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Lessons in Lyrics! How to Listen to Popular Music and Learn Important English Lessons from It

Everyone has one. That song you can’t get out of your head no matter how hard you try.

The song or album you play on repeat, over and over again.

The lyrics you always find yourself singing along to, even when you don’t realize it at first.

Music “speaks” to many of us. The lyrics of songs we love bring up past memories and emotions and have the power to change our mood.

And… they can also help you improve your English by teaching you important language concepts!

How Music Lyrics Can Teach You Important Concepts in English

There are many ways that music lyrics can help you learn English. Choose the way you like best, and you can cater to your personal learning style!

Research shows that people learn in different ways, and some people learn the best through music. Listening to music also affects the way your brain learns.

However, there’s something else music can do for you apart from helping you learn and memorize words in English. The lyrics in songs are extremely important. Songs are a type of literature, almost like poems. They use a lot of different literary techniques that exist in English They sometimes play with the language in a way that can make it hard for English language learners to understand.

And since these aren’t just found in books or poems, learning to identify these will help you recognize them in everyday speech.

Resources That Help You Learn English Music Videos and Lyrics

So, you may have a ton of songs you love and listen to all the time on the radio.

More than likely, you’ve heard the ones we’re going to talk about (probably more times than you count). We’ve chosen a few very popular songs for you!

But even if you think you know the lyrics by heart, you’ll still need to look at a written version of lyrics to really get the most out of them. There are times when you may misinterpret or may not understand what the singer is saying. Looking at the lyrics can also help you see how things are spelled and pronounced.

Below are three awesome places to find music videos with lyrics:

  • FluentU — This resource has music videos with lyrics to help you become more fluent. The app provides interactive music videos where you can read along to the lyrics of different songs. The video will pause if you hover over a word and a pop-up will provide the word’s definition! How cool and easy is that?
  • Lyricstraining.com — This website is another great place to use lyrics to help you improve English. It provides music video games, where the lyrics will display as the video plays. However, some parts will be left blank and you’ll have to fill in the missing word. It’s a fun way to learn the lyrics of your favorite songs and also learn some new vocabulary words.
  • English Class 101 — This is a “lyric lab” that also has music videos where you fill in missing words in the lyrics. This website also offers a vocabulary list for every song, so you can really keep track of all the new words you’ve learned.

Learn 4 Important English Lessons with the Lyrics of Popular Music

To help you take your English to the next level, we’re going to explain some important and common English concepts using the most popular English songs on the radio right now:

1. Don’t Get Fooled by Idioms and Common Expressions

Idioms are sayings or phrases in English that have double meanings and should not be taken literally. A common example is something you’ve probably heard: “It’s raining cats and dogs.” Are cats and dogs really falling from the sky? No. That would be bad. This saying means that it’s raining heavily.

Idioms are used constantly in English. They’re everywhere. They can be confusing to an English language learner, though, because their meanings are not literal.

You should learn the meaning of these different expressions, so you can fully understand what others are talking about, whether in person or in writing. Identifying them in context will not only make their meanings much clearer, but you’ll also begin to incorporate them into your everyday speech and sound like a native!

Below are some idioms and common expressions you’ll hear in our list of songs, along with their meanings.

“Stay” by Zedd and Alessia Cara

This song is full of references that have to do with time and change.

Here are some that would be helpful to understand:

“Waiting for the time to pass you by”

This means you’re waiting for something, or you want time to go by faster.

“The winds of change”

This isn’t actual wind. It refers to a force that has the power to change someone’s mind or change something important.

“The clock is ticking”

Again, we’re not referring to an actual clock. Someone might say this to another person as a way of expressing “Hurry up!” or “Stop wasting time!”

“Issues” by Julia Michaels

“I’ve got issues”

In English, “issues” refers to when someone has a personal problem. In this song, the singer is very jealous and emotional when it comes to her lover.

“When I’m down, I get real down”

This isn’t talking about the direction down. It means when someone is feeling sad or unhappy.

“When I’m high, I don’t come down”

This is the opposite of the last definition. In this song, to be “high” means to be in a good mood. When she says, “I don’t come down,” she means that it is hard to get her out of the good mood.

“Say You Won’t Let Go” by James Arthur

“Won’t Let Go”

The title of this song means to not give up on something. In this case, the two lovers’ relationship is what they don’t want to give up on.

“You lit me up”

To “light someone up” is to make someone feel good or happy. “Lit” has become a popular slang word recently (“That party was so lit!”). It means to feel good or have a good time.

“You made me feel as though I was enough”

This means to make someone feel appreciated or acknowledged. In the song, the girl makes the singer feel good and more confident about himself.

2. Understand Contractions and Slang

Musicians love to put contractions into their songs. Contractions are shortened versions of phrases. For example, “I’m” is a shorter version of “I am” and has the same meaning.

Learning the meanings of contractions can help improve your English vocabulary because they’re used all of the time in everyday conversation. Knowing their meaning will help you understand what people are trying to say and will also help you communicate.

Sometimes, however, certain contractions are considered slang or incorrect grammar. Even so, you should learn their different definitions. Let’s look at the contractions and slang used in our list of songs.

“It Ain’t Me” by Kygo and Selena Gomez

This song loves contractions! Here are some that you’ll see in these songs, along with explanations.

“Who’s gonna walk you through the dark side of the morning?”

Who’s = who is (“Who is gonna walk you…”)

“Who’s gonna rock you when the sun won’t let you sleep?”

Won’t = will not (“the sun will not let you sleep”)

“Who’s waking up to drive you home when you’re drunk and all alone?”

you’re = you are (“when you are drunk”)

“It ain’t me”

Ain’tam not; are not; is not (“It is not me”)

The contraction “ain’t” is considered slang. In some American dialects, it’s perfectly fine to use (and it’s pretty common). But in other places, it’s considered improper grammar. However, the other contractions used in the song are usually okay to use.

“Issues” By Julia Michaels

Look closely at the way this song plays with language:

” ‘Cause I got issues”

‘Cause = because (“Because I got issues”)

But you got ’em too

em = them (“But you got them too”)

“And I’ll give mine to you”

I’ll = I will (“And I will give mine to you”)

Here’s a warning. “‘Cause” and “’em” are slang. You can probably get away with using them in spoken conversation, but you won’t want to use them when you’re writing. They aren’t considered real words.

Also, the line “I got issues” isn’t grammatically correct. It should be “I have got issues.” Pop quiz! What contraction can we use here? (Answer: we could change “I have” to “I’ve.”)

3. Recognize Rhyme When You Hear It

A rhyme is when two words have the same ending sound. An example would be “cat” and “hat.” Musicians tend to use rhyme in their lyrics to make the song catchier (easier to remember).

Rhymes can actually help teach you about different vowel and letter sounds and patterns.

They can also teach you how to pronounce words with the same vowel sound. For example, if you know that “boat” is pronounced with a long o sound, you will know how to pronounce other words you come across, such as “goat” or “coat” because the words rhyme!

“Say You Won’t Let Go” by James Arthur

“I wake you up with some
Breakfast in bed
I’ll bring you coffee
With a kiss on your head”

In this lyric excerpt, “bed” and “head” rhyme because they both end in the short e sound. Notice how they’re spelled slightly different. Although “head” has an extra a, it still makes the same e sound.

English can be tricky like that sometimes, but learning these different sounds and their spellings is essential for fluency.

“Something Just Like This” by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay

“With some superhuman gifts.
Some superhero,
Some fairy tale bliss.
Just something I can turn to.
Somebody I can kiss.
I want something just like this.”

In this song, “bliss,” “kiss” and “this” rhyme. They all have a short i sound and an s sound at the end of the word. However, even with the presence of the “t” in “gifts,” it rhymes as well because it makes the same ending sound as the other words.

If you aren’t sure, “bliss” means extreme happiness. You just learned a new vocabulary word!

4. Allusions: What Story Is That From?

Allusions are when someone makes a reference to literature or pop culture. English speakers use them all of the time in conversational English.

For example, someone might say, “I felt as a strong as Hulk!” The Hulk is a superhero with superhuman strength from a popular comic book series. The speaker just made an allusion. Using allusions can actually help make your meaning more clear to others because it gives them a point of reference.

Many songs like to use allusions too because it makes their lyrics stronger and easier to relate to. A popular example from a tune that’s not on our list is Taylor Swift’s “Love Song.” In the lyrics, she refers to two lovers as “Romeo” and “Juliet,” two very famous characters from William Shakespeare’s influential romantic play “Romeo and Juliet.”

“Something Just Like This” by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay

This popular song has a super hero theme and is full of allusions. The lyrics can help expose you to different characters from modern pop culture and ancient myths that are referenced a lot in English. Let’s look at some examples:

“Achilles and his gold”

Achilles is a hero from Greek mythology who fought in the Trojan war. The phrase “Achilles’ heel,” which refers to someone’s weakness, comes from this character (in the story, his weakness was his heel). There’s also a part of the ankle referred to as “the Achilles’ tendon” in English.

“Hercules and his gifts”

Hercules is a demi-god (half human, half god) from Greek mythology who had tremendous strength. He’s referred to often in English. There have been many movies and stories based off of his legend, including a Disney movie.

“Spiderman’s control
And Batman with his fists”

We’re pretty sure you’ve heard of the big-wigs (important characters) of the Marvel and DC comic world, Spider-Man and Batman, so we aren’t going to explain who they are here. But now you know the reference made to these characters is called an allusion!

Allusions are everywhere in music and songs. I mean, everywhere. For even more examples, here’s an article that explains allusions in some classic songs, including the song “I Am the Walrus” by the Beatles and more!

 

After reading this article, you should be really conscious of the lyrics in songs.

Even if you’re just listening for fun, try to think of all of the different elements of English you can learn.

Just doing this passively can really help you improve your language skills!

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