If you are looking for tips to learn English and improve your pronunciation, you most likely have encountered people talking about learning through music. This tip, although valuable, can be very vague and a little challenging to put into practice.
After all, how to learn through songs? Is it necessary to translate the lyrics to memorize what each word means? Or will just listening to music over and over will help you communicate better? In this post, we will give you some tips that can guide you better when using music as a tool to learn spoken English.
First, it's essential to know that, just as we need to listen to a song several times before we can sing it naturally, we also need to review its lyrics and practice it several times to use it naturally. Therefore, it is crucial to write down the new vocabulary to study and practice it.
With that in mind, English Phonetics developed the free web app. You can jot down new chunks as you learn, create your examples and even practice with features like quizzes and flashcards automatically generated by the app. So, remember to use it in your study times!
The first thing that many people make mistakes when they want to learn English with a song is translating to understand what it means. But, unfortunately, we cannot trust the literal translation from one language to another most of the time. Because in most cases, we cannot use the exact words of our native language to say something in English or vice versa.
But, we can find the equivalence of one language in another. So, from what we want to say, there is an equivalence in English and other languages.
When working with equivalences, we don't risk saying something that doesn't make sense or understanding something utterly different from what the person meant. For that, we need to work with chunks.
Chunks are the most common word combinations used by native speakers. And when it comes to communicating, we use chunks, those word combinations that often go together. So, instead of translating word by word, when trying to understand the lyrics of a song, we will translate chunk by chunk.
Let's take the chunk in English used in the song and see its equivalent chunk to understand what the singer meant.
See this example in the excerpt from The Weeknd's Save your Tears song:
I don't know why I run away
I make you cry when I run away
See that if we translated this verse literally, we would have something like
"I don't know why I run far."
"I make you cry when I run away."
Now we know what he meant, and we've learned some of the most used combinations that we can practice and implement in our vocabulary.
So this is another important tip, when learning new combinations in songs, try to implement them in other phrases, if possible, in situations that you would frequently use in your daily life.
For example, in this excerpt, we learned that I don't know why means I don't understand why. Now, complete the sentence and build other models with this combination, see:
I don't know why he did it.
I don't know why I bought this.
I don't know why you would say that.
We can do the same exercise with a runaway that we learned that, look:
You can't run away from this.
You can't run away from it.
Sometimes I want to run away.
My dog tried to run away this morning.
Another critical tip when studying the lyrics of a song is to identify the fixed and semi-fixed chunks used in the song.
Fixed chunks are combinations that will always be used the same way, like "how are you?" for example. So whenever you want to say, "How are you? / All right?" you already know you can use "how are you?" without having to think the word by word to be able to communicate.
On the other hand, the semi-fixed chunks have a fixed part, which will always be the same, while the other can be replaced, forming different combinations. By understanding how a semi-fixed chunk works and its possible replacements, you can significantly and effectively expand your vocabulary. Let's see another excerpt from the song Save Your Tears:
You could've asked me why I broke your heart.
You could've told me that you fell apart.
Here we find the following semi-fixed chunk:
you could have… / you could've… you could have…
In the same phrase, he makes two different combinations within the chunk:
You could've asked me why I broke your heart
You could have asked me why I broke your heart
You could've told me that you fell apart
You could have told me you fell apart
Now you can experiment with other substitutions that can be done within the chunk by creating your examples. Remember to always think of meaningful examples, situations where you would use that chunk. Let's see some examples:
You could've told me the truth.
You could have told me the truth.
You could've gone with me.
You could have gone with me.
You could've waited for a little.
You could have waited a while.
Here, there's one more substitution we can make if you want to say I could have... / She could have...etc. You can replace you with I, she or other people, look:
I could've helped you.
I could have helped you.
She could've come with us.
She could have come with us.
He could've studied a little more.
He could have studied a little more.
Did you see it? By better understanding the chunk used in the song, you can already form several other sentences, significantly increasing your vocabulary.
Just write everything down and practice often to be able to use it smoothly in your daily routine. And, speaking of practice, we cannot fail to mention another pertinent feature in which music can help you: pronunciation. With music, we can train pronunciation in different accents and mainly the connected speech used in the language.
Connected speech refers to the junctions of sound between one word and another that occur naturally in the spoken language. They are essential to make our speech more fluid and natural, just like a native speaker. But don't be confuse; connected speech is not about talking fast. It's about word sounds that, when combined, end up sounding a little different. Note some excerpts from the song Lovely by Billie Eilish, note that we left underlined in which the connect speech happens :
I thought I had found a way.
Oh, I hope someday I'll make it out of here.
I need a place to hide, but I can't find one near
Notice how even slowly singing the connected speech happens; this shows how essential it is to organic our pronunciation.
As we get used to this feature of the language, we increase our listening comprehension, improve our pronunciation and even our reading. So, when you find parts with the connected speech in a song, put it into practice by singing along and also speaking that phrase naturally, without the rhythm of the music.
A great practice is to record your pronunciation and compare it with the singer's, so you can see where you're getting it right and where you can change. For example, see how the excerpts above would be said naturally, without the rhythm of the music, but keeping the correct pronunciation:
Thought I found a way I felt I had found an alternative
Oh, I hope someday I'll make it out of here
Oh, I hope one day I can get out of here
I need a place to hide, but I can't find one near
I need a hiding place, but I can't find one around.
By following these steps, music will become a potent support tool in your studies and be fun! But, there is still a widespread aspect to the songs that we cannot forget to mention. By using everyday language, songs can often contain grammatical errors.
Although many of them are common in the language when spoken in informal contexts, such as "ain't," often used as slang, the best thing to do is understand what the singer wanted to say and learn the grammatically correct grammar way to say it. Check out these two excerpts from the song Congratulations by rapper Post Malone:
They said I wouldn't be nothing
They were never friendly, yeah
In the first excerpt, a grammatical error is often used in songs and informal English that we call double negative: two negations in the same sentence. Although it is a widespread feature in everyday use of the language, it is considered wrong by normative grammar. Check here how it would look in the grammatically correct way:
They said I would be nothing
They said I wouldn't be anything
They said I would be nothing/nobody.
We have something less common in the second part, but that can also be found in several songs: the improper use of the verb to be. This is a more straightforward error to notice, as it is often a vocabulary that we use. However, it causes strangeness almost immediately when we hear it. The correct way would be:
They were never friendly, yeah.
It is important to understand that, as music is an artistic expression, musicians have a certain poetic license to make mistakes like these, often to sound more melodic or it fits better with the rhythm of the music. While many of these mistakes are often used in spoken language, it's also essential to know how to say these things grammatically correctly.
Now, you are ready to choose that song that does not leave your playlist and start practicing what you learned here. So, don't forget, after selecting a fantastic song, follow these tips:
1 - Always translate chunk by chunk;
2 - Identify the fixed and semi-fixed chunks in the song and create examples with them, creating phrases that you would say in your daily life;
3 - Pay attention to the connected speech in the song and train by recording your voice to compare it with the singer's pronunciation;
4 - When identifying grammatical errors in songs, learn the grammatically correct form as well.
Your study time will be much more effective without losing the fun and lightness when studying with music. Cool huh?