How song lyrics help international students learn English

Will the STEM curriculum surge forward alongside music education? Source: Shutterstock

You’ve probably heard it before – music is a universal language. A good song can have a whole room dancing, crying or even deemed utterly speechless.

While music may be a language everyone understands, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean the lyrics are quite so universal. It can often feel like the words are going straight over your head, even after you’ve had the same song on repeat for three hours.

Rather than sitting in front of a textbook or forcing yourself to attend lessons that make you want to doze off, learning through immersion – being actively involved in the language rather than in theory –  can be one of the most useful ways to learn.

Subconsciously you will pick up on new words and phrases. When you find yourself singing along to songs, a quick search of the lyrics can do you wonders.

Then, instead of just making the right noises along with the soundtrack, you will be singing the actual words – and hopefully understanding what they mean, too!


Have you got any English records hiding away? Pull them out! Source: Mark Solarski/Unsplash

Here are five songs you may find really help you expand your English language knowledge…

1. Suzanne Vega – Tom’s Diner

Have a listen to the song and enjoy the melody, sing along to the part without lyrics and get a feel for it.

Next look up the lyrics – or better yet watch a lyric video and follow it as you go. For any tricky bits, simply rewind or pause the video and take a minute to read and soak up what’s being said.

Tom’s Diner is a perfect song for learning English as it’s relatively slow, simple and Suzanne’s voice is very clear. It also tells a simple story of an average day in a small restaurant so it is easy to grasp the concept. The tune is pretty catchy too!

2. Bruno Mars – The Lazy Song

If you want to practice your tenses and grasp some English slang, this fun little song will help you perfect future tense.

It’s also great for learning everyday vocabulary as the song is about staying home all day doing nothing.

This song is probably best for slightly more advanced speakers as it’s littered with slang and idioms, like “chilling” (relaxing), “snuggie” (a blanket-cum-sweatshirt), “Dougie” (a type of dance), “my old man” and “Pops” (his father), “my birthday suit” (being naked).

3. Fool’s Garden – Lemon Tree

Lemon Tree is another great song to learn English with basic vocabulary and lyrics which span all three tenses (past, present and future).

There are a few tricky words and metaphors including “desert of joy” which represents the idea of an odd kind of happiness which feels out of place. But overall the song is simple enough and easy to understand and the odd difficult word or phrase which crops up can serve as a challenge!

4. Madness – Our House

This song is very simple yet it is riddled with idioms and colloquial English expressions including “Sunday best” (your most respectable, posh outfit) and “date to keep” (a plan to attend an appointment or see someone on that day).

The song is notably English (not American) and the chorus is incredibly well-known and catchy. You’re bound to start singing along as soon as you’ve heard it once or twice.

The song paints a picture of an English family house and will help you learn activities in the home, time and locations.

5. Snow Patrol – Chasing Cars

Not only does this song have very simple lyrics and a slow pace, but it also has very short verses making it easy to grasp meaning.

The vocalist is from Northern Ireland and the gentle lilt in his voice is a great introduction to one of the many different regional accents in the UK.

It’s easy to learn and a very popular song – you’ll be singing along in no time.

So, have a listen to these musical joys. Listen carefully, sing along, write down any new vocabulary and a definition for any new words or phrases you encounter. You’ll hopefully learn loads as well as expand your working knowledge of English and your pronunciation.

Afterall, one of the best ways to learn English is to actually speak it. Once you’ve sung the song a few times, try speaking the lyrics.

You should also check out Johnny Cash, The Beatles and ABBA for some catchy tunes and lyrics that are easy to understand.

Keep listening, keep uncovering new music and you’ll discover new words and phrases to pad out your English knowledge before you know it!

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