Who is your favorite English teacher: John, Paul, George or Ringo?
Wait, English teacher? Aren’t those the names of The Beatles?
Well, The Beatles were great musicians, but you can also use their songs to learn English!
The Beatles knew how to use English well in their songs. While their lyrics are simple and easy to understand, they often contain deeper meaning. Maybe that’s why so many people can relate to their music and why they’re one of the most famous bands of all time.
Whether you’re a big Beatles fan or you’re young enough to have never heard them before, their songs are good for all English skill levels.
And because the tunes are so catchy, you’ll be sure to start repeating those lyrics in no time, using more of the phrases in your natural speech.
Here are 10 popular Beatles songs (in order from beginner to advanced levels) that can help you learn and practice English. I’ll also include the English topics or structures you’ll learn, as well as some activities and exercises you can do by yourself or with a teacher. That way, you can put what you learn to good use!
Twist and Shout Your Way to English Fluency as You Learn with The Beatles
1. “Twist and Shout”
Level: Young Learners (A1)
Language you’ll learn: Action verbs
Twist – (v.) a dance move where you dance on the balls of your feet, moving your body left to right
Shout – (v.) to speak very loudly
Shake – (v.) a dance move where you move your hips (or anything) back and forth in a quick motion
Task: If you have young learners at home, you can do the action verbs with them when you hear the words in the song. Children learn well through movement, so showing them how to do the dance moves while singing the song helps them understand and practice the vocabulary.
For example, when The Beatles sing “twist and shout,” show the child how to “twist” (moving your body left to right on the balls of your feet) and “shout” by putting your hands to your around your mouth and pretending to speak loudly. When you hear “come on, shake it,” show the child how to move their hips back and forth quickly.
2. “Hello, Goodbye”
Level: Young Learners (A1)
Language you’ll learn: Opposites
hello / goodbye
yes / no
stop / go
high / low
Learning words in pairs like opposites helps you better remember them. And if you can’t remember a word, then you can always describe it with its opposite, which improves your fluency.
Task: Like in “Twist and Shout,” show your young learners how to do motions to match the words they hear.
For example, wave hello and goodbye when you hear “hello” and “goodbye.” Nod “yes” and “no” when you hear the respective words. Put your hand up to show “stop” and wave your hand toward you as if saying “come on,” when you hear “go.” Mark “high” with your hand above your head like you’re measuring your height. Mark “low” with your hand below your waist like you’re showing something is short.
3. “Penny Lane”
Level: Beginner (A2)
Language you’ll learn: Prepositions of place, describing a place with “there is/there are” and using the present continuous to describe what people are doing.
“Penny Lane” is a lovely portrait of a sunny day in an English neighborhood. It perfectly describes the weather, who’s on the street, what they’re doing and where everything is. Using prepositions of place and “there is/there are,” The Beatles were able to describe a scene.
For example, the line “Behind the shelter in the middle of a roundabout, a pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray,” describes where the nurse is and what she’s doing. The Beatles also use other phrases like “on the corner there is barber,” “beneath the blue, suburban skies” and “in the pouring rain,” to show what the neighborhood looks like.
Task: Use the prepositions of place and “there is/there are” to describe what the neighborhood, town or city you live in looks like. You can also use the description in the lyrics to draw a picture of the place in the song.
4. “I Want to Hold Your Hand”
Level: High Beginner, Lower Intermediate (A2-B1)
Language you’ll learn: Using contractions, “I want + to infinitive” and the phrase “let me.”
Contractions are two words combined into one by shortening one of the words. Contractions are good to use in speech and in writing because they make your English sound more natural. The contractions The Beatles use in “I Want To Hold Your Hand” are can’t (cannot), I’ll (I will), you’ll (you will), you’ve (you have) and it’s (it is).
When sung or spoken very quickly, the phrase “want to” can sound like a contraction, too, forming into the word “wanna.” After “wanna” or “want to,” you use the base infinitive, like in the phrases “I want to eat soup” or “I want to go swimming.”
Finally, “let me” is a phrase used to ask for permission. For example, “Will you let me hold your hand?” is asking “Will you permit me to hold your hand?” or “Can I hold your hand?”
Task: Your task for this song is simply to listen for the contractions in the song. How are they spoken? How do the contractions sound different from the separated words?
5. “A Day in the Life”
Level: Intermediate (B1)
Language you’ll learn: How to use the past simple and past perfect to recount stories.
In “A Day in the Life,” The Beatles describe events that they’ve read about in the news, such as “I read the news today…he blew his mind out in a car. He didn’t notice all the lights had changed.”
Using the past simple (read, blew, didn’t) and past perfect (had changed), they describe an event that happened in the past.
They also describe what they did in the morning using the past simple: “Woke up, got out of bed. Dragged a comb across my head…I noticed I was late.”
Task: Describe what you did this morning or a news story you read about or saw on television using the past simple and past perfect.
6. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
Level: Intermediate (B1)
Language you’ll learn: Using the present continuous and present simple to talk about events that are happening or have been happening recently.
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” uses many grammar structures that will help you use the present tenses more efficiently. For example, in the verse “I look at the world and I notice it’s turning, while my guitar gently weeps,” the phrase “I notice it’s turning” refers to a change the singer notices over recent years or months, not that “the world is turning” exactly in this moment.
You can use this structure to comment on current events, like “I notice climate change a lot. The winters are getting shorter while the Earth is getting warmer.”
Task: Discuss or write an essay about current events using this structure.
Level: Intermediate (B1-B2)
Language you’ll learn: Using the indefinite pronouns “somebody” and “anybody” in positive and negative statements, comparisons.
In the verse “Help! I need somebody, not just anybody,” the Beatles use indefinite pronouns, which are words that refer to a person or thing without being specific. In this sentence, the singer needs a person because he said he needs “somebody.” When an indefinite pronouns ends in “-body” (or “-one”), it’s referring to a person. The phrase “not just anybody,” means he needs a special somebody, not an anonymous, unimportant person.
In this song, The Beatles also compare themselves now to how they were in the past: “When I was younger, so much younger than today. I never needed anybody’s help in any way. But now I find I’ve changed my mind, I’ve opened up the doors.”
Using the structure “[comparative adjective] + than” (like “younger than”) plus the past simple and present perfect tenses, they compare their past with their present.
Task: Use the examples above to compare your past to your present. What has changed for you from when you were younger? For example, you could say “Today I’m more confident than when I was younger.”
8. “In My Life”
Level: Intermediate (B2)
Language you’ll learn: Combining English verb tenses together to communicate ideas.
This song is about a person remembering certain people and places that were special to them. The Beatles use multiple English verb tenses in this song to show the ideas they’re trying to communicate. When you look at the lyrics and listen to the song, try to see how they use the verb tenses together to say similar things.
For example, the phrases “Some have gone and some remain” and “some are dead and some are living” use the present perfect (“have gone”), the present simple (“remain,” “are,”) and the present continuous (“are living”). But they all communicate, with small difference, the same idea.
Task: How many English verb tenses can you find in the song? See the answers below at the end of this post.
Level: Advanced (C1)
Language you’ll learn: Vocabulary for modern day, including vocabulary to describe global problems.
When John Lennon originally wrote “Revolution,” it was during a time of a lot of trouble in the world. He wrote it in response to the 1968 student demonstrations in France and to express his political and philosophical views on the world’s current events. Going line by line through the phrases, you can see some of Lennon’s perspectives in the words he uses.
For example, “You say you’ve got a real solution, well you know, we’d all love to see the plan,” shows that Lennon was willing to consider revolutionary ideas, but he wanted them to have structure.
Task: Try analyzing the song yourself. What more is Lennon trying to say to revolutionaries? Do you agree or disagree? Write an essay showing your perspective, using the vocabulary from the song.
10. “Eleanor Rigby”
Level: Advanced (C1)
Language you’ll learn: Using metaphors and imagery.
In “Eleanor Rigby,” Paul McCartney described images to tell a story about “all the lonely people.” Much like in “Penny Lane,” through these images, he was able to create a portrait of these people.
For example, in the phrases “Eleanor Rigby waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door. Who is it for?” You can clearly imagine a woman sitting by a window, but does she really keep a face in a jar by the door? No. It’s a metaphor, or a symbol made from words to expresses a deeper meaning. What do you think “keeping a face in a jar by the door” really means?
Task: Discuss or write an essay about the various images you can find in the song. What do you think The Beatles wanted to communicate with this song?
The Beatles are a great band, even today. They can also be great English teachers.
Besides these songs, they’ve got hundreds more that can help you learn more English. Studying English with them will make your English more clever and more natural. If you’re not a fan already, I guarantee you’ll become one after you listen to a few songs and start learning.
Answers to number 8, “In My Life”
There are five different verb tenses used:
1. The present simple (are, remain, have, can recall, love, is, lose and think)
2. The present perfect (have changed, have gone, I’ve loved)
3. The present continuous (are living)
4. The future simple (I’ll never lose, I’ll often stop and think)
5. The past simple (went)
Teresa Mupas is an EFL teacher currently living and working in Galicia, Spain. She has also taught English in central Thailand and the United States. You can follow her on her travels here.
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