Stop Using Shows Like 'Downton Abbey' To Learn English!

Stop Using Shows Like 'Downton Abbey' To Learn English! cover

It's fascinating, diverse, and free: Learn here why Youtube is a better friend of English learning than your usual TV or film regimen!

Lots of students have asked me how they can improve their English skills in their free time. I used to recommend that they find English TV shows that they’d love to watch and go for it! Since then, I’ve changed my mind.

Shows like Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones are great shows, but watching an hour of English television every day just isn’t practical for a lot of people. Plus, focusing hard on learning a language at the same time makes one hour seem a lot more like three hours! Instead, I’d like to suggest an alternative.


That’s right, Youtube. The place where funny videos and tutorials meet. No matter what you find interesting, there’s bound to be at least one video on that very subject.

Why is YouTube better than a Netflix subscription? In this article I’ll provide a few reasons why you should use YouTube to learn English. I’ll also suggest a few great channels that you can subscribe to.

1. It’s punchy and practical

I’m learning Danish, and if I’m trying to learn new Danish vocabulary at the same as watching something, I’ll need massive amounts of willpower to press the ‘Play’ button. If your plan is to study a little bit every day, allow me to introduce you to YouTube. On average, YouTube videos are about 4 minutes long.

The language you will hear on YouTube is conversational, everyday English. Shows like Downton Abbey or The Crown are good for hearing a posh British accent - but you don’t want to speak like a British aristocrat from the 1950s! Maybe you do. But trust me, it would be weird. Ideally you want to to develop a correct AND contemporary accent, as well as using idioms that other people will understand. To manipulate the words of the great William Shakespeare - YouTube is a stage, and all of the actors speak in everyday English.

There’s no substitute for talking face-to-face with native English speakers. But you can’t just conjure up an English speaker whenever you want. Well, unless you’re on italki!

That being said, many YouTube channels are addressed to you, the viewer, and the language is conversational. Hearing this kind of language will give you exposure to conversational English and increase your confidence about speaking in public.

2. It’s fascinating and diverse

If you’re anything like me, watching a TV show or a movie feels like a big commitment. It takes a monumental effort for me to begin watching a movie on Netflix. I scroll and scroll through film titles, often unsuccessfully trying to find “the one” that will make me happy, that I can gladly commit to.

Hopeless romantic that I am, I believe “the one” exists. YouTube is to the TV-uncommitted like myself what online dating websites are to those who are looking for romance.

YouTube has a vast range of videos, across different subjects. From cookings tips to business skills, there’s something perfect for everyone. My recommendation would be for you to watch videos in a variety of subjects, as each subject will expose you to a different set of English rhetoric related to that area.

3. It’s free

No explanation required. My advice for you is to create an account, find some channels that you love, and ‘subscribe’ to them. Don’t just browse without creating an account. I know it might sound strange, but ‘subscribing’ makes you feel as if you own the videos!

The Nitty-gritty

“Wait a second, James!” I hear you ask. “What are some practical ways I can use YouTube to learn?” That’s a fine question. Here are some methods you could follow:

  1. If you want to develop your pronunciation - listen to the speaker say a single sentence, then record yourself saying the same sentence (you could use a program like ‘Audacity’). Try not to just speak clearly, also copy the intonation and stress of the speaker.
  2. Watch the video with subtitles enabled. Copy 5-10 words or phrases that you are unsure about. Use a dictionary to find the definitions. Use whichever vocabulary memorising strategy you’d like and practice the new words. I’ve created a video with a method I like to use that might help you. Keep adding to your main list of vocabulary with every video you watch - and make sure you write this vocabulary in the same place!
  3. Watch and re-watch the video, until you can write a summary of it. Try to explain the concept of the video in different words. Afterwards, you can always ask someone to check that you’ve understood it correctly and ask for their opinion.

Here are some channels that I love.


Crash Course World History

  • This channel produces some great historical content using a fun, visual method. Check out some of their other videos about Economics, Geography, Philosophy, Physics, and many other subjects!


TED Education

  • These short videos will help to broaden your horizons and increase your knowledge.

Men’s Style:

Real Men Real Style

  • Classic men’s style. The host, Antonio Centeno, is a very likeable guy who speaks clearly. His tips have also helped me to dress sharper.

Use YouTube to start searching and find some great channels by yourself!

Of course, I don’t want to stop you from watching your favourite TV shows. I want you to be able to watch them without feeling like it’s a chore. When you want to learn some English, YouTube is a way for you to study, learn some helpful tips about the world, and enjoy yourself - all at the same time!

Thanks for reading!

Make sure to share your favourite English (or other language) YouTube channels in the comments.

Hero image by JJ Jordan on Unsplash