only on reading and writing English, then you’re not likely to pick up on how native speakers actually sound when they converse.

Build English Skills By Reading

What to read: Bestsellers with lots of dialogue and a conversational tone and vocabulary.
What to skip: Technical books, The New York Times and other publications with words that even native speakers have to look up in the dictionary, older books with words that no one uses on a daily basis anymore (aka literature).

Here’s why: Most of your interactions in English will be conversational and use common, everyday words. You’re less likely to encounter these words in technical books or in news stories written for advanced English speakers. Neither will these sources help you pick up the nuances of conversational English. Most of our clients admit that they know the technical or business words well, but they are missing the most commonly used words, idioms and slang.

Bestsellers are bestsellers because a lot of people can understand them. They are universally liked and readable. They use the most common English words, phrasal verbs, idioms and slang. When it comes to fiction books written in English, the classics that you’ve heard of (“Wuthering Heights,” “The Scarlet Letter,” etc.) may have lots of literary merit. But what they don’t have are current words or conversational styles.

Here’s one more tip before buying a fiction book to learn English: Flip through the book and look for lots of quotation marks. This indicates the book has plenty of dialogue. And dialogue will help you improve your skills with English conversation. If a novel doesn’t have dialogue on most pages, move on to another book.

If you’re taking the GRE (test for graduate school) or the SAT (test for college), then high-level literature or publications will help you. But if you’re focused on connecting with your coworkers and understanding the jokes at the office, read from more accessible sources.

What to do while reading: Highlight sentences that are new to you — and even sentences that make you say, “I understand it, but I never would have expressed it that way.” If you are taking English language lessons, share these sentences with your instructor. They can then quiz you on new vocabulary and have you tell a story using the new words, slang, phrasal verbs and idioms. This will help you feel comfortable using new English vocabulary in context. And you will sound more like a native English speaker when expressing yourself. The problem with learning a solitary word, or even using a traditional vocabulary list, is that you might not use new words in their correct context. But learning a word in a story will help you remember what was happening in that story, so that you can use the word in the correct way when you encounter similar situations in real life.

There’s one more thing we want you to remember about using TV shows or publications to learn English. Choose those that are fun for you to read or watch. That will make you more motivated to keep building your English skills.

If you are learning English yourself (or any language), or if you’re an HR professional who’s interested in English language training for your company, we’d love to tell you more about Fluency Corp’s fun and practical approach. For a free consultation, contact us at getfluent@fluencycorp.com or (800) 401-3159.