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How to choose songs to improve your English

How to learn English with music 🎵

How to learn English with music - the complete method with the best songs to improve your English!

People who have good English skills are often those who have indulged themselves in listening to a lot of music with English lyrics. Instead of leaving things to chance, take control over your education and learn how to use music and songs in English in order to improve your language skills while having fun thanks to my method.

My personal story

🎵 Break on through to the other side…

These are without a doubt the lyrics that helped me start "speaking English". A catchy song plus the curiosity to know what the lyrics mean, which I tried to sing along to without even understanding them, was the fun and motivating start of my English-learning journey.

By chance, it turned out that I had all the texts and lyrics of the lead singer of the Doors, Jim Morrison, and that these resources were written in both English and French (my mother tongue). In front of each original text, I also had the translation in French which respected the page layout of the English text.

If I didn't understand some of the lines of the song, I just had to look in this book and it helped me understand the gist of the entire phrase, even if I couldn't necessarily understand everything word for word. And that's already speaking English - understanding the idea of what you're reading or saying.

And those weren't the only advantages:

  • Pronunciation. Each time I was unsure about the pronunciation of a word, Jim Morrison came to the rescue to show me how to pronounce.
  • Spelling. I wasn't there to learn it, I was just enjoying singing, taking it more or less seriously, and the songs just kept growing on me. However, since I was constantly reading the same lyrics over and over again, the spelling stuck with me.
  • Vocabulary. I learned it almost subconsciously, with ease and while having fun. Can you think of a more natural way to memorize vocabulary than this one? Having a song you like, which is stuck in your head, which you hum, which is always the perfect occasion to repeat it, even if it's just in your mind, you remind yourself of the meaning of the lyrics.

Dear English teachers, do yourself a favor and ask your best students what they use to achieve a higher level than what they're expected to and, more often than not, you'll find that music is their secret weapon.

For all of these reason, in my humble opinion, learning English with songs is the best way to start or restart learning English.

Learning English with music allows you to regain your motivation, have fun and revise regularly. All three are parts of the foundation of a successful education in English.

Songs to learn English

When I published my best-seller Comment devenir bilingue en anglais in 2007 (this article is adapted from that book), I was limited by the format of the book. Today, I'd like to make up for that by enjoying the format of this interactive blog and the Web in general. If you're interested in discovering more ways to practice English intuitively while having fun, check out my other book How to Learn English.

I have prepared for you a list of artists and popular English songs to help you apply the method.

If you're fan of a particular artist and if you want to understand the lyrics of one of their songs, then little by little, explore ALL of their songs. You're going to make a ton of progress. Pinky swear!

Here are some of my suggestions:

  • Learn English with Queen
  • Learn English with Michael Jackson
  • Learn English with Eminem

(I'm going to give you more details on finding the lyrics later in this article.)

I had to shortlist the best artists to learn English with, but I could have also included The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, U2, Muse, Nirvana, David Bowie, ABBA or Rage Against The Machine. But what do these artists have in common? They all have rich discographies, with cult songs. This is what I would recommend to get the ball rolling.

Musical comedies are another great way to improve your English. When I was 16, I knew all the songs from the musical Hair by heart and I had learned a ton of English thanks to that - my English was on the way to becoming perfect!

If there's a group that you've become a fan of, which has allowed you to make some big progress in English, leave their name in the comments. Maybe other readers will also be happy to discover them.

Where to find song lyrics

According to your level, you'll want to learn English with song lyrics, with or without translations.

With translations

Where can you find song lyrics with translations for your favorite English-speaking artists? Ideally, you'd want to find a bilingual edition, where the page layout will respect the original text, like the example with Jim.

Unfortunately, these bilingual versions are quite rare and when there isn't a bilingual edition for your favorite artist available, the best solution would be to turn to the Web to find the lyrics and the translations in your native language and then, print them out.

On paper or digital? The advantage of a paper version is that you can carry it around anywhere. You can also make copies, add notes and fold them in your pocket. You can carry phones around, too, but with the distractions because of the notifications, it's obviously harder to annotate the lyrics on your phone.

By far, **the best site to look up song lyrics in English with translations is Musicmatch. It shows you the lyrics in English on the left and, whenever it's available, the translation in different languages on the right, parallelly, aligned with the original text, with a clear interface:

Learn English with music
Find song lyrics in English with translations

This doesn't mean that the site is perfect (the translation quality varies, the site contains a lot of ads) but, I haven't seen a better one when it comes to the translations.

If you can't find the song of your choice (some songs are not available due to the artists' rights), you can do a simple Google search with the name of the song + "translation" and you'll undoubtedly come across one of Musixmatch's competitors.

Make sure to use Adblock in order to get rid of the pop-up ads on these sites.

In English

It's very easy to find sites on the Web which only offer song lyrics in English. Those are the sites you want to turn to as soon as your level allows it, because even though it may seem obvious, it's important to keep in mind that the more you're capable to manage content in English without the help of your native language, the better.

In order to help you, here's some music vocabulary in English to remember:

  • lyrics
  • In order to find the lyrics of a song in English, you can simply search for the song title + the word lyrics. For example, who let the dogs out lyrics.
  • song
  • track
  • LP (Long Playing) a disc of 33 turns and, by extension, an album.

It's better to look for the lyrics in English because they tend to be correct more often.

Genius is a great site you can use because it also offers explanations (in English) for the lyrics. The interface is good, pleasant, with the song's audio and songs are organized by albums. The site started with explanations for rap song lyrics, but now covers all styles of music.


Musixmatch, which we saw earlier, offers some cool apps. You can install their computer application (OS X or Windows) or their phone application (iOS, Android ) in order to automatically show lyrics when you play a song on Spotify or iTunes. Unfortunately, the application doesn't offer translations (which you can still find on their site) and is limited to only Spotify and iTunes.

If you like listening to music on YouTube, use the plugin Lyrics Here for Firefox or the plugin Musixmatch Lyrics for Chrome. These extensions show you the lyrics in English when you're on YouTube automatically .

Learn English with music
The plugin Lyrics Here on Firefox

On Lyrics Here (Firefox), the button to reopen the lyrics (if you ever close the window) is on the address bar (only when you're on a YouTube video). On ^Musixmatch Lyrics^ (Chrome), the lyrics are shown on the actual video.

Another option: if you use Shazam (application to identify the name of a song), click on the song title and it will take you to a page with more details, including the lyrics.

Finally, Genius (which we mentioned earlier) offers an iPhone application which allows you to listen to music while reading the lyrics, even with explanations!

The method

Choose a song that you like, by an artist that you love, admire or respect. Preferably, an artist who has a rich discography with a lot of lyrics. (If you're a fan of psy trance electro-neurofunk drum & bass instrumental acoustics, you'll have to leave your passion aside!).

If you can't decide, just take one of my suggestions from above.

Did you find your pick? Good! Play the song and open the lyrics. Let's see the method and how to learn English with music.

Where to start

The essence of this method of learning English with songs is to be curious!

The extent to which you'll let your curiosity will depend on your current level of English. The method, broadly speaking, is the same for everyone:


1. Listen to the song, without the lyrics.

  • English spelling is a disaster and you cannot count on it. So, start by listening to English.
  • Try distinguishing what you can - single words, then segments of a phrase, then entire sentences.

2. Listen to the song again, but follow the lyrics this time.

  • The goal here is to correct the link between the way words are written and the way they're pronounced in reality.
  • The tricky part is that we tend to think that the lyrics are right and the audio is wrong. This is a mistake. English is spoken the way it is. Spelling is supposed to represent the text, but in practice, it doesn't do a good job.
  • Relearn how to pronounce texts, by using lyrics. Trust the lyrics that you listen to.

3. Try to understand the meaning of the lyrics.

  • Try to understand first without the translation, and ask yourself what the lyrics could mean. Imagine you're a detective - you're trying to guess what the language could mean and that's what makes learning languages so addictive - it's like a game!
  • Afterward, check the translation to see if you've understood, you learn new words and expressions along the way.

4. Repeat, repeat, repeat!

  • Acknowledge and celebrate the progress you make with each new listen.
  • Try to remember at least the lyrics which are repeated the most.
  • Sing if you want to. The easiest way to remember something is to make it personal.

Take the time to apply this method for your first song. Come on!

💡 Tip

Instead of always checking the lyrics for songs in English online, create a collection on your computer.

This will allow you to better organize yourself, get rid of ads, edit the lyrics in order to correct them (the layout, the actual lyrics, the translation) and to collect them in a single place. It doesn't matter if you do that in text files or Word files, just do it! By being better organized, you waste less time and learning English becomes more pleasant.

I owe this tip to a famous guitar player and this has led me to making some big progress with the guitar. Adapting that to languages helped me learn more of them.

Your mission

Your mission as a learner is to reprogram your brain to see the meaning when you hear or read something in English.

These are some habits which will help you:

  • Focus more on the English text rather than the translation (spend more time on that).
  • When you come across an unknown word, after trying to understand the meaning using the context:
    • Use a translation to understand the meaning.
    • See how you imagine this word in your native language mentally (for example, for a visual word, an image will pop up).
    • When you read the English word again, think of that mental representation (not the word in your native language).

Learning English is all about associating the English word (pronounced or read) with its representation.

An example:

In his song, The Show Must Go On, Freddy Mercury sings My soul is painted like the wings of butterflies. When you read these lyrics, try to imagine a soul (not necessarily easy, I know) and, most of all, try visualizing the wings of a butterfly (a little easier). Avoid making the mistake of reading butterfly, butterfly, butterfly, what does butterfly mean? Connect it to the image of a butterfly. It's natural to connect the word to the concept in your native language (it's spontaneous) and it's useful to check if you've understood but in the long run, your goal is to SEE directly, mentally, a butterfly when you hear the word butterfly in English.

Learn English with music
Do you see the butterfly?

I talk about seeing and visuals because often it's the way we represent a word or an idea to ourselves, but it can also be by a sensation, sound or by using some of our other senses. The aim of the game is to associate the English words to concepts (ideas, memories, representations, visuals, sensations, sounds), rather than to simple translations. Thinking about the sense, the idea, is more important than the translation because it's what will allow you to think in English directly.

Thinking in English after all is just making mental films while you use English words.

That's it for the essence of the method! If there's something unclear, leave it in the comments.

In the long run

If you've played the game and applied the method with a song, you've already started accumulating some vocabulary, in a way that is much more fun than the classic courses in English.

Unfortunately, a single "work" session is not enough.

Regularity is key when it comes to learning English!

  • You need about 1.000 hours in order to master English and this is only possible if you do things that you like (or if you're obligated to do them).
  • Memorizing English requires revision. As the proverb goes, Repetition is the mother of skill.

It's much easier to learn English and to start liking it if we do a little bit regularly instead of doing a ton from time to time.

The big advantage about diving into English and starting by using music is that you don't need a high level in English in order to enjoy this method. A beginner level is enough provided that you use it with music in English that you like (to motivate yourself).

Learning English with music is a good option but, in order to succeed, you want to make it a long-term habit. To do that:


1. Continue applying method number one with the song you saw to review it and remember in the long term the new words and expressions from it.

  • Without repetition, there's no long-term memory. Without long-term memory, you're wasting your time.
  • Broadly speaking, if you review new information five consecutive days you remember what you saw in the long run.

2. Continue listening to songs by your favorite artist.

  • Avoid getting sick of a song and listening to it all the time for too long. Change things up in order to be happy to return to your first song.
  • The advantage is that you can always use the same artist whose accent and pronunciation you're already used to. What's more, this will make them familiar to you (and in the same way, it will make the lyrics and English more familiar, which will result in not being afraid of speaking English).
  • When you listen to a song, try to represent the sensation of the lyrics to yourself, like we saw earlier (ideas, memories, representations, visuals, sensations, sounds, etc.) in order to reinforce your association between the sounds (the words pronounced) and the meaning (the communicated message). Your imagination is your ally.

3. Use method number one regularly with new songs from the artist.

  • Be curious to find out what the meaning of the lyrics is.
  • When it comes to quantity, this will vary depending on your availability. Ten songs per day, one song per day, a few songs per week, a single long song per week. That's up to you to decide and be honest about the work you think you can handle. Ask yourself: How badly do you want to learn English?
  • If possible, develop your curiosity and your wish to always know more. For example, listen to interviews by the artist.

4. Make use of your dead time to find moments to learn English.

  • When it comes to your dead time - play some music while you're in the public transport, check the lyrics when you're waiting in line, sing under the shower!
  • During activities which allow you to multitask - sports, cooking, cleaning, etc.
  • Your level of attention will not be the same as it is when you're 100 % concentrated on English but it will allow you to review during the whole day and to create an immersion bubble in English. That's powerful.

If you do things well, the lyrics will start roaming your mind and that's already the beginning of thinking in English.

Learn English with music
You are what you listen to

I recommend that you work in periods focusing on different artists. Maybe you will have your Queen period, then your Led Zeppelin or Michael Jackson period. When you work this way, you'll enjoy the repetition (firstly of the music) and you will create some nice memories in English.

If you have negative memories of learning English left from school, then learning English with music might help you get a fresh start and change your relationship with English. Music allows you to cultivate the pleasure and put aside what you dislike about English.

If you work this way, by group or period, it will allow you to be serious enough in your work. Knowing all the lyrics by an artist is certainly nice, but it's also hard work, let's be honest. The beauty of learning English thanks to songs is to make you improve your English without having the impression of working.

These are of course just my recommendations, but I have used them to successfully learn English, Hungarian, and Russian, while maintaining a good level in Spanish. The languages I know best are also the ones I've used songs to learn.

If you have a different personality type which has led you to use songs in English differently and you've still had success, please feel free to share in the comments.


Here's a selection of questions that I have been receiving often on the topic of learning English with songs since 2007.

What if I sing off-key?

I used to sing off-key when I was 16. I was not able to tune a guitar or read music. But you know what? It's practice that makes perfect, you just have to work on English to become fluent! Since then, with practice, I learned to play the guitar, to sing at the same time, and that's even how I met my wife! You can learn anything.

And if you don't want to sing, you don't have to. You'll still learn a ton of vocabulary and will understand a lot of things from spoken English by reading the lyrics.

Do I have to understand all the lyrics from a song?

In the long run, yes, of course. Keep in mind that while you're still learning, you have to find the balance between the level of difficulty and motivation:

  • If it's too hard, you'll give up (fail).
  • If it's too easy you won't improve (waste of time).
  • And if you're too complacent (you let a lot of words you don't understand slip away), you'll be in an illusion of learning.

In other words, there's no universal answer to this question. It's you who has to measure your efforts in order to always improve without getting sick of it.

Some good news - when you work on your English on a regular basis, you'll come across the same words and then we either have the chance to review what they mean (visible progress) or the curiosity to finally look up their definition. It's like running into an old friend and that's when English becomes a pleasure.

How can I be sure to improve with this method?

If you want to improve your English with songs, it's not enough to just listen to music!

Your success with songs is proportionate to a simple action - what's the frequency you look up song lyrics?

The more often you look them up, regularly, the more your ear will open up and your brain will memorize the new information. You really want to turn this into a habit - and not only for song lyrics but also for English in general.

It's too hard! I don't understand anything!

If you're an advanced level (to have an advanced level) you want to understand everything.

But if you're still a beginner, reduce the quantity in order to reach the nice balance between difficulty and pleasure. For example, aim at understanding and singing all the choruses.

If you work regularly, you can surprise yourself by the fact that you improve on a weekly basis, maybe even on a daily basis. Learning a language is organic work and, if you put in the effort, your body will adapt itself (your brain will improve and will "open your ears", your muscles will adapt to the English pronunciation).

I don't like songs.

Music in English is a nice way to reach your goal, among others. Have you tried the method seriously? Try it and give it the benefit of the doubt before giving up.

If you really have tried and it's just not for you, try finding something for your taste. Learning English with music is an interesting option, but it's not an obligation.

Won't I learn bad English by doing this?

Songs, just like literature, come in different genres. It goes from the romantic atmosphere to vulgar, from sophisticated to raw, and from formal to relaxed. So if you're asking this question (which is a good question to begin with - how do you distinguish the level or language register in English), ask yourself that about all the content you use, not just songs.

If you listen to rap, there will be more slang and vulgar words than the theme song of the Teletubbies. Having common sense should be enough to find that out.

Check the meaning and the language register of the lyrics you listen to. All good dictionaries indicate the register of a word (vulgar, taboo, etc., if there isn't anything mentioned, then it's a word which belongs to the neutral language register).

Otherwise, you risk ending up like this:

When you don't understand the lyrics of a song in English on the radio...

A lot of songs contain slang words or contractions which people pronounce but don't write. It's good to know them because native speakers use them in spoken English, too. (For vulgar terms and expressions, it's different. It's generally a good idea to understand them but not do use them).

To conclude, songs in English are just as good as other content, but they're much more accessible.

I don't understand what you mean with your idea of the relationship meaning-sound.

In the end, a word is just a label which makes us associate a sound (spoken) or letters (written) to a concept. Until we have telepathy, it's what we have invented to better communicate!

If you hear your best friend's name, you're going to visualize them in your head and feel good, for example. If I say the word "poop", you're going to make a disgusted face (or maybe laugh), for example.

Or, just as Shakespeare said it, in a more poetic way: A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

The goal when learning English is to create new associations between new words and concepts that you already know. That's it.

Is it bad to translate?

No, not per se. Translation is an excellent tool because *translation allows you to be more precise and make sure you've understood things correctly.

What's bad is to always translate when you want to speak, because that's too slow. Instead of that, you want to directly think in English (the answer to the previous question helps this).

It seems too good to be true. Can you learn the entire language thanks to songs?

Here are the limits and disadvantages of learning English with songs:

  • Prosody (intonation + rhythm) is natural. The voice pitch evolves in order to stick to the music, which means that the normal pitch people use when speaking English cannot be found (or, can rarely be found) when listening to a song. Some words are pronounced longer in order to fit the rhythm.
  • Lyrics are often blurry, sometimes incoherent. The songwriters' goal is for the lyrics to sound good, more than having a real meaning (like in poetry).
  • The instrumentation sometimes gets in the way of hearing things correctly.
  • The communication is in a way unique. No dialogue, no interlocutor, no real situation.

To sum up, the English you find in songs is a bit out of sync compared to real English. That being said, the advantages (the ease to start off and to stick to it, the increased interest and attention by students compared to English courses, practicing spoken English and making the step to finally speak) outweigh by a long stretch the disadvantages. Learning English thanks to songs is, from experience, the best way to start enjoying the process of learning English.

We can use it for years and still improve.

Dear parents, introduce this technique to your children. Music will teach them pronunciation, vocabulary and they will learn the grammar at school (which they'll be curious about, so it can help them understand what they couldn't on their own). Equipped with the desire to learn English with hundreds or even thousands of hours of practice behind them, they'll finish school with a high level of English.


By following this method of learning English with music, you'll probably have some more or less big doubts when it comes to the pronunciation of certain words.

By seeing it written, you'll think that a word is pronounced in a certain way and then, when hearing it in a song, you'll realize that they have nothing in common! What's worse, you might find it hard to distinguish the cuts between different words pronounced in the same sentence, even if you have the text in front of you. Rest assured; this is all just temporary.

The solution, if you have a doubt about the pronunciation of a word or a phrase, trust the lyrics which are sung.

On the one hand, if you're consistent with the songs, your ear (technically, your brain) will adapt to the different sounds in English and it will relearn to read and hear correctly.

On the other hand, you'll improve your pronunciation of written texts with the rest of the blog, especially with the articles dedicated to phonetics.

To summarize:

  • Get a song by your favorite English-speaking band.
  • Get the lyrics with the translation in your native language, feel free to print them out.
  • Decode the lyrics by concentrating on their meaning - associate the English words with the image that comes to mind when you think of their meaning.
  • Repeat. Listen, sing or do both at the same time but do find a way to enjoy the process!
  • Be curious and try to always understand the meaning of more and more lyrics.

As my guitar teacher said: "music is a pleasure which can accompany you during your whole life. Whether it goes well or badly, it's always a source of entertainment or consolation. Music helps us face and enrich our lives." The same goes for songs in English, whether you sing them at the top of your lungs or quietly, you'll always find both a source of satisfaction and a way to work on your English intelligently.

See also

Here's a selection of links to find out more about learning English with music:

  • Genius is an excellent site with explanations for the songs (in English). Read the lyrics and find out what the hidden meaning behind them or their origin in songs that are popular or not, in all styles. This is a great resource for intermediate and advanced learners.
  • LyricsTraining a really nice web application which makes you do dictations with songs and has several levels of difficulty.
  • You might also be interested to discover the course Click & Speak. My method to learn English. I learned English with music, TV shows, and video games. It was really fun but it takes time to find content with translations with vocabulary at this level. On Click & Speak, I have already done the hard work for you by giving you cool content to practice your English, including audio, phonetics and an intelligent progression in vocabulary and grammar.
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Fabien Snauwaert


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Dimitar Dimitrov


Last modified: July 2, 2021, 1:13 pm