11 ways that songs can help you learn English!
Listening to music is fun. And when you’re enjoying yourself, you learn without even realising it. The best thing is that there are so many good songs in English and there’s such a wide variety of genres including pop, country, R&B, rock, blues, rock ‘n’ roll, soul and reggae. Let David Bowie, Madonna, The Beatles, Alicia Keys, Bob Marley, Robbie Williams, Jessie J and Bono be your teacher!
Learning English by listening to music is easy, too. Just load up your MP3 player with your favourite tracks and press play. And you can listen to them whenever and wherever you want, so you can learn English while you’re walking, driving, doing sport or relaxing on the sofa.
While you’re listening to a song, you’re receiving language input in the form of hundreds of useful English words, expressions, phrases and sentences. So, you’re learning English the natural way – not through studying, but subconsciously.
Tests have shown that it’s much easier to remember language in the form of a song. This is why you can still remember nursery rhymes from your childhood. By their nature, songs are very repetitive, and they recycle vocabulary and language structures, which makes them easier to remember. Also, by singing along to the song several times, you’ll eventually learn the words by heart.
Songs are great for expanding your range of vocabulary. For a start, a lot of songs are thematic. So, you’ll learn lots of words around a theme, which is a good way of organising your learning. For example, in the song Brown-Eyed Girl by Van Morrison, there are lots of words related to nature: rain, misty, fog, sunlight, rainbow, waterfall, etc. But that’s not all, there are also phrasal verbs (going down), collocations (standing in), useful expressions (I’m all on my own), idioms (cast my memory back) and compound adjectives (brown-eyed girl). Songs are rich in vocabulary.
Songs are also great for teaching you slang and non-standard English. For example, in the song Where is the Love by the Black Eyed Peas, there’s this phrase, “People livin’ like they ain’t got no mamas,”which includes the non-Standard ain’t got (haven’t got).
Songs are good for developing your understanding of English grammar. While you’re listening to songs, you’re raising your awareness of language structures and reinforcing any existing knowledge. Plus, you’re seeing how the structures are formed and used. Just about every song has at least one grammatical structure in it. For example, in the Police song Every Breath You Take, there’s the Future Continuous (will be + verb -ing): “I’ll be watching you.”
8 Speaking & writing
Songs are full of useful language that you can use when you’re speaking and writing. For example, in the Avril Lavigne song Complicated you can learn the useful phrase, “That’s the way it is.” And after singing along to the songs several times, all those phrases and expressions will become firmly fixed in your long-term memory. Then, later, you’ll find that you use them naturally when you’re speaking or writing.
Songs are also great for improving your general listening skills. While you’re listening to songs, you’re getting used to the sounds in English. You’re also learning about things such as connected speech – when the final consonant sound of one word merges with the initial vowel sound of the following word. For example, in the song Happy by Pharrell Williams, you can hear how the words “I’m” and “about” merge together: “I m-about”. On top of that, by listening to songs, you’re practising a really useful skill: listening for gist. This involves listening for a general understanding, not trying to understand every single word.
Songs can teach you a lot about English pronunciation. You’ll learn about all sorts of things, including sentence stress, word stress, intonation and rhythm. For example, in the Robbie Williams song Go Gentle, you’ll hear how the word “disappointment” has the stress on the third syllable (“disappointment”). In the same song, you’ll hear how the following key words (the underlined words) are stressed, and all the rest are unstressed: “Except for one or two, some of them are angry.” You’ll also learn about rhyming word sounds. In this example from the same song, there are rhyming pairs of words with the / uː / and / iː / sounds:
You’re gonna meet some strangers, welcome to the zoo,
Bitter disappointments, except for one or two,
Some of them are angry, some of them are mean,
Most of them are twisted, few of them are clean.
Finally, songs can teach you about history, culture and traditions. For example, the song American Pie (1971) by folk singer-songwriter Don McLean is about the 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr.), which was an important event in US history.
So, load up your MP3 player, put on your headphones and press play!
Copyright © 2014 by Hot English PublishingGlossary
■ subconsciously adverb = if something happens to you “subconsciously”, you change the way you act or think without you realising it or noticing it
■ input noun = information or language that you receive, hear or see
■ nursery rhymes noun = short songs or poems for children
■ by heart expression = if you learn a piece of writing “by heart”, you can repeat it without reading it
■ thematic adjective = something “thematic” is based on a topic, subject or theme: geography, politics, history, music, film…
■ slang noun = informal language that’s used by people who are chatting among friends
■ non-standard English expression = a type of language that isn’t the generally accepted form of language. For example, saying “he like” instead of “he likes”
■ to raise awareness expression = if you “raise someone’s awareness” of a topic, you tell them about it and they learn about it
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