Today we are going to look at a memorising technique that uses music. We are going to see how you can apply this powerful learning approach to making learning English vocabulary and phrases easier. Music is a fantastic way to get new vocabulary into your brain. It’s an easy way to improve your English vocabulary and fluency. This is a method that I have found to be really effective and at the end of the podcast, I discuss the facts that support why it works.
You will often hear us talk about repeat listening and spaced repetition as the go to learning technique for improving your English language comprehension. But we don’t talk as much about techniques for learning English phrases and vocabulary. So in today’s English phrases and vocabulary lesson, we are going to talk about things you can do to help you with remembering lists of common English words, like the days of the month, days of the week, etc.
If you are new here, welcome! I’d like to mention that we have a principle here in Adept English, a principle of only learning useful English. The English you need to hold a fluent English conversation in the UK today. We avoid using dry old English books with vocabulary and phrases you just don’t hear being used in everyday English conversations.
Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.
⭐ Chinese Proverb
We are all busy people, and our time is precious. We want you to be efficient and spend your English learning time as effectively as possible. It’s why we have a course which helps you focus on the 500 most common English words, which make up around 80% of all the words you would use in a conversation with just about anyone right here in the UK today.
The point is, you
learn the vocabulary you need first and then move on to specialist vocabulary. You don’t learn about English vocabulary for flying a plane if you’re only ever going to work in a hotel or drive a taxi. You might want to learn plane specific vocabulary eventually, but you would definitely want to learn the 500 most common words first. And then learn hotel or taxi specific vocabulary and then finally you're going to invest the time in learning about planes.
Technique Nostalgia Proverb Specialist Earworm Memorising Rhythm Precious Lyrics Joyfully
Let’s talk today about how sometimes memorising things is challenging - and how sometimes memorising happens automatically. And let’s look at how or whether you can utilise this in your language learning when you’ve got vocabulary to learn!
Hello, I’m Hilary, and you’re listening to Adept English. We will help you to speak English fluently. All you have to do is listen. So start listening now and find out how it works.
Have you ever heard it said that ‘Music is the background to our lives’? Well, if you’re out and about in towns and cities, in shops and cafes, even the hairdresser, then you’ve probably heard music whether you want to or not! Today I’m talking about English speaking music - so I guess that most often that means British or American music. And there are certain pieces of music, which powerfully remind us of certain times in our lives. And there are some pieces of music, which literally get inside our heads - and we cannot seem to stop playing them in our minds.
There is a radio station in the UK, which is very popular, not just amongst older listeners, but with young people too. It’s called Magic FM and it plays music that isn’t just current, but lots of old popular music as well. At Christmas time in December, they play only Christmas music all the way up til the 24th, which I think must drive the presenters absolutely mad. But the point of Magic FM is that people enjoy listening to it because they know the songs, they know the tunes and they like to sing along in the car or when they’re cooking or cleaning!
There’s a word in English - nostalgia, NOSTALGIA - and this word means ‘a feeling of wistfulness, a feeling of affection and longing for things from the past’, sometimes described too as ‘bittersweet’. And often, I think, it’s the nostalgia that keeps people listening to a channel like Magic FM.
A photo of women listening to music in an open lift. Use music to learn English vocabulary faster. In this article I explain why studying with songs is an extremely effective way of helping you improve your English vocabulary.
And actually if you think about it, the average person, who enjoys popular music, probably knows hundreds of songs, knows the words and can sing along. And in fact, sometimes when we hear a song or a tune from many, many years ago, we spontaneously join in - if it’s something that we knew well when we were younger, we’ll just magically remember all of the words, as soon as we’re prompted by the music.
Today I actually heard a song on the radio by George Michael called ‘Turn a Different Corner’. I haven’t heard that for years! And this song is now playing over and over in my head - whether or not I want it to. We call this phenomenon in English ‘an earworm’! That’s EARWORM. It’s as though a worm has crawled into your ear and you cannot get it out. And if you’re listening to us on Spotify, then it’s quite probable that you listen to your music on Spotify too.
It’s really interesting that this happens spontaneously. I’ve never worked at learning the lyrics, the words to songs. That’s LYRICS, lyrics. It’s just happened, without any effort I can remember them. So words set to music somehow are easier to remember.
Sometimes people play ‘beat the intro’. That’s short for ‘introduction’. This is when someone plays you a couple of bars of a song - and you have to guess what it is. And it’s really surprising how quickly some people can do that. This game ‘beat the intro’, used to be part of a British quiz show called ‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks’. In one round of this quiz, contestants on a panel had to ‘beat the intro’ - and name lots of different songs, on hearing only a couple of notes. What’s interesting also is if you get a song that you know and like, it really triggers an emotional response. A ‘Ooh, I haven’t heard this in years!’ type response, just with a couple of notes.
One app that’s launched recently is called ‘Heardle’ - that’s HEARDLE. You’ll find the link in our transcript at adeptenglish.com. If you’re into your British and American music and pride yourself on your musical knowledge, (so forgive the ‘mainly British and American’, but I think that’s what Heardle is based on), you might enjoy the challenge of Heardle. You get to hear just one second of a song, then for every time you guess its title incorrectly, you get another second of the song. It’s quite addictive and hard to beat. Obviously the keener you are on music, the more music you listen to and the more regularly you listen - the better your recall. And if you are yourself a musician, then you may be even better at this ‘beat the intro’ game.
So can we use music to help us memorise things that are harder to remember - or things that don’t automatically inject themselves into our memories, like ‘earworms’? I do remember as a child learning the English alphabet to a tune. And then when I was older, I learned the German alphabet in the same way. Funnily, I didn’t learn the French one - and I do find it harder to spell out in French. You can easily find on YouTube videos where the English alphabet is sung to music to help you remember. See the links in the transcript to some of these - on our website at adeptenglish.com of course!
Sometimes even putting something to a rhyme or rhythm helps with memory - it doesn’t even need music. A ‘rhyme’, RHYME is like a song lyric, but not sung, but said with rhythm, which is spelt RHYTHM. I remember learning the months of the year with a skipping rhyme. ‘To skip’, SKIP in English can mean to step lightly and joyfully, but its original and purer meaning is that activity where you jump on the spot with a rope.
The skipping would happen in the schoolyard with a long rope and someone turning the rope at either end. And the rhyme would go ‘When it’s your birthday, please jump in. January, February, March, April, May, June, July….’ and it was all sung to a rhythm. And assuming that no one, who’d ‘jumped in’ on their birthday month had tripped up over the skipping rope, the second verse would be ‘When it’s your birthday, please jump out’. And the months would be said again. It’s this sort of input which really seems to anchor things in our minds.
I don’t remember not knowing the months of the year in English. We use this sort of mechanism also with our times tables, with multiplication - it’s a way of committing things to automatic memory. Three nines are twenty seven, four nines are thirty six, five nines are forty five and on it goes. I just know those - I don’t have to think about it. It doesn’t need conscious thought because the repetition and the rhythm have anchored it in my mind many, many years ago.
A Johns Hopkins University study by Chris Boyd Brewer all the way back from 1995 found that listening to music puts our brains into a ‘learning state’. Both hemispheres of the brain are activated - a hemisphere, HEMISPHERE is half a sphere - you talk about the earth having northern and southern hemispheres - and about brains having left and right hemispheres.
So music activates both halves of the brain - and therefore puts us into a state of mind where associations can be made more readily and it increases our level of attention. And if you’ve ever seen people with dementia, who may become very restless and agitated, especially at night and how they respond so quickly to music and become much calmer.
Again research into this suggests that the effect is much better than any calming medication. So you might conclude two things here - that music and rhythm can help us memorise things and that music can put our minds into a state that is calmer and more ready to learn.
So what sorts of songs might you use to learn English? Well, there are plenty to choose from. In the western world at least, British and American music is everywhere - and so music with lyrics in English isn’t hard to find. Looking through some of the suggestions online - it seems that Beatles or Abba songs seem to be amongst the favourites. They’re fairly universal.
So I’m talking about English speaking music - British and American tending to dominate, though of course, Abba were Swedish but sang in English. They are fairly simple lyrics and you can actually hear what the singers are singing. There are many, many English songs that you could listen to, firstly because you enjoy them and you like to sing along. And they may be reminiscent or nostalgic for you too. But they may just help consolidate your language learning in English at the same time. Multiple benefits!
If you don’t know the English alphabet terribly well, or you’re not that clear on the months of the year, then see if you can use rhymes or rhythms or songs to help you memorise these.
If you enjoyed this podcast, don’t forget that there are many hundreds more available on the Adept English website. We’ve recently added another podcast bundle - so there are hundreds of hours of quality English language listening on there. You never need to be without an Adept English podcast, to help you improve your English language learning.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.
Thank you so much for listening. Please help me tell others about this podcast by reviewing or rating it. And, please share it on social media. You can find more listening lessons and a free English course at adeptenglish.com