Music to Your Ears is also Language for Your Mind
by Michael Ugulini
There’s something ultimately satisfying about singing along to a favourite song. Whether it’s at work, in a car, lounging in a backyard, or at the beach, music, and the words that go with great storytelling songs, is one of life’s great enjoyments. What many people don’t realize is how listening to songs provides benefits beyond the joy of the immediate listening experience.
Music is a great way for a person new to the English language to build their vocabulary. The music underlying the lyrics of a song support the words that tell a story. The music, in the form of melody, rhythm, harmony, and timbre makes learning new words a unique experience. The flow of the song along with the song’s aural delights add to the words so that they become easy to memorize and therefore memorable. Right now, think of a song that you hold dear to your heart…in whatever language you know it. In your mind, run that song through as far as you can. Immediately the words come back to you and the supporting music. The structure of music with its melodic patterns, rhyming verses, and unique turns of phrase allows this to happen. All of these things ingrain a song into your mind. You can use the power of music to help you build your English vocabulary, faster, and in a fun way.
Some studies show that music and language processing occur in the same sectors of a person’s brain. It’s no wonder that there is nothing as satisfying as a great song with great lyrics. Our mind finds it easy to process both elements together. Songs that combine words and music together in a catchy way are songs that are easy to memorize and ones where the lyrics settle in our minds very efficiently. When we here a song repeatedly, especially one we enjoy, our mind takes hold of the melodic lyric phrases and stores them for future reference. Days, weeks, months later, when we hear that familiar melody our mind calls upon the words it has stored away and we start to sing along with the song. Those words that we repeatedly heard, and now recall again, are part of our vocabulary. We, through music, without our even realizing it in many cases, have added more words to our word inventory and have them available for use in other areas of our life.
You can consciously use music to build your English vocabulary. You have done it unconsciously many times; why not make a conscious effort to use music to help your English language skills improve. It can be something as easy as going to a Karaoke night somewhere, getting up on stage and belting out the lyrics to a song as displayed on a video screen. You’re having fun, you’re reading, and you’re verbalizing what you are reading all at once. You have the song’s melody and harmony to help you. You end up memorizing words and phrases while having a memorable night of entertainments as well…unless they boo you off the stage…but that’s a whole other story.
Another way you can learn English through music is to take that CD liner card and the printed lyrics on it and read the lyrics of songs while you listen. If you have a CD that doesn’t have the lyrics included, go to the web and perform a search. Many websites have a storehouse of song lyrics where you can print up the words to your favorite songs and see in black and white the verses that tell the song’s story. When you read along with a song, you “hear” the pronunciation and inflection of words, while at the same time “seeing” them on paper.
After listening to a song a few times and reading the lyrics as you do, put the lyric sheet away and try and write out some of the words and phrases yourself on a blank sheet of paper while you’re listening. Repeat the song or songs as many times as you like while doing this. What’s great about this exercise is that you’re developing your English listening and writing skills all at once. In fact, you’re practicing your English reading skills also when you perform this exercise. You end up reading all the words you have down on paper. So you end up with three English lessons from one song.
What’s also great about using music to learn English is that you can listen to it almost anywhere and at any time. You can listen to music while working, relaxing, or while enjoying recreational activities and all the while have words, phrases, and dialects enter into your subconscious. Vocabulary from song lyrics store easily in the mind because they are normally written at a more basic level than a magazine article, book, or academic text. The words are usually shorter; the sentences are shorter; words and sentences are repeated; words rhyme. All of these things make a song’s lyrics easy to memorize and recall. Again, all of these elements help you build that vocabulary in a way that is not tedious.
Listening to song lyrics, reading song lyrics, and writing out song lyrics as you listen make you an active participant in building your English language skills. Because you love music you will spend more time doing these activities than you would studying a grammar text or dictionary. While reading a novel or non-fiction book is always a great way to build your English vocabulary skills, sometimes you’re just to tired to read. When it comes to music, you can lie back and listen to those lyrics to your heart’s content. All the while, you will be learning new words, phrases, and even some slang, and trendy terms.
Make the listening, reading, and writing of music lyrics part of your learning English program. Make singing at a Karaoke night, or in the shower, or wherever else you’re allowed, part of your regimen of vocalizing the lyrics you are learning. Music is fun, and can be one of the most enjoyable ways to build that English vocabulary you desire.