How much American or British music do you listen to? If you're like most people, the answer is "lots". How can we turn your casual music listening into an opportunity to work on your English?

Here I'll present two ways to enjoy English-language music while listening to and reading the lyrics: on YouTube and in your desktop music player. The first option requires minimal installations on your computer. It uses music videos available on YouTube, combined with a little script that displays and synchronizes the lyrics on the screen. What you'll need to do:

1) Use Firefox. For the kind of customization I suggest in this article and others, Firefox is really unparalleled. Download it here.
2) Install the Firefox add-on Greasemonkey. This is a little tool that allows you to use custom scripts to change all kinds of things about how your browser works.
3) Install YouTube Lyrics by clicking the "Install this script" button at the top right of the screen. A confirmation window will pop up, click yes, install.
That's it, now just go to YouTube, look up a music video that interests you, open the lyrics option that now appears on the right side under the video info. You may have to choose the correct title and change the site being searched (the automatic option lyricwiki seems to not be working).

To display lyrics in your desktop media player you'll need to install a plug-in for your specific player. If you're using Windows Media Player, you should consider switching to a better program. See this article for some good options.
For this example, I'll show you Mini Lyrics search tool because it supports almost every media player in existence.
1) Install MiniLyrics.
2) Follow the instructions on how to set up your player.
3) Open up your player — the lyrics panel opens automatically.

Now that you have the technological tools set up, try a listening exercise. Listen first without looking at the lyrics. Try to get a general idea of what the song is about. Write down specific words you think you hear. You can listen as many times as you like to try to extract meanings. Then try looking at the lyrics. Are there any surprises? What did you understand correctly? Look up any words you don't understand.

I hope this is an enjoyable way to understand and learn language skills from the lyrics to your favorite music. Don't be too disappointed if musicians you like have stupid lyrics — after this exercise you can go back to listening without paying attention to the words.


Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License This site is the work of L. Hornbake, with participation by students.