Betty Moore is a content writer and a career specialist for college students. She is a content marketer, sharing experience on writing, education, and self-development in her publications. You can connect with her on Facebook.
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Listen! They’re playing your song. Your mind and spirit immediately tune in as you recognize that familiar chorus. You know every word, from intro to outro. The song brings you joy every time you hear its lyrics. The beat makes you want to sway along to the soothing sound of each instrument. This is my jam, you think to yourself…
But who would have thought that this song was sung in a different language?
Music alone is a powerful language. Known as ‘the universal language’, it evokes emotions in a way that transcends the languages we speak. A classical song will sound soothing to both French and Swahili speakers alike. Perhaps its universal link to emotion is the reason why music is such an effective teacher of other languages—including English. Learning English through music is one of the best ways to learn the language. Read on to discover unusual ways that students can use music to learn English!
How to Listen Your Way into Learning the English Language
1. Write a diary entry for a character in a song. This exercise is great for English beginners because it does not require understanding every word of the song. If the listener has a basic understanding of what the artist is singing about and why, then they can write this journal entry. The contemporary hit “Happy,” by Pharrell Williams is a great example. He sings about being happy in the chorus, and in the bridge he sings “can’t nothin’ bring me down.” The student of English could write an entry exploring why the singer is happy or how he expresses that happiness. Perhaps the entry could discuss a time of difficulty or depression that dominated his life before he found true happiness. “Happy” works especially well with this exercise because the song title is an emotion that will likely lead to an emotional journal entry, thus leaving a memorable mark in the English student’s memory.
2. Plan a music video. Learning English through songs has never looked more fun! This exercise calls for thorough song comprehension, which makes it a great one for learning. Whether at home or in a classroom, create a group to act and/or dance in the video. Group members will likely have fun acting out their interpretation of the song. How we imagine novels differs, and songs are no different in this respect. One group might create a video in a colourful room with graceful dances, while a different group might imagine their video in the Amazon jungle with animals and humans dancing together. We often remember more when we truly have fun, and creating a music video is a great way to do just that while learning through music.
3. Re-write at least one verse of an English song. This exercise also calls for a decent understanding of the song lyrics. If students do not understand the song, then they will have a hard time weaving a verse of their own into the song. New English songwriters can take this idea one step further and even write a parody of the song. Writing with humour will add a new level of fun to the language learning process. If students practise the lyrics by reciting and rewriting, it will help them to master those words. It reminds me of typing; only through mastery can you become an effective typist.
4. Listen to new English songs each week. The brain pays closer attention to that which is novel. Discovering new English songs each week will keep listeners excited about the language that they are learning. If they can learn as many of these new song lyrics as possible, then listening to new songs will be even more advantageous to them. They will have a chance to learn more idioms. They will learn more conversational English. And they will pick up on more language patterns by drawing relationships between songs heard. And did I mention that it’s a great reason to keep up with current radio hits?
5. Translate a favorite English song to a native language. When we love a song, we want to fully experience that song. Doing so can be difficult if we’re pausing in our minds to think about what one word means. Or maybe we sing with incredible passion and enthusiasm only for the song to sound something like this: “I…(mumble-mumble) believe (mumble-mumble)…sky!” Question: what does that mean? If we learn the lyrics, however, we sing “I believe I can fly. I believe I can touch the sky!” These lyrics are from the classic American song, “I Believe I Can Fly.” Learning the lyrics through translation will help us not only to sing in English with more confidence, but also to speak the language with more confidence too. (To read more about studying song lyrics, click here.)
6. Weave English songs into the song of life each day. What does a typical day look like for you? Maybe you ride to work or school by car. You listen to music while working, and then you listen on your way to volunteer at the local youth center. Later that night, you pray, eat, and exercise. Then you finally get ready for dreamland. Guess what? That day has several windows for English music. Try listening to a few English songs while in the car and while working. While you’re praying or at the dinner table, play relaxing English songs softly in the background. Finally, fall asleep to lullabies sung in English. You’ve likely done the equivalent of reading several textbook chapters simply by listening to music.
English is a popular language across the globe. We find English in some of the most well-known movies, TV shows, and music worldwide. We can learn English with music by listening to English song lyrics. We can take English learning even further through a variety of creative exercises that use English songs. Whether you’re creating a journal entry, music video, or additional song verses, the creative process and result will lead to a memorable learning experience. Translating songs and listening to new ones frequently will also help the language-learning process.
For those ready to listen their way into the English language, try the above music learning ideas today! Check below for a list of some of the best songs for learning English:
● “Happy” by Pharrell Williams
● “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly
● “Surfin’ USA” by The Beach Boys
● “Where Is the Love” by Black Eyed Peas
● “Beautiful Day” by Jamie Grace
● “My Girl” by The Temptations
● “ABC” by Jackson 5
● “Breathe In Breathe Out” by The Afters
● “Dirt” by Florida Georgia Line
● “Good Time” (Fred Falke Remix) by Owl City featuring Carly Rae Jepson
These songs vary in genre and pace, as well as their use of conversational and standard English grammar. Listen to and translate all ten songs to learn English for a well-rounded language learning experience!