Language learning with songs can be a lot of fun. If you choose a song with a  story or a message, you can use the song as a text to learn about language and culture.

First, if you want to test your ability to understand song lyrics, start with a site called Lyrics Training — you can choose a song (music video) and type the words as you listen. There are different levels, so start with a slow song and an easy level and then work your way up.

☆ ☆ ☆

Here’s the beginning of a list of English-language songs with stories and messages. I’ll be adding more as I think of them, so keep checking back. Some of these songs are pretty old. Some are new. Variety is the spice of life!

If you want listen to the song, try YouTube. If you want to find the lyrics, google the title of the song, the artist’s name and the word “lyrics”.

(alphabetically, by group name, or last name)

Songs about new beginnings

  • Arcade Fire – “Ready to Start”
  • Natasha Bedingfield – “Unwritten”
  • Beyonce – “At Last”
  • Black Eyed Peas – “Own It”
  • Black Lips – “Starting Over”
  • Bon Jovi – “It’s My Life”
  • Bright Eyes – “First Day of My Life”
  • Byrds – “Turn, Turn, Turn”
  • Chicago w/ Earth, Wind & Fire – “Beginnings”
  • Jimmy Cliff – “I Can See Clearly Now”
  • Craig David – “Walking Away”
  • Death Cab for Cutie – “New Year”
  • Des’ree – “You Gotta Be”
  • Bob Dylan – “New Morning”
  • Eminem – “Lose Yourself”
  • Gloria Estefan – “Reach”
  • Fleetwood Mac – “Don’t Stop”
  • Goo Goo Dolls – “Better Days”
  • Foo Fighters – “Learn to Fly”
  • High School Musical – “Start of Something New”
  • Hoku – “Perfect Day”
  • Journey – “Don’t Stop Believin'”
  • R Kelly – “I Believe I Can Fly”
  • Kinks – “Better Things”
  • Lady Gaga – “Edge of Glory”
  • John Lennon – “Just Like Starting Over”
  • Madonna – “Express Yourself”
  • Bob Marley – “Three Little Things”
  • Ziggy Marley – “Tomorrow People”
  • Curtis Mayfield – “Move On Up”
  • MPeople – “Moving On Up”
  • No Doubt – “You Can Do It”
  • Oasis – “Whatever”
  • Liz Phair – “Go West”
  • Pink – “Get This Party Started”
  • Diana Ross – “I’m Coming Out”
  • Gwen Stefani – “What You Waiting For?”
  • Sting – “Brand New Day”
  • The The – “This is the Day”
  • U2 – “Beautiful Day”
  • Vampire Weekend – “Blake’s Got a New Face”
  • Van Morrison – “Brand New Day”
  • Zombies – “This Will Be Our Year”


Songs connected to traveling (literally and sometimes metaphorically):

  • “Hit the road, Jack” (Ray Charles)
  • “Roam” (B-52s)
  • “Holiday” (Madonna)
  • “Drive my car” (Beatles)
  • “Where the streets have no name” (U2)
  • “Around the world” (RHCP)
  • “Life is a highway” (Rascal Flatts)
  • “Fly away” (Lenny Kravitz)
  • “Learn to fly” (Foo Fighters)
  • “Come away with me” (Norah Jones)
  • “Wish you were here” (Pink Floyd)
  • “On the road again” (Willie Nelson)
  • “Leaving on a jet plane” (various artists)
  • “Changes in latitude, changes in attitude” (Jimmy Buffet)
  • “Homeward bound” (Simon & Garfunkel)
  • “Walking in your footsteps” (The Police)

About specific places

  • “Empire State of mind” (Jay-Z and Alicia Keys)
  • “Carolina in my mind” (James Taylor)
  • “Marrakech express” (CSN)
  • “Stairway to heaven” (LZ)

♪  ♪  ♪  ♪  ♪  ♪  ♪ 

Some songs with other stories & messages

(alphabetical order by artist name)

  • Aerosmith – “Janie’s Got a Gun”
  • Christina Aguilera – “Beautiful”
  • Beyoncé – “I Was Here”,  “Flawless”, “Run the World”, “Pretty Hurts”,  “Freedom” and many others
  • Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) – “This is America”

  • Kelly Clarkson – “People Like Us”
  • Colbie Caillat – “Try”

  • Coldplay – “Talk”
  • Phil Collins – “Another Day in Paradise”
  • The Cranberries – “Zombie”
  • The Cure – “Killing an Arab” (it’s not what you think)
  • Ani DiFranco – “Self Evident” (not really a song but a spoken word poem, about 9/11)
  • En Vogue, “Free Your Mind”
  • Melissa Etheridge – “I Need to Wake Up” (theme song from “An Inconvenient Truth”)
  • Foo Fighters – “Best of You” — Love this song. Especially because the title could mean two different things. And it’s a great song to blast really loudly when you need motivation.
  • Aretha Franklin – “Respect”
  • Michael Franti – “Bomb the World”
  • Jay-Z (with U2, Rihanna), “Stranded: Haiti Mon Amour” (the video has images of the devastation of the Haiti earthquake in 2010.
  • Jay-Z & Ne-Yo – “Minority Report”
  • Ana Johnsson – “We Are”
  • Peter Gabriel – “Not One of Us”, “Biko” and other songs
  • Marvin Gaye – “What’s Going On”
  • Green Day – “Minority”
  • Lady Gaga – “Paparazzi”, “Born This Way” and others
  • Logic – “1-800-273-8255” featuring Alessia Cara and Khalid

  • Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis – “Same Love”
  • Bob Marley – “Them Belly Full But We Hungry”
  • Midnight Oil – “Beds Are Burning”
  • Miguel – “Candles in the Sun”

  • MILCK – “Quiet” (warning: this has some images about assault/abuse that may make some people uncomfortable)
  • Joni Mitchell – “Big Yellow Taxi”
  • Mona Haydar – “Hijabi”

  • Pink – “F*@>in’ Perfect”, “Dear Mr. President”, “Stupid Girls” (love that video!), Don’t Let Me Get Me”, “Raise Your Glass” “What About Us” … and other songs

  • The Police – “Walking in Your Footsteps”
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Throw Away Your Television”
  • Rihanna — American Oxygen

  • Nina Simone – “Strange Fruit”
  • Soul II Soul – “Get a Life”
  • Edwin Starr – “War”
  • Sting – “Englishman in New York”, “They Dance Alone” (good for Spanish majors!) and other songs
  • Serj Tankian – “Empty Walls”
  • Taylor Swift – “Mean”
  • TLC – “Unpretty” and “Waterfalls”
  • U2 – “One”
  • U2 – “Walk On” is about Aung San Suu Kyi
  • Suzanne Vega – “Luka”
  • Stevie Wonder – “Happy Birthday”
  • Neil Young – “Ohio”

More to come…

Below I’ll add some of my favorite music videos (more to come; this is a work in progress). Some won’t be the best for language learning, but I do think they’re great songs (and great videos).

Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Californication” (1999).

Foo Fighters, “Learn to Fly” (1999). These guys always look like they’re having so much fun — when they perform and when they do videos.

Adele, “Rolling in the Deep” (2010). It’s no wonder she won a Grammy.

Beyonce, “Run the World” (2011). Fearless.

(last updated Spring 2015)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s