Learning languages can be a drag. Let’s not lie to ourselves. The countless hours of revising for tests, learning grammar rules, practicing accents, perfecting vocab, and battling that damned Duolingo owl can feel like a lifetime of work. We put up with it – we’re language students. Deep down, we love it. But, is it really all we can do?
As you’ve probably guessed from the title, no it isn’t. Our friend TV is the answer. There are some awesome TV series that are perfect for immersing yourself in your language of choice. Not only that, they’re addictive as hell. Some of these shows are in languages I know next to nothing about, but they are just that good that I can’t stop watching. Read on for inspo.
You can travel the world over, but you still have to deal with yourself.
I don’t speak German, but I wish I did, if just to feel as cool as this TV series is. As a fan of the Cold War (in the historical sense, not in the ‘I love international catastrophes’ sense) this show was a treat for me. And, whether you’re learning German or not, this show will be a treat for you too (bonus treat: the lead actor is cute).
Watch if: You’re learning German; you want to learn German; you love Germany; you love history; you love 80s music; you love gripping television; you love 1980s Euro-aesthetics.
Spoiler-free synopsis: It’s 1983, and East German soldier Martin Rauch is sent across the border to become a West German soldier, and spy from the inside. Prepare yourself for an identity crisis, a belter of an 80s playlist, and some über cool espionage.
Where to watch: If you’re in the UK, you can watch the entire series for free on All4, thanks to Walter Presents (my new fave thing, and soon to be yours). If you’re in the US, you can watch (sadly not for free) on Hulu, Amazon or Youtube. Or you can buy it on Amazon.
Stay tuned for Deutschland 86, set to be released in Germany on 19th October.
Les Hommes De L’Ombre (Spin)
When this series was aired in the UK (merci encore Walter Presents), I was studying French and Politics at college, so it gripped me immediately. If the thought of heavy politics with a language barrier turns your stomach, fear not: this show is glamorous, sneaky, tense, and very sexy (both the lead characters and plot).
Watch if: You’re learning French; you want to learn French; you love France (and/or its territories); you love politics (and/or political dramas); you love sleek and suspenseful television; you love high-powered Parisian office environments.
Spoiler-free synopsis: After a national security disaster, there is a knee-jerk Presidential election. Old allies will become enemies, devastating secrets will spill into the public, and lovers & family will get caught in the cross-fire.
Where to watch: Brits, get to know ya boi Walter, cos he’s got all three series on All4 once more. For those in the USA, there don’t seem to be many options outside of buying the box set. Or you can buy it on Amazon.
Blå Ögen (Blue Eyes)
Scandinavian drama is great. This isn’t news to anyone. One series you may, or may not, have heard of is this Swedish gem, brought to me by, you guessed it, my good friend Walter. Think Homeland, but in Sweden.
Watch if: You’re learning Swedish (or any Scandinavian language tbh); you love Scandinavia; you love Scandi noir; you love themes of extremism in your drama; you like to appraise minimalist approaches to style and interior design whilst hooked on a plotline.
Spoiler-free synopsis: From the inside of political Stockholm, we see the corruption and panic that really goes on behind the scenes. There will be terror, there will be suspicion, and there will be murder.
Where to watch: Brits. All4. Walter Presents. Ofc. Americans: all I could find was a streaming site (not free) called MHz for watching European TV. Could be a potential winner if you’re really serious about foreign drama.
Salvatore Conte in Gomorrah
L’omm’ ca po fà a men’ ‘e tutt’ cos’ nun ten’ paur’ ‘e nient.
The man who can do without everything is scared of nothing.
Even if you’re learning Italian, you might struggle cutting through the thick Neapolitan dialect of Gomorrah. That doesn’t matter though – this series is so gripping, so addictive, and so utterly bingeworthy that you’ll be finishing all your sentences with “eh capit’?”
Watch if: You’re learning Italian; you’re familiar with Naples; you love Italy; you love all mob-related drama; you love good-quality foreign drama; you love any kind of good-quality television.
Spoiler-free synopsis: It’s the projects in Naples, and the mob is evolving. Territories and businesses are changing, and what they do affects everyone’s lives. There will be blood, betrayal, family ties, hard choices, and many lives lost. Stay tuned for huge plot twists.
Where to watch: In the UK, all three seasons are on Sky Atlantic on demand and NowTV. In the USA, there’s Netflix, iTunes and Amazon. Make sure to get stuck into this series – wherever you are. This is unmissable.
Steve Arnott in Line Of Duty
The one thing we both know: the easiest way to get away with killing somebody? Be a police officer.
Line Of Duty
For everyone out there learning English, there are a number of series I could throw your way, but Line Of Duty is undoubtedly one of my favourite shows EVER – and the English accents/dialects are pretty ‘London standard’, so there’s no difficult slang or language to get your head around.
Watch if: You’re learning English; you love British drama; you love huge plot twists; you love cop shows (with a difference); you love stories of corruption and betrayal; you love being kept on your toes.
Spoiler-free synopsis: It’s a special branch of the UK police force – investigating crime and corruption within the police itself. Over the course of the series, huge secrets will be unveiled, scandals will unravel, and you’ll be shocked and surprised at every twist.
Where to watch: In the UK, you can watch the first 3 seasons on Netflix (season 4 isn’t currently available). In the US, Line Of Duty is also on Netflix and Hulu. If you’re in Europe, you’ll have to see if your TV provider streams/airs it (I know that it’s available in France on France.TV). Or check out Amazon!
Anybody out there learning Dutch? If you are, I have the show for you. This Dutch speaking, Belgian drama is a psychological thriller of cinematic proportions. If you want to be spooked into language learning, look no further. Think continental American Horror Story.
Watch if: You’re learning Dutch; you love Belgium; you love dark psychological thrillers; you love horror movie aesthetics; you enjoy twisted undertones of mental instability and crime in your TV series; you love mystery; you love a female protagonist.
Spoiler-free synopsis: A young woman is suffering from amnesia, and is being kept in a psychiatric hospital by the police – she is the last person seen with a missing man. She must unravel her own twisted memories and demons to discover the truth, and her sanity.
Where to watch: You know the drill Britain, Walter Presents has got you covered. Watch Tabula Rasa in the US on Netflix.
La Casa De Papel (Money Heist)
If you’re trying to learn Spanish, look no further than this red hot Spanish drama. Already popular in the anglophone media, this is a series for the world, not just you who habláis español.
Watch if: You’re learning Spanish; you love Spain; you love crime dramas involving ambitious heists, scams and hostage situations; you love mysterious characters with mysterious pseudonyms.
Spoiler-free synopsis: ‘The Professor’ is planning the biggest heist in history and has recruited a number of people to help him – all of whom having nothing to lose. This series is chock-full of high-scale deception and trickery, crime, greed, and intrigue.
Where to watch: If you have Netflix, US or UK, you can watch Money Heist, but this is the version dubbed in English. However, I have read that if you change your language settings on Netflix to Spanish, you can watch La Casa De Papel. And if you need to, you can always turn on your subtitles.
Listen up all you Portuguese students, and all those who prefer a good comedy to a suspenseful drama, this one’s for you. Samantha! (as recommended by Jo herself!) is a Brazillian soap opera-y that will laugh you into learning.
Watch if: You’re learning Portuguese; you love Brazil; you love sitcoms; you love a ‘where are they now’ theme in your TV; you like shows about fake celebrities; you love a strong female lead.
Spoiler-free synopsis: Samantha was a child star in the 1980s, trying desperately to cling onto stardom in the 21st century. Fame is different these days, and she battles with new media, ex-boyfriends and the new definition of ‘celebrity’ to get it.
Where to watch: Samantha! is available on both UK and US Netflix.
Whether you’re learning Danish, or are just a huge fan of Scandi dramas, this is a series you can really get your teeth into. It has all the hallmarks of a delicious TV show, whilst improving your Danish at the same time.
Watch if: You’re learning Danish (or any Scandi language); you love Nordic noir drama: you love a murder mystery; you’re interested in Scandinavia; you love a strong female lead.
Spoiler-free synopsis: There’s a murder on the bridge connecting Denmark and Sweden, and both countries’ police forces must work together to find the murderer. Set yourselves up for a dark, tense and frustrating drama on all levels.
Where to watch: You can watch The Bridge in the UK and US on Netflix and Amazon video.
Leave your own recommendations in the comments