What’s the key to learning English well?
Is it determination and persistence?
Or is it something that people are just born with?
I think it’s neither of those things.
The key is to make learning English fun through the right tools and habits.
And one of the best tools was sitting right there all along, right inside your smartphone.
If you haven’t already been doing it, it’s not too late to start – to learn English through songs and music.
Why Learn English Through Songs and Music?
So what is it about songs that make them such effective English language learning tools?
- It works. There is considerable scientific evidence that demonstrates how music can help second language learners acquire grammar and vocabulary and improve spelling. Then there is the so-called “Mozart Effect”, the concept that listening to classic musical boosts the performance of mental tasks like learning.
- Everyday language and colloquial speech. Songs and music almost always contain a lot of useful vocabulary, phrases and expressions. And since the intended audience is native speakers, songs and music include up-to-date language and colloquialisms. The language used in songs is casual and actually usable, if you pick the right music.
- Get familiar with the sound of English. Listening to songs will also allow you to focus on your pronunciation and understanding of the English language’s rhythm, tone and beat.
- Get English stuck inside your head. Many of the words and sound patterns within a song are repetitive and this makes it easier for them to stick in your mind. You probably already know this. Music has an uncanny ability of getting stuck in our heads. Tunes and lyrics will often infiltrate our thoughts and play over and over in our minds. All of which will help you to learn English through songs as you easily memorize vocabulary and phrases. In fact, after a short period of time you will find it almost impossible to forget them.
- Songs are emotional. Our relationship with music is deep, powerful and hugely rewarding. It is a key that unlocks our emotions, influences our moods and enhances our mental and physical well-being. When something is emotional, then of course it is also easier to remember.
- Music is an easy habit. One reason people find language learning difficult is they don’t have an extra minute in the day to devote to their studies. But when you’re learning English through songs, you don’t need to set aside too much time because you can take the music with you wherever you go. You can have English songs playing in the car, the kitchen and the shower. And by picking music you like, you can listen to the same material over and over again, without becoming bored.
- Music teaches you English culture. Music gives you insight into English-speaking culture and how English-speaking people think and feel. Familiarity with popular songs and artists gives you something to talk about with your English-speaking friends.
How to Learn English Through Songs and Music: 8 Great Tips
Before getting started you need to select the songs you will learn from. This is important because there are a lot of potential pitfalls. For example, songs that:
- use difficult language which isn’t commonly used
- aren’t mainstream (nothing against niche artists, but if part of the goal is to connect with English speakers, it’s probably more efficient to learn from music which would give you a common language)
- are too fast (hard to learn from)
- don’t have lyrics readily available
Here are my eight tips to help you pick the right music for learning English:
1. Go to the right place to find songs.
- You could search video sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo. They have vast libraries of music videos and some will also be subtitled with the song lyrics in English.
- Spotify, a subscription service, is fantastic because they have a huge selection which you can take on the go. It’s also useful to see what’s trending and popular.
- FluentU, an awesome way to learn English with real-world videos. We’ve got all kinds of fun videos available now, like music videos and movie trailers. There are hundreds of videos for you to choose from, so you are sure to discover learning materials that are perfect for you. There is something great in our collection for English language learners of any skill level from “newbie” (beginner) to native. Just take a look – while casually browsing our videos, you will see tons of diverse videos covering many different topics and areas of interest:
2. Select the right songs.
- Pick music you love. There’s no point to learning English through songs if you don’t really enjoy the music. This is the fast track to boredom.
- Find music that uses the right kind of language. Language which is not too easy or too hard, and which is commonly used.
- Another thing to watch out for is that sometimes sometimes singers won’t pronounce the sound clearly. Perhaps heavy metal isn’t the best place to start.
- You might want songs that tell a story, which could make it easier to understand and visualize. If you are a real beginner you might even want to learn children’s songs or Disney songs.
- Start with pop music and then branch out. Mainstream, pop music tends to be about love and romance, which is good because there is a lot of repeated vocabulary. When you are ready to branch out, you can try more diverse genres to pick up a wider range of vocabulary.
3. Get “scaffolding” and vocab support to digest the lyrics.
It would be nice if you could learn English purely by listening to the music. In practice, you will have to spend some time digesting the lyrics and their meanings so that you understand it first. This is what teachers often refer to as “scaffolding” (scaffolding is something which holds up and supports something that is being built. Like training wheels for a bicycle.). Instead of trying to figure out the lyrics on your own, you can use resources like the following to accelerate this:
- Lyrics.com and Smartlyrics.com both offer an extensive library of lyrics that you can use
- Music English is a collection of music videos on YouTube which have captions.
- FluentU: In addition to having the best music videos for learning English, FluentU videos all have interactive subtitles. If you hover over a word, the video pauses and a popup provides a definition of the word. Every definition has multiple, easy-to-understand example sentences. You can easily add any word to your own personal vocabulary list. Check out an example of these subtitle definitions here:
4. Study the lyrics and vocab.
In addition to digesting the content, it’s also important that you review the vocab on a regular basis. Break the song down, word by word, and try to master each word so that it’s a part of your vocabulary. You can do this through a flashcard service like Anki or Mental Case.
5. Sing along.
Unless you’re singing in front of an audience, it doesn’t matter if you’re the worst vocalist in the world. So don’t worry if you don’t possess any musical ability. Regardless of your singing prowess, you should try singing out loud to the music. This forces your mouth to adopt the right shapes and move with the rhythm of the song.
6. Try to sing from memory.
After a while, you should find that you’re starting to memorize the song. And then you’re ready to take the next big leap – try singing the song without looking at the lyrics. By the point, you should be able to find that you can do a much better job including such words in your everyday speech.
7. Periodically review.
You don’t have to complete learning one song before you move to the next. In fact, after you get comfortable with one song, you can move to the next. And then after enough time passes, you can go back to the first song. This is called “spaced repetition” and it’s been proven to be more effective than trying to learn it perfectly all at once.
8. Find new music that builds on top of what you’ve learned.
This is perhaps the most difficult step. Each new song that you learn should have the right balance of totally new vocabulary and in progress vocabulary. This right level of overlap keeps you motivated, and also naturally reinforces your previous learning for maximum benefit.
Have fun and enjoy! Music is a universal language and one that we can all enjoy and relate to. Listen to English songs every single day and you’ll soon be surprised at how much of the English language you can pick up with relative ease. When you incorporate language learning into fun activities like listening and singing aloud to music, you won’t even notice that you’re picking up a second language.
Other Resources for Learning English Through Music and Songs
- Language Learning Tip: Use Music to Learn a Foreign Language: A great post on Everyday Language Learner with more great tips on learning languages through music.
- 7 Reasons Why You Should Sing to Learn Languages: The famous polyglot Benny Lewis shares his tips on learning by singing.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.