Using music to teach English

The flip side of music

Teaching English using popular music

For almost all learners, music is a significant part of their daily life. John Ryan sees this as an opportunity to personalise learning by using the lyrics of popular music as a flipped learning resource.

Student preferences in learning

All students have a unique personality: they all have different interests and their opinions about what they are learning will vary. While progressing  from secondary to tertiary education and then into the world of work, young people will focus on what they enjoy or believe will benefit them, and this shapes the closing stages of their academic life accordingly.

The same is true of younger students: the response of primary children is inevitably shaped by their personal preferences and interests, whether they are outdoor types, like building things, sporty, creative or just simply enjoy a particular subject. Individual personality, mood and characteristics all play a role. Teaching for personalised learning, using a learning model that suits the student is now a mainstream response. The student is taught rather than the subject.  

The potential of music when teaching EAL

Flipped learning with musicMusic can provide an unusually powerful way of personalising learning when teaching English as a Second or Alternative Language, allowing students the opportunity to learn using a medium in which they are already interested. Music occupies a central place in the lives of almost all learners and is inevitably heard on a regular basis, whether by the choice of the individual or when played by others. They hear it at home, in shops they enter or when played by others in their locale.

The use of English is now central in songs, which learners, whatever their mother tongue,  hear on a regular basis, and of course these lyrics will use different parts of speech. Every song must have a noun as it must be about something or someone. The people in the song have to be doing something, which requires the presence of a verb. Songwriters and singers are usually descriptive and it would be  strange song in which nouns are not described in some form, which entails the use of an adjective. And so on and so forth. Using a carefully chosen song in English with which learners are familiar can therefore be a powerful way to personalise the teaching of EAL.

Using music to personalise and flip learning

Using music to enhance student learningSongs that students already know therefore illustrate the English language at work and can be used to guide learners to the realisation that they already know much more about the use of the language than they may have thought, albeit perhaps on a subconscious level. Working with material with which students are familiar can unlock the learning process, as learners can focus on songs which interest them. As they discuss them in class, the context of their learning is powerfully flipped. As they already know it, they are ready to use it.

Early years learning with musicWorking with material which is appropriate and relevant to them in terms of interests, aspirations and culture is a great motivator, presenting an opportunity for students to take control of their learning and work independently, at least in some form. This enables them to go beyond learning the mechanics of learning English and to foster key skills such as critical thinking, teamwork and analytical processes. This is relevant at any age – for younger learners only beginning to experience the world and thus developing their social viewpoint just as much as those about to make choices that will affect and shape their adult life.


As an area central to the life of most learners life, music can be applied to the learning process in a powerful way and allows for an accessible means to present education as relevant in the world of the student, as opposed to a separate space disconnected from all that is outside the classroom. As a result, the academic arena and the student’s social space interconnect, to the great benefit of their learning.

John Ryan 

John is head of Educational Content at Muso Education, an educational company that teaches English language and literacy through music familiar to the learners.



Muso - teaching ESL with musicSamples of their work, information about the company and its approach as well as details of how to access the database of resources can be seen at, or by emailing John at:

Featured images from Pixabay – the free image website.

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