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The best carols and Christmas songs to practice your English


christmas carol

The word ‘carol’ comes from the French word ‘caroller’ which means to dance around in a circle. Eventually, the word carol came to mean a joyful Christian song sung at Christmas time. In the 17th Century, Christmas carols were banned by Oliver Cromwell so many ancient carols have been lost, but they were made popular again in the Victorian era and have been a fundamental part of Western Christmas celebration ever since.

Songs are a great way to learn and practice your English and carols and Christmas songs are no different. Carols are almost always Christian, so I’ll include a few secular Christmas songs too. Remember that when singing in English, weak forms like ‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘the’ are often less weak than in spoken English but connected speech is about the same. I’ll provide examples of this below as well as any unfamiliar words in the Glossary at the bottom of the page.


1. Silent Night



This carol is a good one to start with because it’s nice and slow. This carol was originally composed in German and sung by both sides during World War One as part of a Christmas ceasefire.

Silent night, Holy Night

The ə in ‘silent’ is still an uh sound, but longer than in spoken English.

AllÈis calm, allÈis bright.

ÈShows connected speech as in speaking.

Round yon virgin mother and child

Holy Èinfant so tenderÈand mild

‘and’ is longer and less weak than in speaking.


2. The 12 Days of Christmas



This carol is great fun for children and adults and there are loads of parts of English you can practice with it.

On the first dayÈof Christmas my true love sent to me

In each verse you’ll use an ordinal number (first, second etc) all the way up to twelfth

Also remember that Christmas is pronounced /krɪ́sməs/: no t in the middle!

A partridgeÈinÈa pear tree

There’s also a lot of alliteration (two or more words beginning with the same letter) in this carol

On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me


Two turtle dovesÈandÈa partridge inÈa pear tree

By the end you’ll list 12 things, great for your memory!


3. White Christmas



This extremely famous song was written by Irving Berlin in 1942 for the musical film Holiday Inn. The version sung by Bing Crosby is the world’s best selling single. This song is good for practicing your silent Ts.

I’m dreamingÈofÈa white Christmas

Remember: /krɪ́sməs/

Just like the ones I used to know

Drop the T in ‘just’ and connect to ‘like’, ‘to’ is less weak than in speaking

Where the treetops glistenÈand children listen

glɪsən and lɪsən

To hear sleighbellsÈin the snow

slɛ́j bɛ́lz and some more alliteration for you


4. I Saw Three Ships



This is a nice little carol too which is thought to be about the three 3 Magi who visit the baby Jesus after his birth. It’s lively has a syncopated (uneven) rhythm which means your pronunciation skills will be tested!

I saw three ships come sailingÈin

Be careful with your S TH and SH here!

⁠ On Christmas day, on Christmas day;

/krɪ́sməs/

I saw three ships come sailingÈin

⁠ On Christmas dayÈin the morning.


5. We Wish you a Merry Christmas



This one is tricky because the chorus is so fast. Once you’ve finished singing, you should have the pronunciation of the title perfect because it’s repeated a lot!

We wish youÈa Merry Christmas (x3)

Make sure you do a nice long SH sound in ‘wish’. Don’t roll the R in ‘merry’ and no T in

Christmas

AndÈa Happy New Year

Good tidings we bring to youÈand your kin



Glossary

Secular /ˈsekjələ/: not religious

Ceasefire /ˈsiːs.faɪə/: a temporary pause in fighting during conflict

Yon/Yonder /ˈjɒndə/: that over there (this is an ancient word and not used in modern English)

Tender /ˈtɛndə/: (of a person) gentle, kind

Mild /mʌɪld/: (of a person) gentle, soft

Partridge /ˈpɑːtrɪdʒ/: a type of bird

Lively /ˈlʌɪvli/: (of a song) fast and happy, energetic

Syncopated /ˈsɪŋkəpeɪtɪd/: (of music) uneven rhythm

Tidings ˈtʌɪdɪŋz/: (ancient) news

Kin: family

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