Learning with the Stars: 18 Advanced English Vocabulary Words from Famous Songs
You put on your headphones.
The music begins to play.
You feel like singing, dancing, laughing and moving around.
There is no greater feeling than listening to a fun song that you love!
So why not bring that enjoyment to learning advanced English vocabulary words?
Yes, you can use flashcards, watch the news, write your own sentences and even read a book.
But there is no better way to learn than when it feels effortless (easy).
So make learning advanced vocabulary easy by listening to your favorite bands and artists!
Why Should You Learn Words with Songs?
Learning English with music has tons of incredible benefits. Here are a few:
- It is fun! Who doesn’t like to listen to music? There are so many genres (types) of music out there that every single person can enjoy. Whether it is obscure (not well known) or very popular, there is music for everyone.
- Many songs are repetitive. Repetitive means that the same words are repeated over and over, many times, which helps you remember those words better. The greatest way to learn new words well is to use them or to hear them a lot. Thankfully, many songs have already done that for you by repeating lyrics.
- Many fun songs use advanced vocab. This is great for someone like you who is here to learn advanced English words. There are lots of great artists who have written truly brilliant (intelligent/clever) lyrics that are very nice to listen to. Why not take advantage of this by learning while you enjoy these beautiful songs?
Tips for Learning English Words with Songs
- Read the lyrics! Often, the words can be unintelligible (hard to understand) because of the music in the background. The singer might sing the words very fast, which makes it harder to understand. To help make all the words easier to hear and understand, read the lyrics while you are listening to the song.
- Remember that pronunciation is different in songs. Lyrics sometimes rhyme. Often, when an artist wants to make two words rhyme, they might twist (change) the pronunciation of the words just a bit to make them rhyme better. Don’t let this confuse you! The way a singer or rapper pronounces a word isn’t always the correct way. Singing sounds very different from talking.
- Karaoke your lungs out. Since you are using songs to learn English, why not go one step further and sing while you listen? There are tons of places online where you can find lyrics to almost any song, and some of them even have exercises to help you learn what the singer is saying. Whether you know the lyrics by heart or not, sing along with your favorite artists like no one is watching, and see your English vocabulary words get stuck in your head in no time (very fast).
- Choose slower songs. If you feel some songs are too fast for you to understand them, choose a song that is slower (like a ballad, for example). What’s important here is that you choose songs that you like, so you can enjoy the process of learning. Another option you have is changing the speed of the song yourself. YouTube has this option for every video, and there are many music players and phone apps that allow you to change the speed of any song you want.
Now, let’s get to the list of 18 advanced vocabulary words that we are going to learn from some of the most popular bands and artists of all time.
18 Advanced English Vocabulary Words from Famous Songs
Song: “Thriller” by Michael Jackson
Paralyzed is most often used to mean that someone is frozen or they cannot move, whether it is because of health problems or because they are frozen in fear (they can’t move because they are so scared).
In the song “Thriller,” which is one of Michael Jackson’s most famous songs, he uses paralyzed to mean that someone is too scared to move.
“You start to freeze as horror looks you right between the eyes. You’re paralyzed.”
Song: “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” by Michael Jackson
Melting has two main uses. First, it means that something is so hot in temperature that it is turning into (becoming) a liquid.
Second, if someone makes your heart melt, it means that you are falling in love with them. This is a more advanced use of this word.
Michael Jackson uses it to mean that a girl is making him melt from how much he loves her. He is falling in love with her.
“Touch me and I feel on fire. Ain’t nothin’ like a love desire (ooh). I’m melting (I’m melting) like hot candle wax.”
Song: “Rock With You” by Michael Jackson
A groove is a long, narrow dip that causes something on it to move in a certain direction. At least, that is one advanced definition of this word.
In music, a groove is the rhythm of a song. As in, “Michael Jackson’s music always has a really nice groove.”
Most often it means a routine or a habit. You can “get into the groove of your new job” or “get into the groove of life in New York.” In “Rock With You,” one of Jackson’s earlier songs, he uses groove with this meaning.
“There ain’t nothing that you can do. Relax your mind. Lay back and groove with mine. You gotta feel that heat. And we can ride the boogie.”
As you can see here, groove means to settle in, or to fall into a familiar or comfortable way of doing things. Michael Jackson is telling someone to let their mind groove (get comfortable) with his.
Song: “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie
When someone is so scared that they are shaking, they are trembling.
This is a great advanced vocabulary word because it sounds much better than just saying “shake” from fear. The person was so scared they were trembling in fear.
“Let’s Dance” is one of David Bowie’s most recognizable (well-known) songs of all time and rightfully so. It is really happy and fun to listen to.
Bowie uses the word tremble to make a simile (a comparison). Here, he is saying that the love between him and his lover might make the other person tremble. Perhaps they love Bowie so much that they feel weak!
“…my love for you. Would break my heart in two. If you should fall, into my arms. And tremble like a flower.
Song: “Moonage Daydream” by David Bowie
Squawking is that really annoying sound some birds make when it sounds like they are dying or suffering. It is also sometimes called a shriek. It is a very harsh (rough) noise and is not exactly pleasant.
In “Moonage Daydream,” an upbeat and fun song from one of David Bowie’s most well-known albums, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,” Bowie uses the word squawking to make a simile (a comparison).
“Keep your mouth shut, you’re squawking like a pink monkey bird.”
In this case, he is comparing the way someone is talking to the annoying squawking of a pink monkey bird, whatever that is.
6. Ground Control
Song: “Space Oddity” by David Bowie
Ground Control is a phrase used by astronauts to refer to the people on the ground that are helping them in their flight into space.
Ground Control, as the name suggests, is a team that controls things from the ground that the astronauts (space travelers) cannot control from up in space.
David Bowie famously used this common space-related expression in his song “Space Oddity.”
Ground Control is trying to communicate with the man who is traveling to space, and they say, “Ground Control to Major Tom.” When Major Tom communicates with them, he says, “This is Major Tom to Ground Control.“
This exciting, modern song was the beginning of Bowie’s rise to fame in the early 1970s.
Song: “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley
Wail is similar to squawk because it means some sort of scream or yell. However, wail is different because normally it refers to someone who is yelling because they are happy or sad.
In “Jailhouse Rock,” Elvis uses wail to mean that a group of prisoners were ecstatic (very happy) from singing along to some upbeat music.
“The warden threw a party in the county jail. The prison band was there and they began to wail. The band was jumpin’ and the joint began to swing.”
Song: “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley
When someone is not fully trusting of another person or of some sort of idea, they are suspicious.
They are not completely sure they believe what is being told to them. Suspicious can also be used to mean “fishy,” or in other words, it is used to mean that something is weird or off (not quite right) about a situation and leads us to be not completely sure of what we know.
The king of rock (Elvis) uses suspicious in the title to refer to two lovers who have become suspicious of each other and now always have suspicious minds. Both are not sure if they completely trust what the other is doing all the time anymore.
“We can’t go on together. With suspicious minds (suspicious minds). And we can’t build our dreams. On suspicious minds.”
Song: “Burning Love” by Elvis Presley
Flaming means that something is on fire. It is also similar to melting in that it can mean that something is making us fall in love with it, or to like it a lot and we want more of it.
In classic Elvis fashion, he uses flaming to refer to how a girl makes him feel. In this case, his brain is flaming from how hot she is, and how much he wants her.
“Girl, girl, girl. You gonna set me on fire. My brain is flaming. I don’t know which way to go.”
Song: “Gold Dust Woman” by Fleetwood Mac
An illusion is something that distorts (messes up) our view of an image or of reality until we think that something else completely is going on. Often they are used in magic tricks to create the illusion of magic. Also, illusion can be used to refer to a lie.
In this case, illusion is used to refer to how we see love.
It means that sometimes someone comes along in your life that makes you question what you think of love. This person makes you reevaluate (think over) what you already have decided love is. And they can completely replace our view of love, or just slightly alter (change) it.
“Did she make you cry. Make you break down. Shatter your illusions of love.”
Song: “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac
A reflection is the opposite image of something. When we look at ourselves in mirrors, we see our reflections.
Also, we are looking at our reflection while taking a selfie (a picture of yourself).
Reflection can also be used to mean that we see ourselves in someone or something else that isn’t us. For example, in “Landslide,” the band says snow-covered hills reflect who they see themselves as.
The word reflection is a word that is often used in metaphors (a way to compare something poetically to something else).
“I took my love and I took it down. Climbed a mountain and I turned around. And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills. Till the landslide brought me down.”
Song: “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac
A chain is something that binds us (locks us) to a post or to something that doesn’t allow us to get away.
A chain is often used as a way of expressing a feeling of being alone and that there is no way out.
In the case of “The Chain,” Fleetwood Mac is using it to refer to the never-ending relationship between two people that a marriage represents. While writing this album, the members of the band were going through hard times in their relationships. This was the inspiration for much of their music at the time, “The Chain” included.
“I can still hear you saying. You would never break the chain (Never break the chain).”
Song: “Cool” by Jonas Brothers
A comb is something we use to adjust or clean our hair so that we don’t look like a crazy person.
In this song, comb appears as a verb (to comb), which simply means to use a comb to adjust or clean our hair.
The Jonas Brothers are using this verb here to say that they comb their hair like Charlie Sheen (an American actor and comedian) when he was younger (old-school). If you’ve ever seen pictures of him when he was young online, then you will see the similarity between him and the Jonas Brothers in this music video.
There’s another meaning to the phrase “old-school Sheen.” The word sheen can mean “to make shiny.”
When you use pomade (a hair product) on your hair, you make it shiny and you look like the main male characters of the movie Grease (a word that, by the way, refers to something oily and fatty, like pomade).
The Jonas Brothers seem to have used a lot of pomade before recording this music video, so it all seems to fit nicely.
“Woke up feelin’ like a new James Dean. I comb my hair like an old-school Sheen.”
Who said you can’t learn difficult English words with flawless hair?
Song: “7 Rings” by Ariana Grande
People can’t decide if Ariana Grande is singing flossy or flossing in this song, and you can find both options all over the internet.
However, the meaning is practically the same (although flossy is an adjective and flossing is a verb).
Flossy and flossing come from the word floss, which is normally a thread we use to clean our teeth after brushing them.
When we floss our teeth, they are clean and shiny. That’s how we get the slang words flossy (shiny) and flossing (shining).
If you have a look at the lyrics, Ariana Grande is singing:
“My wrist, stop watchin’, my neck is flossy. Make big deposits, my gloss is poppin.'”
It’s all related to money, jewelry and shiny things.
Now, what is she wearing around her neck? Exactly, super shiny necklaces! She is singing about how shiny her neck looks because of all the jewelry she is wearing. That was a trip!
Song: “Unconditionally” by Kary Perry
Unconditionally is an adverb, and it means doing something with no limits, restrictions or conditions.
This one and unconditional (its adjective counterpart) are words very often used in love songs, especially in the phrase unconditional love, which is the kind of love in which you love no matter what, without asking or expecting anything in return.
“Unconditionally” is a slow song, so it’s great for practicing your listening comprehension skills. Besides, Katy Perry is an amazing artist, and I’m sure the song will bring tears to your eyes.
In the lyrics, Katy sings:
“Unconditional, unconditionally. I will love you unconditionally. There is no fear now. Let go and just be free. I will love you unconditionally.”
She is singing to the person she loves.
If you have a look at the rest of the lyrics, the other person seems to feel uncomfortable being vulnerable (being honest about something), and she tells them not to worry and just let go, feel the love and enjoy the feeling.
Song: “Sine From Above” by Lady Gaga and Elton John
A struggle is a violent effort, or something very difficult that makes our life hard.
This word appears very often in the phrase without a struggle, which is exactly what Elton John is singing in these lines:
“When I was young, I felt immortal. And not a day went by without a struggle.“
Without a struggle means without problems or pain, so he is saying that even though he felt immortal (like he can’t die), he had a lot of problems every day, so his life wasn’t easy.
If you read his biography or watch the movie Rocketman—a musical depicting his life—you will find those lines to be very true.
Song: “Break My Heart” by Dua Lipa
When a person is indecisive, it means they can’t make a decision. Instead, they hesitate and have doubts about what to choose.
Dua Lipa admits she is an indecisive person when she sings:
“You say my name like I have never heard before. I’m indecisive but this time I know for sure.”
In just a couple of lines, she goes from admitting she is indecisive to saying she is sure this time. What she means is that she wants to make the decision to be in a relationship with the other person, because she knows what she feels is love. How romantic!
Song: “You Broke Me First” by Tate McRae
The word denial has several meanings, but when you see it in the expression “to be in denial” it means that you refuse to accept the truth because you don’t like it.
This is exactly the expression we can find in this amazing song:
“Took a while, was in denial when I first heard that you moved on quicker than I could’ve ever.”
She needed some time (it took a while) to accept the unpleasant truth—her ex had moved on (forgotten about their feelings for her and went on with their life).
She was in denial for a little bit, but she finally accepted the truth and was, hopefully, able to move on too.
I hope you aren’t in denial and accepted since the very beginning of this post that these songs are awesome.
And that’s it! Did you learn all those great words?
If you’re looking for resources to help you master English for advanced learners, look no further than song lyrics.
Play those fun, hit songs until you do.