8 Ways Listening to Music in English Can Make You Fluent

how-to-learn-with-musicDo you love music in English, and would like to use your passion for music to improve your English?

Not only is music is one of the most fun and effective strategies you can use to learn and improve your English, but it also helps you connect with English speaking culture, make new friends, and it makes your experience of the song much better.

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Whether you understand the lyrics or not, English music is everywhere, and it’s a good idea to start paying attention to the lyrics and using them to learn.  One extremely fluent Brazilian member of the RealLife English International Community recently wrote in our forum:

I’ve been studying English for a long, long time. I can both understand and make myself understood by people when I engage in conversations. Reading is not an issue, and I can also write quite reasonably in English. Accents are generally not a problem—I’ve talked to chaps from different parts of the world and it went smooth. There’s this one thing that seems impossible to me though—I think I’ll never be able to listen to a song and grasp the fucking lyrics. 

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My advice to anybody who finds themselves in the same situation: just relax and look up the lyrics. I’m a native English speaker and I don’t know what they are singing about half the time (or more depending on the singer).

I’ve also experienced the phenomenon from the other side, with Spanish and Portuguese songs. But if you make an effort to understand the lyrics, trust me when I say that YOU ARE LEARNING, and it will consistently get a lot easier. This article will cover:

  • The value of understanding the lyrics.
  • English music is everywhere: cultural imperialism and learning English.
  • Tips on how you can start taking advantage of music in your learning.

Before we go on, I highly recommend watching this music video. The song seems really dramatic, but he’s really singing about NOTHING. I guarantee you will laugh your ass off, and it will help clarify everything we’re talking about.

Funny as it is, we all know this is true. So what does this say about listening to a song you don’t understand?

1. The Value of Understanding the Lyrics

As the above “Dramatic Song” pokes fun at, we all know that English speaking music can be enjoyed without understanding the lyrics. But as the song points out, an artist could sing about nothing and rise to the top of the charts. It sounds like a cruel joke on the non-native speaker, but it’s the truth about pop music.

What if you started to pay attention to what they’re saying?  This is where you can take advantage of the language. This is the essence of a language. The words start to communicate something to you on whole new level, and you start associating them with your own life. This is where absorbing a culture through passive listening (being brainwashed) becomes an active process in your own life (learning a language). So, how can learning the lyrics help you improve your English (or whatever language you are learning)?

2. Vocabulary

Lyrics are not easily forgotten. You listen to them over and over again throughout your life. Once you learn them, they are going to stay with you, and you are going to review them over and over because you ENJOY it. If you learn just one song per week for a year (which would take up very little time), that’s 52 songs full of new vocabulary and phrases that you will never forget.

3. Pronunciation Practice

Songs give you perfect pronunciation models. As you learn to sing them, you are practicing your pronunciation, you are imitating native speakers, and you are learning how to speak better. The rhythm naturally leads to better pronunciation, better intonation, and more fluency.

listening-skills4. Listening Skills Improve

When you start paying attention to the lyrics your listening skills naturally improve. Once you learn a few songs, you’ll start gathering an immense repertoire of songs and vocab. Just the fact that you start caring about the lyrics will activate your listening skills and listening to music in English will become an enjoyable learning exercise.

5. It’s Practical & it Complements What You Already Do

You probably already like certain songs in English. You don’t need to change your life around. All you have to do is print out the lyrics and use a dictionary to look words up that you don’t know.  You can also put the lyrics on your ipod or iphone and read them as you listen.

6. Grammar Practice

Another huge advantage is that you get to practice your grammar. Some of the most intelligent grammar questions my students bring me come from songs. You can probably even map the entire language into pop songs and drastically improve your grammar by learning the lyrics to your favorite songs.

7. Correct Collocation

Collocation is the cultural context and placement of words. It’s what sounds natural to native speakers. It usually doesn’t have much logic to it, and it’s almost impossible to teach. It is something that’s acquired with time and contact with the language in authentic cultural contexts. Songs tell stories, and these stories teach correct collocation which you hear over and over again and incorporate them into your own way of speaking.

8. You can teach your friends what the songs are saying

You get to teach your friends what the songs are really saying because you understand the real meaning of the songs you like. When you dedicate yourself to learning the lyrics, you start needing to know what the song is saying, because you realize that your experience of the song is always incomplete without understanding the lyrics. You realize that many of the things people think the songs are saying really aren’t true, and when you teach them it will deepen your own understanding of it.

English Music is Everywhere! 

We could talk about the negative consequences of globalization all day long, but for people learning English, the fact that it is universalizing English speaking culture through music and TV shows is really pretty awesome and convenient. With music, which seems to be the most natural and relaxed doorway into any language, the rhythm permits the listener to transcend the confines of the lyrics and enjoy the feeling of the song and glimpse the culture. And learning the lyrics takes the experience to a whole other level.

As a native English speaker, wherever I go, I have this sense that people everywhere know my culture already. The interesting thing is that they really do. I constantly run into people who know more about English speaking music than I do. My natural tendency is to feel embarrassed about this, but then I accept that English speaking music and pop culture belong to the world and not to any one language or country.

Living in Brazil, which has one of the most incredible music cultures in the world, I always ask Brazilians to imagine what it would be like to travel to the U.S.A. or Europe and find out that everybody was already familiar with your famous musicians, your TV programs, and the rest of your pop culture. Take a second and think about that.

Call to Action

Select 10 songs in English (or whatever language you are learning) that you love and want to understand better, and print them out right now. It’s better to print them out because you can write on the paper and take it with you. If you have an ipod or iphone, it’s really easy to attach them and read as you listen to the song.

Commit yourself to learning the lyrics to one song per week. Once you have learned the lyrics, review the songs that you’ve already learned a few times a week (this won’t be difficult).

If you have any questions or confusions about lyrics or certain expressions, feel free to COMMENT below. There are a lot of people eager to help.

Finally, HAVE FUN. Realize that learning English music can be a perfectly natural, enjoyable, rich part of your daily life.

A-Z Lyrics is one lyrics web site that can help you take advantage of this. Lyrics Training is another great one where you can play games with the lyrics.

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41 Comments

  1. Craig Cudworth on June 5, 2012 at 1:03 am

    Great article Justin music is a fantastic tool to improve your learning of any language. The points you make are all correct and I think learners can have a lot of fun learning songs.We all come across songs and as we listen we think WHAT IS HE OR SHE TRYING TO SAY? You can have great fun dissecting songs.

  2. Daniele Proietti on June 5, 2012 at 6:12 am

    interesting!! does it work? really?

  3. Craig Cudworth on June 5, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Si certo Daniele.

  4. Justin Murray on June 5, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    Hey Craig Cudworth thanks for your comments. I really appreciate it. I´m sure you can relate given your Italian an Portuguese learning experiences. What Brazilian music have you been listening to and learning from? I´m a big Legiao Urbana fan!

    @Daniele, I think music is just one of many things that can work if you are consistent, but it´s also very enjoyable and popular all around the world. My question to you: What are your 5 favorite English songs? Find the lyrics, print them out, and start learning!

  5. Justin Murray on June 5, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    You´re right on that. The list goes on and on. It sounds like you´ve got an awesome grip on Brazilian music.. you listed a lot of the greats! I really like Djavan, Chico Buarque, and Cazuza too (and Barão Vermelho)! Thanks for your feedback, Craig!

  6. Craig Cudworth on June 5, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    Keep up with your excellent articles guys from what I have seen and read so far you could put together a little book for learners.

  7. Felipe Lopes on June 7, 2012 at 12:23 am

    So true. Thanks for another great post.

  8. Rachineni Chalapathi on December 22, 2012 at 8:34 am

    in this song voice in the english and subtittles in spanish. there is good pronounciation in the son.

  9. Atika DEHIMECHE on December 25, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Hi! i’m a master 2 student(i’m from Algeria). Well, i like your article Mr. Justin Murray. In fact i’m intrested with this topic, because i learned a lot from English songs. And now i’m working on this topic in my thesis ( my field of study is how can songs help to learn English). So if you can help me, that will be pleasure …. And thanks. Ps: if you don’t mind, you can email me 🙂 . take care.

  10. […] Unlike poetry, which is considered by many academics as the pinnacle of translation, the elite task of the translator, with the need to convey meaning alongside replicating rhyme, meter, assonance, alliteration, etc. (a topic for another day) or opera, where translation also plays a key role, there is obviously no real demand for the translation of lyrics in pop music aside from a curiosity on the part of the listener to discover what the lyrics mean. But there must be more to it than just being a good way to learn foreign languages? […]

  11. Marizete Cotrim on July 30, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    it´s wonderful. but I did´nt understand very well.

  12. Yolanda Ramirez Sanchez on November 6, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Could anyone recommend me any special lyric, singer or group which I could learn english better??thannkkk youu!!!!

  13. Vinicius on November 7, 2013 at 8:30 am

    Oh, nice tips. I apreciate it a lot.
    Yolanda Ramirez Sanchez, the music will depend of what music kind / style you like.
    If you like of Rock, I recommend to listen to Red Hot Chili Peppers. A great band and many good lyrics.

    • Justin on November 7, 2013 at 10:48 am

      Thanks for the comment, Vinicius! I love RHCP too!

  14. Julio Nieto on November 13, 2013 at 2:43 am

    i really appreciate this useful article, so in my point of view learning english trought listening music it will be the best way to improve our understanding in english

    • Justin on November 13, 2013 at 8:01 am

      You’re absolutely right, Julio! Thank you for sharing!

  15. Julio Nieto on November 13, 2013 at 4:00 am

    what about The Beatles !!

    • Justin on November 13, 2013 at 8:00 am

      Perfect!

  16. lvlapp on November 14, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    Great entry, well done.

    Check out http://lvlapp.com/audio_videos/adele-rolling-into-deep

    And some more songs, that will help you improve your English

  17. Wilson Junior on November 16, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    I appreciated this article. I already do this recomendations and it's very useful for me. I increased too much more my english level listening to musics.

  18. Stephen J. Macko on November 23, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    I believe that music is the international language. Rhythm is of each Nation, because of the language spoken. In the United States of America, composers such as Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass, and Irving Berlin are helpful to learning the English Language. This article was very helpful, and brought back wonderful memories of both spoken and sung passages of the English Language.

  19. Ricky Rutledge on January 30, 2014 at 5:14 am

    Spot on!… And maybe we could add “increased levels of engagement and motivation”

  20. Ricky Rutledge on January 30, 2014 at 5:16 am

    … And as an example, you can’t go past the good old “Beatles”. Anything from them, will do the trick.

  21. how to produce music on February 23, 2014 at 6:23 am

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    I am gonna watch out for brussels. I will appreciate if you continue this in future.
    Lots of people will be benefited from your writing.
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  22. Asfiatul Muadah on March 14, 2015 at 6:20 am

    Thankyou so much,, it is very help me in learning English. 🙂

  23. Danila Shikulin on March 14, 2015 at 9:28 am

    Check out this lyrics service! It shows you lyrics in sync with music that is playing around. http://about.musixmatch.com/

  24. Septiyas Alfianto on March 17, 2015 at 9:50 am

    my name is Septiyas. After I read this article, i just realized that I’ve been doing it whole time. Im a Choir Singer and every times, I learned different English songs and every in it, I tried to get every each meaning of words to feel in the song.
    I really agreed both, 1st and 2nd way.
    And you can apply these methods in English games with same ways.
    I have been doing that all time and the result is Im an Indonesian but I can speak clearly and smoothly such like an English native speaker.
    thanks. 🙂

  25. Santi Rachmawati on March 18, 2015 at 3:24 am

    How if I aplied this methods to another ways, like movies or games? Is It work properly?

  26. Septiyas Alfianto on March 18, 2015 at 3:34 am

    After I read this article, I just realize that I've been doing it whole time. Im a choir singer and aevery week, I have been learning new English songs. I have been tring to get every part of each meaning to get feel of the song.I really agreed both 1st and 2nd methods.
    Im trying to help the Commenter below ( Santi Rachmawati), yes you cand do that because I used to. And the result is awesome. Yeah Im an Indonesian but I can speak smoothly such like real English Native Speaker

  27. Fauzhi Tu Gw on March 18, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    This ways is very good. I am trying hard to do this for my better language. and now Im doing it because Im on good mood to learn English songs with instrument I have.

  28. asfiatul muadah on March 19, 2015 at 12:11 am

    Thankyou so much,, it is very help me in learning English. 🙂 (no.absen : 18)

  29. asfiatul muadah on March 19, 2015 at 12:16 am

    Thankyou so much,, it is very help me in learning English. 🙂
    we always wait for further information.. (attendee’s number : 18)

  30. Ira Kusumawati on March 19, 2015 at 12:48 am

    yess…. i think so, english music can help me to improve english language. from its i can enrich my vocabulary and know more expressions to showing how i feel. music is the good way to improve english language.

  31. kakanita nuril on March 19, 2015 at 3:23 am

    it is very good. i am trying hard to do this for my better language. thank you 🙂 (16)

  32. pipit marliani on March 19, 2015 at 4:05 am

    B_19 we learning to the music maybe we can understand what the meaning of it.we can get more lesson like as : vocabulary etc

  33. Ririn Nur Halifah on March 19, 2015 at 4:08 am

    B-17 With learning music we can get more vocabulary, we can improve our skill in listening, pronouncation, etc.

  34. Novii San on March 20, 2015 at 7:03 am

    The methods is nice and and make we're be fluent to study english deeply
    thanks a lot:)

  35. ask on May 5, 2015 at 11:56 am

    Wow, that’s what I was seeking for, what a information! present here at this website, thanks admin of this website.

  36. kaoutar boubker on March 10, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    I LOVE english songs and i listen to it everday but i still have a problem with lyrics (listening )

  37. kaoutar boubker on March 10, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    I LOVE english songs and i listen to it everday but i still have a problem with lyrics (listening )

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