Music is a truly universal language.
It’s something we can all understand and connect with, regardless of which languages we speak.
But if music is so universal, why is it so hard to understand the English you hear in songs? English songs on the radio sometimes sound like total gibberish, and the language is very hard to follow.
Why Learn English with Popular Music?
Popular music is a good place to start learning English with songs because the sentences are easy to understand. The vocabulary is simple and the sentences are short and sweet.
Most pop songs are about love, heartbreak or having a good time. Not only does that make for easier vocabulary, it makes for some fun party music! Pop songs are made so that everyone will enjoy them and sing along. Many of them will want to make you start dancing immediately.
These English songs are just so catchy! They have a way of making humans move and groove, and sometimes songs or lyrics from songs get stuck in our heads for hours, days or even weeks (a tune that’s stuck in your brain is called an earworm in English).
This makes them predictable most of the time, allowing English learners to build their vocabulary and sentence structure through English music.
The best part about pop music is that you can find lyrics for songs almost anywhere on the internet. The lyrics to just about every English song in existence are available on sites like MetroLyrics and AZLyrics, and you can listen to music for free on YouTube Music or Soundcloud.
If you enjoy this type of entertaining English learning, you’ll want to check out FluentU. On FluentU, you get authentic English videos, like music videos and hit songs as well as movie trailers, funny YouTube clips, inspiring talks and more. And each video has been transformed into a language learning experience.
The videos have interactive captions to teach you new words while you watch. Just click any word for an instant definition and native pronunciation.
For example, tap on the word “brought,” and you would see this:
FluentU then provides flashcards and exercises from each video to help you remember the vocabulary. In other words, videos become English lessons. With FluentU’s questions, you can always see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The videos are organized by genre and English level. FluentU also personalizes your learning by suggesting new videos based on what you’ve already watched. It’s a fun way to naturally learn English the way native speakers really use it. Check out a free trial to start learning English with songs and many other real-world videos!
16 Cool Pop Songs That Make Learning English Incredibly Easy
1. “ABC” by Jackson 5
This English song features one of the most influential pop musicians of all time (the King of Pop: Michael Jackson), and it’s a great song all on its own.
The song focuses on vocabulary related to school and love, and its simple lyrics make it really easy to follow. Some school vocabulary in particular includes words like “arithmetic” (a type of mathematics) and a music phrase “do re mi” (a common way for singers to sing scales in musical instruction).
What’s better: Its simple, catchy chorus makes it great for getting English lyrics stuck in your head, helping you to learn all of those useful English words.
2. “Always on My Mind” by Elvis Presley
Speaking of kings, Elvis Presley is known throughout the English-speaking world as the King of Rock n’ Roll.
This English song of his focuses on the topic of love, and Elvis sings about always thinking about the woman he loves even though she feels he doesn’t pay attention to her.
The title is an idiom that means “I am always thinking about you.” With lyrics like “maybe I didn’t treat you quite as good as I should have | you were always on my mind,” this song is a great way to learn idioms and love expressions in English, see negative sentences and observe past tense verbs in use.
3. “And I Love Her” by The Beatles
“And I Love Her” is another classic love song by The Beatles. The topic of love is universal and easy for listeners to relate to.
Even though lyrics like “Bright are the stars that shine | Dark is the sky | I know this love of mine will never die” are kind of poetic, the words are simple enough for learners of English to understand.
4. “Beautiful Day” by U2
This song is a little more challenging than the previous ones. With lyrics like “The heart is a bloom | Shoots up through the stony ground,” this song is a great way to learn about figurative and poetic language.
The song is about being positive and happy and about appreciating your life. Even if you don’t understand all the lyrics at first, the song is catchy. When it gives you an earworm and you can’t stop singing the easier lyrics of this English song, you can think about what the song means. (This is exactly why it’s so easy and fun to learn English with songs!)
5. “Every Breath You Take” by The Police
Unlike the previous song, this song is easy for English learners because it is very simple and competitive—perfect for learning! The song is about someone who loves someone else so much that they want to always be by their side. The rhyming lyrics allow for phonetic practice too.
There are also a few idioms to take note of in this English song. When the singer says his heart aches, it means that he’s so upset by the fact that he isn’t with his lover, it’s as if it actually hurts his heart. Further, to be lost without a trace means that someone or something has disappeared without any clues as to where they could have gone.
6. “Manic Mondays” by The Bangles
This song is a little complex, and the vocabulary can be a little advanced for beginning English learners, but the content is right where it needs to be to benefit English learners just starting out.
The song outlines typical daily routines, and has helpful day-to-day routine vocabulary. And besides, who doesn’t wish it was Sunday? It really is the fun day.
This song is also good for seeing the past tense and the past progressive in action. The past progressive is formed with the past tense of the verb to be plus the present participle (a verb ending in -ing). An example of this is in the first verse: “I was kissing Valentino by a crystal blue Italian stream.”
7. “Our House” by Madness
Not only is this song good for learning idioms and other English expressions such as a date to keep (to make an appointment or meeting on time) and Sunday best (someone’s fanciest, nicest clothes), but it is good for building vocabulary that a learner would use to describe the activities at a house.
The chorus is also iconic, and it is probably one of the shortest and catchiest in English music history.
8. “California Dreaming” by The Mamas and the Papas
Who doesn’t dream of sunny California on a cold winter’s day?
With lyrics like “All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray,” this short English song is great for learning vocabulary about the weather and seasons. It also an iconic example of a conditional expression. Check it out.
“All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray.
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day.
I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.;
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.”
9. “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye
This catchy tune not only uses the past English tense in its various forms, but it also has quite a few examples of idioms and figurative expressions in English, making it a totally fun option to learn English with songs.
The title of the song is an idiom (heard it through the grapevine) which means that someone learned a piece of information in an informal way, like through rumors or gossip. Other examples include the following:
- Make me blue — Make me sad
- It took me by surprise — It surprised me
- To lose my mind — To become angry, upset or crazy
10. “The Lazy Song” by Bruno Mars
Learners of English will probably recognize this song as being Bruno Mars’s worldwide hit from a few years ago. It focuses on someone who doesn’t want to do any work or leave the house that day. In fact, it seems that Bruno doesn’t even want to leave his bed!
Besides being undeniably catchy, this song is good for English learners because it uses the English future tense: “I’m gonna kick my feet up and stare at the fan.”
Further, it is a great song to learn vocabulary for activities that people do when they are at home. Both those things aside, this English song uses a lot of popular slang, and though that might be hard for beginners, I’ve broken it down a bit for you here:
- Chilling — Relaxing
- Snuggie — A kind of like a sweater-blanket combination
- Dougie — A type of dance that was popular in the early 2010s
- My old man — A slang term for someone’s father
- Being in your birthday suit — Being naked
- Let everything hang loose — Be relaxed, not uptight or worried
11. “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers
This is a great song about waiting for and missing a loved one, and it’s sung at a slow pace so you can take your time understanding and processing what’s being said. Most of the verbs are in the present tense, so they’re also easy to understand.
You’ll learn some unique expressions like godspeed (to wish someone luck or safety on a journey) and be exposed to the poetic use of personification (when an object does something human) like lonely rivers sigh (take a loud breath) and the open arms of the sea.
12. “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes
This is a fantastic song for getting used to the English imperative (command tense), as there are many instances of commands like “Be my baby” and “Wait and see.”
Apart from the imperative, you’ll see many times where the song uses the easy English future tense construction: subject + will + verb. Not only is the future tense used frequently, but it almost always forms a contraction with the subject, such as you’ll (you will) and I’ll (I will). By listening to this song, you’ll have plenty of practice with both the future tense and forming contractions!
13. “Live Forever” by Oasis
“Live Forever” is a well-known song with generally optimistic (positive) lyrics that will introduce you to a few slang words, such as wanna (want to) and gonna (going to).
Additionally, this is the perfect song for learning basic verbs like breathe, believe, die, live and see. Listen to them used in a variety of sentences and use the song’s frequent repetition to help you memorize them better. Hearing these common verbs used in context and set to a melody (tune) will help them stick in your head!
14. “Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies
As you might imagine from the title, this song is full of sweetness!
From vocabulary words like kiss, sunshine, candy, sugar and more, these lyrics are full of cute English words.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that these words only have one meaning!
Many of them can actually mean more than one thing. For example, sugar can be the white substance you use to sweeten your coffee, it can mean a kiss or it can be used as a term of endearment (something you call a loved one).
In fact, this song is full of English terms of endearment, like sugar, honey and baby.
15. “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart
This famous love song covers some basic vocabulary, including body parts—like face, head and eyes—and places—like home and school.
Additionally, there are some really great expressions to learn, such as “You stole my heart” (you made me fall in love with you) and “make a living” (to work).
For the most part, the song is fairly easy to follow, but don’t feel bad if you need to listen to it multiple times to really understand the relationship between the two lovers.
16. “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell
A classic pop song, these lyrics have tons of vocabulary words that have to do with places and nature!
Just some of the great place and nature words you’ll hear include taxi, parking lot (where you leave your car when you shop), hotel, museum, trees, birds and bees.
It’s also worth mentioning that sometimes Joni Mitchell uses abbreviations of words. Here’s what to look out for:
- ’em — them
- ’til — until
- DDT — abbreviation for a chemical used to kill insects
There’s also one phrase construction that’s grammatically incorrect (it’s slang):
- don’t it — doesn’t it
And once you’ve mastered all these easy English songs, you can continue to learn English with songs by exploring the internet and listening to English radio.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.