Using Songs to Help ESL Students

in Song

A few years ago I met some Japanese tourists who spoke very little English. The English they did know came from songs by the Beatles. Although this wasn't very practical in everyday communication it highlighted to me how we absorb information presented with rhythm and melody. If this information has other hooks like rhyming and is placed with contemporary music the laborious and dry task of learning information can be made enjoyable and even subliminal . The advertising industry has used this for many decades.

The owner of a large chain of English schools in Brazil suggested to me that adult contemporary pop songs whose lyrics contained concentrated areas of grammar would be of great benefit to ESL students. The concept of using songs to aid in the teaching/learning of English is not a new one. When I looked into this area I found that the songs being used are either aimed at children, or standard songs whose only real "English learning benefit" is that they are composed in the English language.

Over the past 2 years I have been composing songs that contain a grammatical focus in their lyrics. They cover difficult grammatical areas such as irregular verbs and prepositions.

Case Study

Irregular Verbs Song (chorus)

Every place we've been, every song we've sung,

Every fight we've fought, every race we've run,

Every time we've lost our way we've found a path that leads us through.

Every fear we've felt, every inch we've grown,

Every word we've said, every thought we've known,

Every thing we've done and every thing we do,

Ties a part of me to a part of you.

Visit this YouTube link to view the chorus of the Tutortunes video for the above lyrics.

If you can learn the lyrics to this chorus you have learned 11 irregular verbs in their past participle form. The song actually contains 21 irregular verbs each sung in context in all 3 of their forms (present past and past participle.. So an advanced student who can learn the entire song (This is a very large advanced song) has not only learned the three forms of 21 irregular verbs but can also apply them in a phrase.

This knowledge is recalled differently to material learned in a "studied" way. Think how hard it is to recall the exact words of a story but how easy it is to recall them in a song.. I propose that lyrics presented in "catchy" pop songs that don't sound like childrens music but like other contemporary pop songs will help improve the areas of English grammar that are not  logical, such as irregular verbs.

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Grainger Lock has 1 articles online

For more information and samples relating to pop songs composed for the ESL industry visit

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Using Songs to Help ESL Students

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This article was published on 2010/04/03