Want to learn English but don’t know where to start? Then listen up!
Music has a fascinating ability to entertain, soothe, or convey messages and ideas. So why not use it to learn a language? Pop, rock, rap, metal… there’s something for everyone, and thanks to online platforms, discovering (or rediscovering) the right kind of music has never been easier.
So, whether you’re just getting started or are a seasoned learner, here are five English-language artists that you can listen along to and improve your speaking… or rather singing.
1) The Beatles (equivalent to level A1-A2)
John, Paul, Ringo, and George: four artists of undeniable talent, whose influence on musical history is still talked about today. For nearly a decade – from 1960 to 1969 – the Liverpool band recorded nearly 12 albums and 227 songs, including the timeless Let It Be, Hey Jude, and Yesterday.
As far as language goes, The Beatles’ songs are easy to understand and perfect for helping you along your learning process, so most are suitable for beginner learners of English. Their relatively slow pace and simple vocabulary will have you memorizing the words in no time. From a cultural point of view, John Lennon’s working-class Scouse accent will help you get used to Northern English accent and pronunciation.
Our favorite song: Imagine
2) Spice Girls (equivalent to level B1-B2)
It all started with an ad published in The Stage newspaper, seeking singers for a new female group. That group was the Spice Girls. Those of us of a certain age will still remember that banger, Wannabe, playing constantly across all radio stations in 1996. The English pop group comprised five personalities: Victoria Beckham, Mel B, Mel C, Geri Halliwell, and Emma Bunton, each with their own unique style. The popstars built a real brand in the early 2000s, advocating powerful messages such as feminism, freedom of expression and gender equality.
Their songs prove to be a very effective tool for improving your English, best suited for intermediate learners. Listening to the Spice Girls will help get you accustomed to the typical sounds of English accents and allow you to improve your intonation.
Our favorite song: Say You’ll Be There
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3) Madonna (equivalent to level B2-C1)
Nicknamed the Queen of Pop, half-American, half-Italian singer, dancer, and actress Madonna is a cultural icon of the 20th and 21st century. With over 335 million records sold worldwide, she ranks among the most influential artists. She owes her undeniable reputation to her array of controversial songs such as Like a Virgin, Vogue, and Like a Prayer. Now in her 60s, she shows no sign of stopping: her new album, Madame X, hit number 1 in the charts.
Not only will her songs improve your listening and speaking skills, but they will also help you build up your vocabulary and learn new idiomatic expressions. Despite the songs sometimes having a fast pace, you will quickly get used to conversational American English.
Our favorite song: La Isla Bonita
4) Adele (equivalent to level C1)
Musical legend Adele comes from a working-class background, having grown up in the multi-ethnic Tottenham district of London. Born with an incredible voice, the singer is as much of a fan of the Spice Girls as we are (see #2 above). Singing from the age of 4, she launched her musical career with her debut single Hometown Glory. This was followed by tune after tune, each as moving as the other, and undisputable global success.
With a musical style often described as “heartbroken soul”, Adele’s songs are characterized by a melancholic rhythm, as well as a slow and gentle tempo. Linguistically speaking, the mix of local slang and Cambridge Dictionary English will pique the interest of any language learner. You can also check out some of her interviews where the singer speaks with a typical London accent.
Our favorite song: When We Were Young
5) Kendrick Lamar (equivalent to level C2)
Yes, you really can learn English by beating along with Kendrick! Both a rapper and a songwriter, he has already made a profound mark on the musical and political landscape of the United States at just 35 years old. He is also one of the leading figures in the Black Lives Matter campaign. In his tracks, the rapper tackles social issues such as the daily violence in certain working-class neighborhoods in the United States, racial discrimination, and police brutality.
The rapper from Compton, Los Angeles – the birthplace of gangsta rap – uses a very verbal and familiar style in his songs, using a lot of contractions, such as “ain’t” (“am not”), “gotta” (“got to”) or “gonna” (“going to”). But remember, there’s no such thing as a slow rap, so hold on!
Our favorite song: DNA
Bonus: Gil Scott-Heron
Known as the godfather of rap, Gil Scott-Heron is considered a giant of the spoken word in the 1970s. Largely influenced by The Last Poets during his youth, his music is intended as a weapon against the forms of injustices affecting the African American community in the United States. Like any poet, he is engaged in several causes which he evokes throughout his songs, including the treatment of black people and street violence, but also nuclear energy and environmentalism.
Our favorite song: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
Music, whatever the genre, can be a very easy and useful additional method of language learning. But to make sure you master all the subtleties of the English language, you need Gymglish: fun and short online English lessons tailored to fit your learning goals and needs.
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