Is music an effective way to learn English?

When learning a new language, the learning curve is huge and not always enjoyable. To help keep interest alive, introducing music into the learning curriculum can help make the learning more palatable. Music is a great tool to help learners, such as yourself, associate your new English skills with something you are already familiar with in your own culture. Here are a few things to keep in mind when selecting music:

  • Determine what you want to learn from the song – is the focus on vocabulary, or a specific topic, or pronunciation?
  • What genre of music do you like? – trying to listen to a song that is not “your style”, might not have the intended outcome. For example, I have a hard time focusing on the words when I listen to heavy metal or rap. My ears get distracted by the background beats, instruments, and rapid or slurred pronunciation of the words. As a result, this would not help me improve my language skills. However, if you relate strongly to that type of music, then you may be able to hear and learn from that style of music.
  • What type of music players do you have easy access to? Do you have access to a music application such as Spotify or YouTube or ITunes? Do you listen to CD’s or MP3s?
Using a song for learning vs listening to a song for pleasure require different focuses. When listening to a song for pleasure, you may enjoy just listening to the music, but not really focusing on the words. When you listen to a song to learn, you WILL be focusing on the words. How are they pronounced? What is the song about? What is the writer trying to convey in the song – happiness, sadness, a life lesson?

Where would you start if you wanted to incorporate listening to music in your second language? The answer is more complicated than just picking a song randomly and listening to it. Here are some things to consider:

  • How well do you know your second language? If you are at a beginner A1 or A2 level, it would be best to start with songs that are not too long, not too fast, use everyday English (not too many difficult words) and the words are easy to hear. For example, a children’s nursery rhyme song like “The Wheels on the Bus” would be a good way to start because it uses basic vocabulary, has repetition, and has a catchy tune. Obviously, as you develop your vocabulary and listening skills, choosing more age appropriate songs will be desirable. Starting out with children’s songs, is not an indication you are not capable of more advanced songs, but they can make it more fun if you can just enjoy the music and lyrics rather than having to stop and look up words constantly. Pop music is also a form of music that works well because it tends to have high-frequency words that are used repetitively in the first or second person. Beatles music is also a good choice because they have a variety of songs and their vocals are easy to hear. Remember this is supposed to be a fun way to learn.
  • Once you pick a song, how do you learn from it?
  • Listen to the song. Just enjoy the song.
  • Get a copy of the lyrics to the song and print it out, it will help you in many ways. There are many sites on the internet that provide lyrics. A couple of my go to sites are or, but feel free to use whatever site you prefer. Listen to the song again and follow along reading the lyrics. If you find a word or phrase you do not understand while listening, circle or underline it. After you finish listening to the song, go back and see if you can infer the meaning of the word or phrase by how it is used in the context of the lyrics. If you still do not understand, look up the word in a dictionary or translate the phrase to your native language.
  • Listen to the song again, now that you understand the words and meaning of the lyrics you are ready to learn. Listen and follow along with the lyrics as the song is played. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:
  • § What is the main idea and message of the song? Write a summary paragraph to share with your teacher.
  • How does the song make you feel?
  • Practice pronouncing words like you hear them (focus on which syllable(s) are pronounced most strongly)
  • Cut up the lyrics into strips and put them in a bag. Pull out the lyrics and try to piece them back together in the correct order.
As you continue in your language training, it is my hope that you will continue to look for ways to enjoy learning while challenging yourself to expand your vocabulary, listening, speaking, writing and reading skills.
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