Learn English with Songs and Lyrics: 9 Catchy Tips and Music Resources
Listening to English music is a lot more fun than drilling grammar concepts (although you should do that too… just saying!).
But there’s a difference between simply hearing English songs and actually learning from them.
In this article, I’ll show you how to learn English with songs successfully.
- Why Learn English with Songs and Lyrics?
- My 8 Favorite Tips for Learning English with Songs and Lyrics
- 1. Go to the Right Places to Find English Songs
- 2. Select the Right Songs
- 3. Get “Scaffolding” and Vocabulary Support to Understand the Lyrics
- 4. Study the Lyrics and Vocabulary
- 5. Sing Along
- 6. Try to Sing from Memory
- 7. Periodically Review
- 8. Find New Music That Builds on What You’ve Learned
Why Learn English with Songs and Lyrics?
So what is it about English songs that makes them such effective language learning tools?
- Music is good for your mind. 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 classical musical boosts the performance of mental tasks like learning.
Further, as pointed out by the video below, what starts out as just a catchy tune will become something you remember throughout your language learning journey.
A certain song may get your attention and then get stuck in your head, repeating the lyrics over and over. This helps you learn the words to the song and grammar that goes along with it. Later, you’ll find that you’ll be able to actually use these words and grammar constructions because you’ve heard them so much in a song!
- You’ll hear everyday language and colloquial speech. English music almost always contains 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.
- You’ll 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.
- You’ll 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 with 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.
- Listening to 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. When you learn English with songs, you pick up more than just language skills. Music gives you insight into English-speaking cultures 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.
My 8 Favorite Tips for Learning English with Songs and Lyrics
1. Go to the Right Places to Find English Songs
Video Sharing Sites
Search video sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo.
They have vast libraries of music videos and will very often lead you directly to English songs with lyrics.
Spotify, a subscription music streaming service, is fantastic because they have a huge selection which you can take on-the-go.
It’s also useful to see the top English songs that are trending and popular.
2. Select the Right Songs
Before getting started you need to select the English songs you will learn from. This is important because there are a lot of potential pitfalls. For example, try to avoid English songs that…
- …have difficult language that isn’t commonly used.
- …aren’t mainstream (very popular). Nothing against independent artists, but if part of the goal is to connect with English speakers, it’s probably more efficient to learn from top English songs that would give you a common language.
- …are too fast, which makes them hard to learn from.
- …don’t have lyrics readily available.
You should also:
- Pick music you love. There’s no point in learning English through songs if you don’t really enjoy the music. This is the fast track to boredom.
- Find English music that uses the right kind of language. The lyrics should have commonly used words and should not be too easy or too hard for you.
- Another thing to watch out for is that sometimes singers won’t pronounce the lyrics clearly. Perhaps heavy metal isn’t the best place to start.
- Try listening to songs that tell a story, which could make it easier to understand and visualize. If you are a beginner you might even want to learn with children’s songs or Disney songs. These are great options for easy English songs to start out with.
- 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 different genres to pick up a wider range of vocabulary.
3. Get “Scaffolding” and Vocabulary Support to Understand 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.
English Music Lyric Databases
Lyrics.com and Exposed Lyrics both offer an extensive library of lyrics for English songs that you can use.
4. Study the Lyrics and Vocabulary
In addition to digesting the content, it’s also important that you review the vocabulary 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 Studies App.
Another way to study vocabulary is using a program like FluentU. This app and browser resource uses authentic English videos (including music videos) with interactive subtitles.
This means you can see accurate lyrics to any music video you’re watching, and you can check the definition of any word in the lyrics without leaving the video. Plus, you can add words to flashcard decks to learn later.
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 that point, you should 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 shown to be more effective than trying to learn something perfectly all at once.
8. Find New Music That Builds on 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. Learn English with music every single day and you’ll soon be surprised at how much progress you make. When you incorporate language learning into fun activities like listening and singing aloud to English music, you won’t even notice that you’re picking up a second language.