Learn English with Your Favorite Songs: Stand by Me (Playing for Change)

playing for change coverHave you ever noticed that you never remember new words when you’re studying English but you never forget the lyrics to your favorite song?

Here’s an idea, what if you could use your favorite songs not just to remember new words, but to learn all aspects of the English language!!

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When I ask many of my students about interesting and inspiring ways to learn English, they often respond that they LOVE to learn English with music. But are they really taking advantage of the music they listen to? Could they, and you, be learning a lot more than just some new words when listening to your favorite songs?

The answer to this question is YES! If you really want to take your English seriously, you should be doing more than just listening to songs and singing along. Although this is already helping your English a lot, with just a little more effort you could double the amount of value and knowledge you get from each song.

Let me show you how with a method I use to learn other languages.

I am going to go through an activity I have done with my favorite songs from other languages, but in this case with an English song “Stand By Me,” performed by the group “Playing for Change.”

Stand By Me – Playing for Change

The first step is to take 5 minutes to think about the song and write a paragraph in English about why you like it so much. Creative writing is a great habit to have when learning languages.

This part of the exercise is going to spark (ignite, start) your creativity and work your kinesthetic intelligence by thinking and writing in English at the same time. Every time you do this you are internalizing the language more and more, which is putting you on the right track (in the right direction) to achieving fluency.

This is what I have to say about the song I chose:

“Every time I listen to this song, especially the Playing for change version, it makes me forget about all the silly problems I am faced with which cause unnecessary stress to my everyday life. It pulls me back to Earth and reminds me that the most important things in life aren’t money or possessions but people, friends, family and the connection we have with others from all around the world. For me this song represents friendship, charity to others in need, and global equality.”

Now that you have analyzed what the song means to you, from a more creative and abstract point of view, let’s analyze the song more objectively by looking at all the words, expressions, and even some of the grammatical structures used.

 Words, Expressions, Verbs and Grammar Structures

When you go through this process, make sure you highlight the all the new words, expressions, and useful grammar structures.

In the following exercise, I’m going to highlight the words like this:

New words and vocabulary –  Yellow

Verbs and grammar structures – Green

Now let’s all listen to the song and check out the lyrics.

[leadplayer_vid id=”51D6F2B735BEA”]

The lyrics: Stand By Me (Playing for Change)

“This song says, uh: No matter who you are, no matter where you go in life, in some point you gonna need somebody, to stand by you.”

Oh yeah, Oh my darling, stand by me
No matter who you are
No matter where you go in life
You gonna need somebody, to stand by you.

No matter how much money you got
Or the friends you got
You gonna need somebody, to stand by you.

When the night has come
And the land is dark
And that moon is the only light we’ll see
No I won’t be afraid
No I won’t, shed one tear
Just as long as you people, call and stand by me

Oh darling, darling
Stand by me, oh, stand by me
Oh stand, stand, stand by me,
C’mon Stand by me

When that sky that we look upon
Well, should tumble and fall
Or the mountains they should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry
No I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

So darling, darling
Stand by me, Oh, stand by me
Please stand, stand by me,
Stand by me (2x)

So darling, darling
Stand “salanami”, Oh stand “salanami”
Oh stand, Oh stand, stand, stand by me,
C’mon stand by me

When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
I won’t be afraid “salanami”
I won’t be afraid
Not a long, not a long as you… (yeah)
Stand by me. (yeah yeah)

Analyzing the Song

Like I mentioned earlier, writing things down is going to help you internalize the language so much quicker! I want you to make some lists with all the new vocabulary you have learned from the song. I’m sure you’ll be surprised at how much easier it will be to remember the new words after doing this.

Here I have made a list of the words and expressions most English learners could have difficulty with.

List of new Vocabulary and expressions:

No matter- regardless of something; it’s of no importance
Stand by me-
support me and be my friend
Shed a tear-
to cry just one tear
affectionate name given to someone (older expression)
how we say “come on” in spoken English
Look upon-
to look at something with consideration
to fall and roll
to break into small fragments or particles
As long as-
on the condition that (used for negotiating)
Salanami– ??? (I think this is from the Swahili language)

Now that you have analyzed and written down any all the words you didn’t know, let’s do a small summary of the grammar used in the song. You might notice and be surprised that, especially in music, sometimes the singer doesn’t sing with correct grammar.

Well, what can I say, grammar is a rule, and therefore it was made to be broken. As I’m sure is done in your native language, in English we often use grammar incorrectly in the language’s spoken form. Use this to your advantage! Decipher the lyrics and test yourself to see if you know the “grammatically correct” way to say it, and learn more about spoken English at the same time.

Underline all the verbs used in the song then make a list and test yourself to see if you know what verb tense they have been conjugated in. Here’s a list of some of the verbs I got from the song.

List of Verbs and their tenses: 

Go – Present simple
Gonna need – Future simple (going to = gonna)
Has come – Present perfect (he has come)
We’ll see – Future simple (will)
Won’t be – Future simple negative
Should tumble – Modal verb
Won’t cry – Future simple negative

If you have problems with verb tenses, take a look at this article

Now sing it as much as you can. Going through this process is a great way to take advantage of music and all the awesome things you can learn from it.

Through analyzing a song like this we are learning a lot more than just a couple of words. Music can help us internalize the language, understand different cultures better, and open up your creative mind which is one of the best tools you have to learn English.

Start right now, what’s your favorite English song? Do you know all the words and expressions used in it? I’m sure you already love singing it in the car, or are you more of a shower rock star? Whatever it is and wherever you like to sing it, go through this process and you’ll be singing it fluently in no time.

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  • Helio Castro says:


  • Louisiana's kind of laid back artistic style it's just amazing! — Since my very first contact with the english language as a learner I found that listening to songs in english could be one of the most accurate methods to gain vocabulary and improve pronunciation, but in fact it shows to be more than that! Keep up the good work guys. Nice article! Thanks for the great song!

  • This is very great song. Thanks

  • Chad Fishwick says:

    Thanks for reading!

  • Chad Fishwick says:

    Thanks for reading!

  • Aline says:

    Great articles as always!

  • jesus altuve says:

    very good song; it is a good way to learn english. Please, I would like to listen others songs…

  • Very good ! Thanks for your help !