Using songs to learn English, by English with Stephen

Learning Strategies: Using songs to learn English

Do you want to learn English by listening to songs? Maybe you have friends who say they were able to learn just by listening to their favourite artist? This podcast and transcript will show you how to do it.

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Hi, my name’s Stephen Greene, from Learning English with Stephen. Two weeks ago, I talked about how to learn English by watching TV and films. In this episode, we are going to look at how to use songs to learn English. When talking about learning with TV and films, we created a 6-stage process.  To learn from songs, all you need to do is follow a 4-stage process.

And, we have another extra bonus activity at the end of this podcast, so make sure you listen all the way to the end.

A note of warning before we start. Songs are not always a perfect type of English. Songwriters often change the language to make it fit the rhyme or the amount of space they have.

And talking of songs, have a listen to this.

Sometimes my students ask what a song means, but often there is no meaning. You, as the listener, have to create your own meaning. There are many songs by The Beatles that have no clear narrative or message. This, though, can be a good thing. If you go to the site LyricInterpretations.com, you will find people who have their own ideas about what a song means. Remember, that music is art and art is open to interpretation. You could read the ideas on LyricInterpretations.com and maybe even add your own.

By the way, if you would like the link to any sites that I mention, you’ll find them on my site Englishwithstephen.com. You will also find the transcript to this podcast there so you can check any words or phrases you are not sure of.

Step 1 of the process for using songs to learn English is a simple one. The first thing to do with any song is just to listen to and enjoy it. Think about what you like about the song and how it makes you feel. If you want to dance, then dance. If you want to play the drums or the air guitar while you listen, then do so.

After this, step 2 is to try to understand as many of the lyrics as possible just by listening. Close your eyes and focus on the words. Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything, I still don’t know all of the lyrics to some of my favourite songs. Misunderstanding lyrics is very common. In fact, it is so common that it even has a name: Mondegreens. I’ll leave you to google the origin of that word.

Step 3 is checking your ideas of the words. Search for the lyrics on the internet and then listen to the song and read the lyrics at the same time. Were you right about the words? What was new for you?  You can often find videos on youtube that have a blank screen with the lyrics on so that you don’t have to switch between different screens.

Now that you have the lyrics, you should take the opportunity to analyse them. If there are any new words, check their meaning in a dictionary. Pay attention to the grammar that is used. Is there are any repetition of structures? Identify the prepositions and think about why they are used and how they are pronounced.

Remember, don’t worry if you don’t fully understand the meaning of the song. This is art and you bring your own meaning.

The 4th and final step is karaoke. That’s right, sing the song with the artist. Try to mimic the sounds and the rhythm of the song.

Now, the good thing about mimicking a singer is that you have to concentrate on your pronunciation. I don’t just mean the individual sounds, like /b/ or /i:/, although these are important.

What is even more important, though, is connected speech. We will look in more detail at connected speech in a future episode, but for now it includes things like how individual words join together, how some sounds change when they are next to other sounds, and how some words change their pronunciation when they are in a sentence or a phrase.

You don’t need to know the names of these examples of connected speech. When you are copying a singer, you will do them automatically.

Just remember to choose songs you like, listen to them in detail, analyse the lyrics and then pretend you are a rock star.

I’d love to hear from you. What songs have you used to learn English? What words or phrases have you misunderstood? If you leave a comment, I promise to answer you!

Before I reveal the final bonus activity, if you liked this episode, make sure you subscribe to the podcast on your favourite podcast platform. There are many free podcast platforms around, but the most popular include Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher. I am also on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at Learning English with Stephen. If you would like to have classes with me online, or read the transcript of this episode, then go to my site EnglishwithSTephen.com.

And now for my last bonus exercise. Many times, a song in English has been translated by a local band into your own language. Find a copy of this song and compare it to the original in English. Does it tell the same story or is it totally different? Is the grammar the same, what about the expressions? Comparing a translation like this can be a highly effective way of learning a language.

That’s all from. Carry on rocking!

A young black woman is playing an acoustic guitar and singing. Text: Learning strategies - Using songs to Learn English by English with Stephen
Sing it loud!

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