What is it about music that helps boost your English skills, confidence and pronunciation? Pearson English recently researched how popular music and culture inspire English learning, citing bands like The Beatles and One Direction as two of the best for helping you learn. Common expressions, everyday language, descriptive words and metaphors are all part of the English language and present in almost all song lyrics. A song can provide an emotional connection between the music and the listener, providing a learner with new ways to express how they feel. Music and rhythm have also been shown to benefit memorisation, which is a key component of learning.
Now you know the benefits of listening to music in English, here are some of our favourite lyrics to some of our favourite songs. One you’ve had a look our list, tell us your favourite songs and lyrics with us via Facebook and Twitter.
1. The Beatles – Blackbird
As our research reveals, The Beatles are the best band to help you learn English (48%). There are many Beatles songs with catchy melodies and simple lyrics, but Blackbird captures the Fab Four at their most poetic:
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
Find out how a teacher used the music of The Beatles to give French students a taste of British culture to motivate students to learn English.
2. The Cure – Friday I’m In Love
This song is a great way to help learn the days of the week (that may be obvious). Our research also told us that the word love is the favourite English word, so this one is for all the romantics out there.
Always take a big bite
It’s such a gorgeous sight
To see you eat in the middle of the night
3. Ed Sheeran – Thinking Out Loud
Another one for the lovers, Ed’s heartfelt lyrics are huge in the mainstream pop charts. Here, he tells the sweet story of long time love in this ballad and he’s becoming one of the world’s most sought-after songwriters.
Take me into your loving arms
Kiss me under the light of a thousand stars
Place your head on my beating heart
4. The Smiths – How Soon Is Now?
This classic from Morrissey and co was voted runner-up in VH1’s Top Lyrics poll, for the lyrics: So you go and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home and you cry and you want to die’ but it’s actually the opening lines of the song that are the most intriguing. Firstly, they’re adapted from George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch and, secondly, include some rather clever double meanings – namely ‘son’ (sun) and ‘heir’ (air).
I am the son
And the heir
Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar
5. Neil Young – Heart of Gold
This was Neil Young’s only number one hit single from 1972’s Harvest album. He uses simple lyrics and melodies to tell his story of searching for true love.
I’ve been in my mind
It’s such a fine line
That keeps me searchin’ for a heart of gold
And I’m gettin’ old
6. U2 – City of Blinding Lights
Our research told us that U2 is the second best band to help you learn English and frontman Bono is the second best male artist to help you learn (edged out by Justin Timberlake). The chorus was inspired by a moment during a performance in New York City, when Bono saw the audience lit up and shouted, “Oh, you look so beautiful tonight!”
And I miss you when you’re not around
I’m getting ready to leave the ground
Oh you look so beautiful tonight
In the city of blinding lights
7. The Police – Every Breath You Take
These lyrics are a good use of repetition and rhyme, which is great for helping memorisation. Most people consider this a love song, but that’s a common mistake. In 1983, Sting was interviewed for New Musical Express and explained: “I think it’s a nasty little song, really rather evil. It’s about jealousy and surveillance and ownership.”
Every move you make and every vow you break
Every smile you fake, every claim you stake, I’ll be watching you
Every move you make, every step you take, I’ll be watching you
8. Bob Dylan – Mr Tambourine Man
Dylan’s whimsical, poetic lyrics might be difficult for an English language learner to interpret, but that doesn’t mean they’re not a pleasure to listen and sing along to.
Hey! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you
9. Madness – Our House
This song takes you through the daily goings-on in a typical household. With lines such as Father gets up late for work/Mother has to iron his shirt/Then she sends the kids to school – it’s quite clearly a story that most people can connect with. This is a great song for understanding the concept of nostalgia!
I remember way back then when
everything was true and when
we would have such a very good time
such a fine time
10. Otis Reading – (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay
Sadly, Otis Redding lost his life in a plane crash shortly after this song was recorded, and it was released after his death. His lyrics are quite reflective, and provoke feelings of both contentment and sadness. You can really imagine yourself sitting on the dock with his simple yet descriptive words.
Sittin’ in the morning sun
I’ll be sittin’ when the evening comes
Watching the ships roll in
Then I watch them roll away again
11. Leonard Cohen – Everybody Knows
No list of standout turns of phrase would be complete without Leonard Cohen, a man whose song writing process is so painstaking he’ll often spend years on the same song. When quizzed on his process, Cohen once said it often took so long because, “After a while, if you stick with the song long enough it will yield.” It’s interesting to note then that, even for a master of the English language, the words don’t always come easily. Everybody Knows remains a firm favourite among fans, with the majority of lines starting with the words ‘Everybody knows…’ It’s a lengthy song, but for the sheer beauty of its words and phrasing, the opening lines are a highlight:
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows that the good guys lost