Do your English lessons have you singing the blues (feeling sad)?
Do you wish you could whistle a happy tune (enjoy yourself) as you learn English?
Well, you can.
Make your English study sessions more fun by learning English with music. Read on to learn how!
Why Learn English with Music?
There are many good reasons to learn English with music. Here are just a few of them.
Music adds pleasure to your studies
Listening to music is entertaining and enjoyable.
Listening to it can make you happy, which helps you to relax—even when the music is upbeat and exciting.
When you’re relaxed, you’re able to learn better.
Music suits your style
Music is a highly personalized learning tool. You can get the benefits of learning English with music in any style or genre.
Whether you love hard rock, jazz, rap, folk music or blues, you can find English language songs that appeal to you personally—songs that’ll improve your knowledge of everyday English.
Music holds your attention
Your favorite styles of music will grab your attention and hold it.
You’ll stay “in the moment” with English-language music, focusing on lyrics and learning.
Music improves your vocabulary retention
The same phrases tend to repeat many times within a song.
This gives you plenty of practice to hear English phrases over and over again. The more you hear them, the better you’ll remember them.
When you start to learn the words and sing along, your memory of the English words and phrases in the song will be even stronger.
Soon, you’ll start to recognize these words and phrases from other sources—in conversation, in TV shows and in films.
This is the magic of repetition in music.
Music teaches you authentic English
Like music the world over, songs in English are written for people who speak the language every day. They contain ordinary words and figures of speech.
At first, you may struggle with some of the idiomatic expressions used in lyrics.
Over time, the contexts of the songs will help you to understand these new expressions.
Music gives you a taste of culture
When you learn English with music, you’re getting more than just new words or a better understanding of grammar.
As you listen to English-language music, you’ll start to learn more about the culture that created it.
You might hear references to celebrities, folklore and history in the English-speaking world. You’ll get glimpses of day-to-day life.
Music enhances conversations
Getting familiar with English-language music opens up conversations.
You can chat about the songs themselves, the artists and even the music videos.
Expert Tips for Effectively Learning English with Music
How can you get the most out of learning English with music?
The most important thing to do is have fun. Here are a few more things you can do to learn faster and more thoroughly.
Pick styles you enjoy
Since you can find English-language music in just about every style imaginable, make sure you choose music that you like.
Don’t feel that you should listen to a certain popular artist, just because many other people do.
Listen to what you like. This will keep learning English with music a pleasure—and you’ll want to keep learning.
Make English music part of your regular routine
One of the difficult things about learning any language is that it can seem so strange and foreign.
This can be off-putting. It could make you avoid English study, like it’s a chore you don’t want to do.
Once you start including English-language music in your regular musical “diet,” it’ll become an ordinary, familiar part of your life.
Mix English-language songs into whatever music you normally enjoy.
You’ll stop thinking of it as “listening to English music” and just think of it as listening to the songs you love.
Watch enhanced music videos
You can find thousands of English-language music videos on YouTube or Vimeo. These will help you understand English music even better.
Watch the facial expressions of the singers and the action in the video—especially if there’s a storyline being acted out.
What if you could see the lyrics as you’re listening and watching the video? And you could pause the song at any time to get an instant definition of words you don’t know?
That’s the power of using the FluentU app.
Use the free trial to check out the FluentU app today—and make learning English with music even more effective.
Write down words you don’t know
No matter where you are in your English-learning journey—whether you’re a beginner, an intermediate learner or practically fluent—you’ll always encounter English words you don’t know.
This happens even to native English speakers. With about 20,000 words in regular use in the English language, not even people who grew up speaking the language can know all of them.
Make a habit of writing down words you don’t know from English-language songs. After you’ve defined them and double-checked your spelling, try writing them in sentences. Use them in conversation with your English-speaking friends.
With catchy tunes and repeated words, you can learn the lyrics to English songs almost without trying—just like you do with songs in your native language.
As soon as you start learning the words, make a habit of singing along. Try to imitate the pronunciation of the singers.
Sing along as you’re doing laundry or cooking dinner. Sing along as you’re driving down the highway. Sing in the shower.
The more you take an active role in singing along, the better you’ll learn. It’s like repeating English dialogues to learn conversation. In this case, the music will help the English words stay in your memory.
And the more you sing English songs, the more comfortable you’ll be speaking English. It’ll seem more and more familiar to you.
Try translating songs
Song lyrics can teach you so much about English.
Sometimes, though, you might have a hard time fully understanding a song.
Maybe it’s because the song is about a topic you don’t know well. It may have more unfamiliar words than most songs you hear.
Maybe the song has a fast tempo and the words are sung very quickly—making it difficult to understand them.
Maybe the singer didn’t pronounce the words clearly.
Translation can help, but it takes a little extra effort. You’ll need to find the correct lyrics and a good dictionary.
When you take time to translate songs from English, though, you’ll understand them even more thoroughly. And you’ll tend to remember the words and phrases from the songs you translate—even better than you would if you just listened.
How to Use Music to Learn English Grammar
Learning English with songs can improve your knowledge and understanding of the language in several important ways. You’ll learn grammar and vocabulary, understand more of the English you hear and speak English even more naturally.
But let’s start by talking about using music to learn English grammar.
A lot of language learners find grammar very dull.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
Learning English grammar can be finger-snapping, toe-tapping fun—with special, catchy songs and a few learning tips.
Focus on phrases
Songs can make grammar easier to learn. As we’ve said before, there’s a lot of repetition. When you hear the same phrase over and over again in a song, it’ll stick in your memory.
Songs can also have shorter phrases than what you might hear in a dialogue. It’s easier to focus on the grammar you hear in a short phrase than to break down a big, long sentence.
Listen for what you’re currently learning
If you’re taking an English course online, or reading through an English self-study textbook, you can use English songs to reinforce (strengthen) what your learning.
As you’re listening to English-language songs, try to find examples of topics from your current English lessons.
For instance, if you’re learning about English continuous tenses, try to listen for their use in songs. That way, you’ll get even more examples of how they’re used.
You’ll find tons of examples of the continuous tense in Adele’s hit “Rolling in the Deep”:
Listen up for English that challenges you
Certain grammar concepts are just tough.
Many language learners have a hard time learning the right prepositions to use. Other learners struggle with verb conjugations, pronouns or possessives.
Whatever English grammar topic gives you trouble, try to find examples of it in songs.
Just like the jingles (short, catchy songs) from advertisements that are so easy to remember, we can use English songs to help us remember tricky grammar.
Look at lyrics
Even native English speakers can misunderstand the lyrics of a song. Look for written lyrics to make sure that you’re hearing and understanding a song correctly.
That way, when you use a song to learn grammar, you can be sure that you’re hearing and remembering the correct English.
Recognize non-standard English grammar
Songs are usually written to reflect how people really speak. As a result, they won’t always use standard English grammar.
The more you learn English grammar, the more easily you’ll recognize non-standard or grammatically incorrect song lyrics.
This will help you understand the differences between “textbook” English and real spoken English.
When you hear unsual English grammar in a song, think about how the same sentence would appear in an English grammar textbook.
When you hear the Temptations sing their Motown classic, “My Girl,” remember that “I don’t need no money,” would be “I don’t need any money” in “textbook” English.
And when Lady Gaga sings, “I’d rather die without you and I,” you can remind yourself that it should be “you and me.”
How to Use Music to Learn English Vocabulary
Most English songs tend to feature common words that you’d hear in everyday speech. That said, they can also help you learn aspects of English that you might not find in normal conversation.
Enjoy musical poetry
You might think of songs as poetry set to music.
Like the verses in poetry, song verses often rhyme. This is very useful to English learners, because it can help you remember how to pronounce certain words. When “blues” is rhymed with “shoes,” or “gone” is rhymed with “on,” you can hear how words with different endings can still rhyme in English.
When you learn English with songs, you’ll hear metaphorical (comparative) and poetic language. The songs might use ordinary words in an unusual way. They might also teach you more advanced English words.
If you can understand all the words in a song like David Bowie’s “Changes,” you’re well on your way to English fluency.
While there are songs about a wide variety of topics, songs are often used to talk about feelings.
Whether you listen to love songs or the blues, music can teach you English words for a whole range of emotions—happiness, sadness, joy, sorrow, confusion and more.
Songs also cover a range of abstract topics like regret, loneliness and fantasy.
They can teach you how to express your thoughts and emotions more fully in English.
Song lyrics can be poetic, but they can also be full of casual English slang.
Songs can also help you learn English idioms. Idiomatic expressions often don’t make literal sense—like “walking on sunshine” for expressing pure happiness, or “standing at the crossroads” to talk about a time of confusion and indecision.
In English songs, you might hear commonly used sayings like, “cold-hearted,” “broke up,” “got the blues” or “caught in the middle.” Often, the contexts of the songs can help you figure out what these sayings mean.
Tell real-world stories
Many songs tell stories. In addition to slang, idioms and poetic language, they contain English vocabulary for everyday life.
People in songs take part in all kinds of normal activities:
- Ride the bus, drive down the road or leave on jet planes
- Work hard for their money
- Go out dancing
As you follow along with the stories told by the singers, you can learn how English speakers talk about routine tasks and events.
How to Use English to Learn English Listening Comprehension
There are many ways you can listen to English media—for example, you can just let the music play in the background, or you can listen to it carefully to hear particular qualities like word stress.
Naturally, learning English through music has a lot of advantages when it comes to understanding spoken English.
Repeat, again and again
Repeated parts of a song, such as choruses and refrains, are particularly good for improving listening comprehension.
When the words and phrases repeat, you get many chances to hear their pronunciation. You also tend to remember those words better, which will help you recognize them more easily when you hear them in conversation, in podcasts or in videos.
Take it slowly with ballads
Fast songs can be fun and exciting. However, the words can be sung so quickly that it’s hard to hear them properly.
Often, it’s easier to understand the words of a slower song. Ballads (slow songs) give you the chance to hear English words at a slower pace than everyday conversations.
Get emotional clues from tunes and tones
The music itself, as well as the singer’s performance, can give you context clues to better understand the words in a song.
If the singer’s voice or the musical instruments in the song get slower or quieter, it can indicate something serious or sad. A quicker pace or louder music could mean excitement, anger or urgency.
When you use all these tips as you’re listening to songs in English, you’ll strengthen your listening skills. These skills will come in handy any time you encounter spoken English—whether you’re having a conversation in English or listening to an English radio broadcast.
How to Use Music to Learn English Speaking
So, how can you take what you learn in English songs and apply it to your speaking?
Here are a few ways to get even deeper into English-language music, letting it become part of you as you become more fluent in English.
Compare and contrast
Because English is spoken all over the world, there are dozens of different accents. Even within the same country, English accents can vary greatly. Some English accents will be easier to understand than others.
Listening to the same song by different artists will help you grasp accents and different pronunciations of the same words.
You might find that you understand an American accent more easily than a British one—or the reverse may be true.
Try listening to a song like “Always on My Mind” by both Elvis Presley (an American singer) and Pet Shop Boys (a British duo) to see which English accent you find easier to understand.
If there’s an English-language song you really like, see how many versions you can find. Compare the accents and pronunciations of the artists.
Read and sing along
Sometimes, when you just hear a word, you may not realize what it means. Seeing it written can help you recognize the word, since you may have learned it only through reading it.
If you sing along to songs you like while reading the lyrics, you keep yourself actively involved in the learning process. You’re also making a connection from written English to spoken English.
This helps in two ways: You’ll have a better idea of how to pronounce the words you read, and you’ll be more likely to recognize these words when you hear them in a conversation.
Talk it out
Once you’re more familiar with a song’s lyrics, try just reading them aloud.
Singing a song can make its lyrics easier to remember. But it’s unlikely that you’ll sing to your English-speaking friends instead of talking to them.
Speaking lyrics without the melody can help you make the transition to using these words and phrases more naturally in spoken conversations.
Add some drama to your performance
Whether you’re singing along to a song or just speaking the lyrics, add drama and humor.
Pretend that you’re on stage, either giving an important speech or a concert. If you’re singing, try using the karaoke versions of songs.
You’ll have more fun and make the process more memorable. You’ll also be less self-conscious about using English, which will help you relax when it’s time to speak English with other people.
Get Started! How to Find Amazing English Music Online
If you don’t already have a collection of English-language music, never fear. English music is readily available from many sources.
In most cases, there’s a matching mobile app, so you can listen to English music wherever you go.
Stream English radio
Find English-language radio hits online with a site like Online Radio Box, iHeartRADIO, Jango or AccuRadio.
Not only will you learn English from the songs themselves, but you’ll also get the chance to hear announcements and advertisements in English.
Seek songs by category
With a streaming service like Spotify or Pandora, you can easily look for songs by the category or genre you like.
Spotify has playlists and albums featuring hip-hop, country, Reggae, rock and more. Like Spotify, Pandora offers dozens of channels—pop, hits by the decade, R&B, jazz and other styles.
Find your perfect playlist
YouTube has an incredible selection of videos. There are tens of thousands of English-language music videos available. Many of them are arranged in playlists, so you can find a lot of songs you like—whether by the same artist or in the same style.
Try a variety of songs to learn different aspects of English:
- “Twist and shout” with this Beatles playlist
- Put English learning center-stage with Broadway hits
- Enjoy the latest pop and electronica music as you learn English
- Explore decades of easy, popular English music to learn grammar and vocabulary
- Focus in on understanding English idioms in lyrics with modern pop tunes
The images from the videos can sometimes help you understand the songs better. Often, you can find videos with on-screen lyrics.
Interact with enhanced music videos
There are many sources for English-language music videos. Some of them are specially designed to help you learn English.
The interactive music videos presented through the FluentU app are especially helpful for learning English. All you need to do is hover on any word you don’t know to get a definition and a pronunciation. There’s usually an image to go with each definition, to help you picture what the word means.
You can understand the videos at a deeper level through the FluentU app—and remember what you learn. FluentU makes it easy to build flashcard sets. The app tests your memory and understanding of English songs with fun, video-based quizzes.
Make music a part of your English-learning routine and you’ll have a song in your heart (be happy)—and get a better understanding of the English language.
Michelle Baumgartner is a language nerd who has formally studied seven languages and informally dabbled in at least three others. In addition to geeking out over slender vowels, interrogative particles, and phonemes, Michelle is a freelance content writer and education blogger. Find out more at StellaWriting.com.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.