Bored with books? Take a break. Try learning more English through music! In this study guide, we’ll show you how to use the songs you love to improve your vocabulary, listening and speaking skills. Let the music play...
To make faster progress with your English, you should connect it with your hobbies and interests. This will give you more contact time with the language. If you love music, then why not try learning English through your favourite songs? This is a great way of improving your understanding and fluency. It can also be a welcome break from your textbook studies. Music contains more than just words and melodies. Let’s look a little deeper:
Study with song lyrics
The easiest way to learn English with music is to listen to and then analyse song lyrics. Most popular songs will have lyric videos on YouTube, so you can read the words as you listen. You can also download song texts, print them and translate any new vocabulary. Singing along and trying to work out what the words mean will also help you improve.
Here are several websites you can use to teach yourself English through music:
Pick up your guitar!
Play music yourself? Why not try learning some English songs?
Playing and singing English songs will make you remember the words and give you an emotional connection to the language. Here are a few easy English songs to learn on guitar:
Ultimate-guitar.com has chords and lyrics to all of these songs and thousands more. If a song is difficult to play, try searching for “song title + guitar lesson” on Youtube to find a video tutorial.
You could take this a step further, and try writing your own song in English. Perhaps try to write lyrics using a particular area of the language you find difficult, or words that you struggle to remember.
If you enjoy playing and writing English songs, you could even attend a local “open mic (night)”. These are events where a pub or cafe allows amateur musicians to go on a small stage and play songs of their choice. If there are no open mic nights near you, why don’t you try starting one with your friends? Alternatively, just arrange to jam (play informally) with other musicians in English.
Sing along with karaoke
Karaoke is a great way to get yourself singing along to English songs – even if you can’t play music at all. Try to find a karaoke bar near you and see what English songs they have so that you can sing the words in a fun, judgement free environment.
If this isn’t for you, try just doing karaoke with your friends at home. The great thing about music is you can sing it anywhere: your car, around the house, in the shower. Choose a song, find the words and sing along! It’s all great practice.
Everyone has a different taste in music. However, when using songs to study English, you may want to choose some unfamiliar tracks in other genres. This can help you to learn new words and expressions. If the song has interesting lyrics, then it can be of use in studying the language. Below are some examples of useful songs that have been divided by level:
ENGLISH SONGS FOR LOWER LEVELS
The lyrics to this ‘90s classic are perfect for remembering the days of the week in English. The song also talks about all sorts of emotions and the words English people use to describe them. For example ‘blue’ is used to mean ‘sad’.
Just take a look at the verse below to see how this song can be of use:
Monday you can fall apart,
Tuesday, Wednesday, break my heart,
Thursday doesn’t even start,
It’s Friday I’m in love
‘Break my heart’ is an English term which means: to be overcome with sadness. When the singer says Tuesday and Wednesday can ‘break his heart’ he is giving the days of the week human qualities. This is called personification.
In this verse you can also see ‘it’s’ and ‘doesn’t’. These are examples of contractions, where two or more words are joined together. In this case, the words that have been joined together are ‘it is’ and ‘does not’. Contractions are very common in English speech and informal writing.
The Fab Four hold a special place in British music history and their brilliant songs use words from all corners of the English language. This famous song sees the Beatles at their simplest and most beautiful.
When the broken hearted people,
Living in the world agree,
There will be an answer:
Let it be
Here is that phrase ‘broken hearted’ again! Can you see that it’s quite common in English music? In this song, the people with broken hearts are told to ‘let it be’. This is a famous saying that means: ‘leave it alone, relax, it doesn’t matter’. The Beatles are telling us that our problems wouldn’t seem so bad if we just ‘let things be’ or accepted life as it is.
Slow and conversational, Adele’s Hello features everyday phrases like “how are you?” and “I hope that you’re well”. This English pop song is your chance to have a normal conversation with Adele. It is bound to stay in your head, making sure you remember all of the essential phrases it includes.
Hello, how are you?
It’s so typical of me to talk about myself
I hope that you’re well
‘How are you?’ is a must-know phrase for everyday conversation. It is how English people often start conversations: by asking someone how they are doing.
Among all the simple must-know phrases are some more complicated words to improve your vocabulary. In this verse you can see the phrase ‘typical of me’. This means it is ‘usual’ or ‘normal’ for Adele to talk about herself and her problems more than she listens to the other person.
You can also see more examples of contractions: ‘you’re’ is ‘you are’ and ‘I’m’ is ‘I am’. Contractions such as these are extremely common in conversations between native speakers and they will make your English sound more natural.
This song is an example of one that is in the charts right now. It is a fun, cheerful song about being carefree.
Sometimes you need to be alone
Shut the door, unplug the phone
Speak in a language they don’t know
It don’t matter now!
The main line in this song is ‘it don’t matter now’. You will notice this breaks the rules of English grammar. However, it is common in some regional forms of English to say ‘don’t’ instead of ‘doesn’t’ with he/she/it. You can find this a lot in British and American songs.
Fresh Education make hip-hop with one aim: to teach. Lots of their music focuses on the English language. In their songs, they look at everything from metaphors to poetry, and they give you useful words in every verse. Learning English has never been so funky!
A metaphor’s a comparison of a couple (of) things
Two different pictures we want to fit in a single frame
A more convenient description of how to see the world
He’s a solid rock, she’s a black pearl
In this extract from ‘Metaphors And Similes’ they explain what a metaphor is, and then use their own metaphors as examples. A metaphor is when you describe something by saying it is something else. In this song, he says a girl is a ‘black pearl’ to say she is very important (or precious). Metaphors are used in a lot of songs so pay attention to them!
You can listen to Fresh Education’s music on Soundcloud
ENGLISH SONGS FOR ADVANCED LEARNERS
If your English is strong and you want to use more challenging music to test yourself, try listening to the words in faster genres such as hip-hop. Here are some examples of English songs you can use:
Stormzy’s rise to the top of the British music scene has been incredible. In just over a year he went from freestyling in a park with his friends to being top of the charts! He is now seen as one of the best UK rappers. So turn him up loud and let ‘Big Mike’ lead you through some real English slang!
You’re getting way too big for your boots
You’re never too big for the boot
I’ve got the big size twelves on my feet
Your face ain’t big for my boot
In this verse Stormzy cleverly uses the double meanings of the word ‘boot’. Firstly, he says ‘you’re getting way too big for your boots’. This is a common English phrase which means you are behaving as if you are more important than you really are. He then says ‘you’re never too big for the boot’. This is another English phrase meaning ‘no matter how big or successful you are, you can always be kicked out’. Finally, Stormzy turns to the literal meaning of boots: big shoes!
Stormzy also uses the word ‘ain’t’ in this verse. This is another regional form that is very common in songs and means ‘isn’t’ or ‘is not’. You will notice that he sings some words with a Jamaican accent: ‘dem’ (them), ‘ting’ (thing) and ‘yout’ (youth).
Bob Dylan’s lyrics are often complex and tell stories. This song is an angry attack on privilege, in which a naive person from a rich family has to face the difficult realities of being poor on the street.
Dylan sings this song quickly so it is a good track to test your listening at advanced level.
You never turned around to see the frowns
On the jugglers and the clowns
When they all did tricks for you
In this verse Dylan uses a metaphor of ‘jugglers’ and ‘clowns’, who are circus performers. This metaphor is used to attack somebody who has used people as if they were ‘performers’ or ‘servants’ for their own enjoyment. The person does not notice that the circus performers are ‘frowning’ – meaning they are unhappy about what they are being forced to do (probably for money).
Warning: Only for the most daring English students! This song is one of the fastest you will hear in English. Each verse focuses on a different letter of the alphabet and lists rhyming words that begin with that letter. With everything from “irate” to “zealous” these are not easy words. However, if you are confident with your English and want to expand your vocabulary, you can’t beat this song.
Artificial amateurs aren’t at all amazing
Analytically, I assault, animate things
Broken barriers bounded by the bomb beat
From this verse you can see how the song uses complex vocabulary. The sentences don’t make a lot of sense, but there are plenty of unusual new words for you to learn.
Translated into more simple English, these sentences say:
Unnatural beginners (other rappers) are nothing special
Using reason/intellect, I attack (rap) and bring things to life (with my lyrical storytelling)
Broken barriers held together by a good beat
In this context the word ‘bomb’ can be used to mean ‘good’ – it is a slang term sometimes used in music. As you can see, the sentences do not make much sense, but if you focus on individual words they can be very useful. This track is all about the beauty of rhyme in English, so don’t try to translate it literally.
ENGLISH SONGS FOR KIDS
If you want to use music to teach your child English, and improve your own skills at the same time, there are many nursery rhymes and kids’ songs you can find.
Bussongs.com has cartoons and lyric videos for many of the best English songs for kids – from ‘Eyes, Ears and Noses’ to ‘The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round’. English nursery rhymes, like the ones found on this website, go through every area of essential vocabulary: from body parts to animals. Try some for yourself and then show your children how fun English songs can be!
Many of these songs are used to teach British and American children English, so they are very useful for someone just beginning to study the language!
When native English speakers talk about music with their friends, they use all sorts of slang terms to describe what they are listening to. This can be quite confusing even to native speakers! Let’s take a look at some common words that Brits use to talk about the songs they love:
|tune||‘Tune’ means ‘song’. If you say ‘that’s a tune’, it means ‘great song’||That’s a tune! Who’s it by?|
|Bangin’||Amazing. Usually used to describe rap or dance music with a lively beat.||That DJ last night was playing some bangin’ tunes!|
|tight||In time and together when playing music||This band sounds really tight|
|track||A song||I don’t like the new Arcade Fire track|
|funky||Music with a bouncing rhythm that makes you want to dance||Red Hot Chili Peppers are so funky|
|rave||A warehouse party, usually with dance music, smoke and lights||Do you fancy going to a rave later?|
|freestyling||Improvised singing (usually rapping)||Stormzy’s great at freestyling|
|classic||A brilliant song that has stood the test of time. You can call any song a ‘classic’ – but other people may not agree with you!||Yesterday by The Beatles is a real classic|
|cheesy||Trying too hard, sentimental, corny||That pop song is way too cheesy|
|one-hit wonder||A band that only has one hit song (their other music is not popular)||That band’s just a one-hit wonder. No real talent!|
|cover (version)||A copy (or alternative version) of another band’s song||Do you like that new cover of Across the Universe on the Samsung advert?|
|gig||Commonly used instead of the formal term ‘concert’||My mate’s playing a gig tomorrow night if you fancy coming.|
|catchy||Memorable, melody that sticks in your head||I hate that tune, but it’s really catchy!|
|bluesy||Like -ish, meaning ‘a bit like blues’. Also possible with rocky, grungey, etc.||I’d describe his latest album as bluesy rock.|
Regardless of where you live, you can always access English music via the internet. It is a good idea to build up your own music collection so that you can use this to improve your English. Your personal library might include your old CDs, MP3s, lyrics printed from the internet, music apps on your phone or websites you have bookmarked. Remember to take some familiar songs, but also some new tracks each week in order to look at different vocabulary and styles.
5 ways to find the best English music:
Whether you are at beginner, intermediate or advanced level, you can always learn English through the news! In this study guide, we will show you how to find and use easy news articles, original newspapers and English news channels to improve your fluency. Let’s get started! Continue reading
In this 3-part blog series, we will show you the most common topics that appear on IELTS Speaking exams. We will list the topics in full and give you examiner questions and candidate answers to demonstrate how you can score band 7+. In this guide to IELTS Speaking Part 1, don’t forget to check out our “Hot Tips” to get your exam technique just right! Continue reading