Learn English with Music: Jack Johnson (Upside down)

“If it seems like you are playing around and not practicing, that’s when you know you really love it.” (Jack Johnson)

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As this awesome Jack Johnson quote above suggests, if we want to be really good at something, we have to play around with it, have fun, make it a passion and not a boring task.

I know what you’re thinking, “but I’m not passionate about learning English!” Well, what if you could mix your English learning with something you could be passionate about? Like MUSIC!

In this article, with help from Jack Johnson, you are going to:

  •  Learn  some cool new words and expressions
  • Discover how to use CAN and COULD and their differences
  • Practice your pronunciation as you sing along with the song

Before you learn all of this, let’s find out a little about Jack Johnson and listen to the song.

WHO IS JACK JOHNSON?                     

Jack Johnson was born and raised in Hawaii. Before becoming a famous musician, he had a promising career as a professional surfer until suffering a very serious accident. From there on he has focused on music as his professional career. I’m sure he’s still a passionate surfer.

His music has been appreciated around the world for its relaxed vibe and positive lyrics.  Find out more about Jack Jonson’s life here.

Now let’s relax and watch the video

[media url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNlmn7vbXBQ” width=”600″ height=”400″]

THE SONG : Upside down

 The first thing I recommend doing when using music for language learning, is analyze the title to predict what the song is going to be about. What does Jack mean by UPSIDE DOWN?

In the chorus you’ll hear him sing “I want to turn the whole thing upside down.” The literal meaning of the word upside down is to turn something so the part facing upwards is now facing down.

But wait a second, that doesn’t sound like a very interesting title, does it?

Upside down is a perfect example of how some words  have a literal meaning and a symbolic/figurative meaning. Figuratively, to turn something upside down means to change your perspective about your thoughts and beliefs, which I’m certain, is how Jack is using this expression in the song.

Take a look at the the lyrics…


And my mind begins to spread its wings

To become more open minded.
He has become more curious about life.

I want to turn the world upside down

To see things from a different perspective (upside down).
He wants to find new truths and share them with everyone.




.Roll along

To progress smoothly.
The more and more he progresses, the more truths he finds.


Listen to Jack Johnson interviews on NPR radio right now and practice your listening with Jack 


Using ‘can’ and ‘could’ is always a difficult grammar point to learn and to teach for that matter. People often confuse these two words because in the situation of making a request, they can be used exactly the same way. For example.

  • Can I have a glass of water? / Could I have a glass of water?

But, what exactly does Jack mean when he uses the word can in his song?

I can feel a change in everything, I’ll find the things that can’t be found, I can’t do everything, well I can try


1. Abilities

Can, has 2 functions in English. The first, when we talk about our abilities, things that you CAN do. For example.

  • I can speak English/ I can’t speak Hebrew (you have or don’t have the ability to speak)
  • I can drive a car (I have a licence and the ability)
  • She can run 5 km in 20 minutes

2. Possibility

The second function of can is to express that something is possible. This is most often heard when making requests and asking for permission. You’ll see we’re not making a reference to our abilities/skills. For example.

  • Can I borrow you pen?
  • Can I grab another can of beer?
  • Bob can’t go out tonight, his girlfriend won’t let him (It’s not  possible)


1. Past abilities

Could also has two functions, the first being the past tense of can. When you use could, you are making reference to an ability/skill you had in the past.
For example.

  • I could do a backflip when I was younger (I can’t now)
  • He could speak 5 languages by the time he was 15
  • I couldn’t speak Portuguese until I came to brazil.

2. “If” Unreal situation

The second common use of the word could is when its use with the ‘if clause.’ This is a conditional phrase, and it’s used to describe an ‘unreal’ or ‘figurative’ situation.  For example.

If I won the lottery, I could…

  • Travel around the world
  • Buy a new car
  • Give the money away
  • Burn the money

You’ll see that I’m using could to say things that are POSSIBLE to do with the money, not necessarily something that I would actually do with the money. I could burn the money, but personally I would prefer to spend the money travelling.

                                                                                                        CALL TO ACTION

Are you ready to turn your English learning upside down? The time has come for your mind to spread its wings, follow your curiosity. Language learning doesn’t have to be a boring task. With a little bit of creativity you can learn English using something you’re passionate about. Whether it’s music, sport, computer games, Star Wars movies, whatever, I’m sure you can find something you’re interested in and revolve your language learning around that. ­

Please help Real Life English help you by telling us some of your favorite songs that you think have helped or could help your English. All suggestions are valid and appreciated.

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  • Jack Johnson is the best!

  • Giovane Negrini says:

    "Now let’s relax and watch the video." haha.

  • Caue Francisco says:

    "Not Afraid" by Eminem has helped me a lot in english.