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.
What you need, dear English learner, are some easy English songs that are simple enough to understand yet still catchy enough to have you dancing and singing all day.
That’s where pop (popular) music comes into play.
I’ll show you some fun, famous and easy tunes to learn English with songs.
You might not even realize you’re learning!
I’ll also walk you through how to successfully learn English with songs by using lyrics and practicing the right way.
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 English 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 (understood by everyone, regardless of culture) 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’s 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 bit 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’s also good for building vocabulary that a learner would use to describe the activities at a house.
The chorus is also iconic, and it’s 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’s 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 (I heard it through the grapevine) which means that someone learned a piece of information in an informal way, like through rumors or gossip.
Other idiom examples in this song 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’s a great song to learn vocabulary for activities that people do when they’re 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 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 how to use 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
6 Fun Exercises to Learn English with Songs
To speed up your learning, I’ve also come up with some fun exercises that you can pair with your cool pop songs:
1. Guess the Lyrics
There are online games for practically everything—including learning English through songs!
One of my favorite language apps is LyricsTraining.
If you’ve ever felt intimidated when listening to English lyrics in real-time, then this app might be for you. It takes on a fun “fill-in-the-blanks” approach, where you play English songs and the app asks you to guess certain words in the lyrics.
What makes it so user-friendly is that you can adjust the challenge level. To get started, check out the beginner mode, where you fill up only around 10% of the lyrics. Advanced mode brings this up to a whopping 50% of the words! You can also opt for multiple choice.
Every time you get a word right, you score points, so you can challenge your friends or even compete with other users.
The app is available to use in your browser and both iPhone and Android devices.
On top of humming along to catchy English songs, consider spicing it up a bit with karaoke.
Karaoke isn’t just for having a good time at parties and bonding with friends—you can also take advantage of it for learning English. With karaoke, you’ll be seeing the lyrics on the screen with the music playing, but there won’t be any vocals. It’ll be your job to do the singing!
This trains you in two important areas: reading and pronunciation. Unless you’ve got the song memorized, you’ll be reading the lyrics out loud as soon as they appear. You’ll also have to say the words at a regular speed or sometimes even faster.
Karaoke is pretty effective at making phrases and words stick too. If you sing Ben King’s “Stand By Me” on karaoke, the phrase “stand by me” will be so much more memorable to you.
Sing King and KaraFun have thousands of English karaoke songs up on YouTube. There are also karaoke apps like Yokee if you want to bring your friends into the fun.
3. A Song in Two Languages
If you’re looking for an added challenge, bring out your inner songwriter by translating an English song!
The catch is that instead of simply translating the lyrics, you have to consider the melody and rhythm, too. You can find tons of examples of this, since many popular songs have translated versions. For instance, here’s a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” translated into Japanese:
Alternatively, you can choose to translate only a portion of the song, making the lyrics bilingual.
The hit song “Despacito” is originally in Spanish, but there’s a version where Justin Bieber sings the start of the song in English:
Since this will take you at least a few hours, go for an English song that you love listening to! Get a copy of the lyrics by looking up “[song title] [artist] lyrics” on Google. Depending on your native language, one trick is to count the number of syllables in each line and match that when you translate.
4. What’s the Story?
Feel like taking a break from your textbook? Another way to polish your English skills would be to explore native content that you like—such as music videos.
Listening to an English song can be very useful for improving your comprehension skills, but you can make it an even more interactive experience with music videos.
This gets interesting because you’re also picking up visual and storytelling cues. The music video for Taylor Swift’s “You Belong with Me,” for example, has a very clear connection to the lyrics:
With “You’re on the phone with your girlfriend, she’s upset,” the scene literally shows the person in the video talking on the phone and looking irritated.
Instead of looking at the lyrics right away, watch the entire video first then guess the overall story or meaning of the song. You can then break down the lyrics word for word, comparing each line to what’s happening in the music video.
5. Lyric Hunt
English expressions and slang can get tricky, but songs are great for picking up on these! After all, you’ll hear so many expressions in popular music. To name a few:
- I made it — I’ve reached my goal
- Mend your heart — to help someone heal emotionally
- Stick up for me — to come to someone’s help or defense
When you come across a confusing English expression, you can go on a musical adventure by looking up songs that use that expression.
For example, the slang phrase hit the sack means to go to sleep. What you can do is head over to Song Search and type “hit the sack” (or any phrase you want) into the search box at the top. Press Enter, and you’ll automatically get plenty of songs containing that specific phrase in their lyrics.
Aside from introducing you to new songs, this also helps you hear the expression in different contexts. You can even play around with it by trying wacky phrases such as I love food and cat days.
6. Sentence Mining
One of the most difficult parts of learning English is picking up sentence structures. You might know how to say individual words, but it’s harder to arrange them into sentences while getting the grammar right.
Songs can be ideal for getting the hang of sentence structures in English!
Choose any of the easy English songs we’ve listed above. Then focus on a line with a sentence structure that you’d want to practice with. Now use that sentence structure while replacing some of the words.
In Bruno Mars’s “The Lazy Song,” you might choose the line “Today I don’t feel like doing anything.” You can break this down into “Today I don’t feel like [verb+ing]” and come up with the following sentences:
- Today I don’t feel like going to the dentist.
- Today I don’t feel like swimming.
Songs tend to have more casual, everyday language, so this helps you absorb it more intuitively.
The world of English music is vast, so you’ll undoubtedly find countless songs to love.
Start by exploring the easy pop songs we’ve listed above, then try out any of the exercises. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn from even one song. Happy listening!
And One More Thing...
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.