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Learning English Advent Calendar

Updated: Jan 5

I have to admit it, I’m not really into the commercial side of Christmas. I find present buying quite stressful – so don’t do much of it. However, I do love Christmas songs and I do like a quiz.


This advent, I’m going to do a post on LinkedIn each day featuring a Christmas song and a tip about learning English.


The best place to see the posts is on LinkedIn or you can read the shortened versions below.


Follow the hashtag #learnenglishadventcalendar to see each of the posts and learn a little bit of English in a fun way.

Day 24

It’s the final day of this Advent countdown – time to celebrate Last Christmas by Wham.


In terms of learning English, it’s the gift that keeps giving.


There is so much in this song – it’s got idioms, a second conditional, present simple, present continuous, contracted will and so much more.


However, the best thing about this song for learning English is the opening line.


Which words are sung?


A.    Last Christmas I have given you my heart

B.    Last Christmas I gave you my heart.


Surely everyone knows that the answer is B.


This should help you to remember to use past simple with past time expressions such as yesterday, last week and last Christmas.


Now there’s just time for me to wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.


Day 23

Back to the 1970s for a splendid duet featuring Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing Peace on Earth/ Little Drummer Boy.


It’s the first time I’ve ever watched the video of the duet – it’s definitely worth looking at.


You might notice that the word order in the song lyrics is quite interesting. Today’s task is to re-write the lyrics of Little Drummer Boy in the style of a story.


The song’s opening line is ‘Come they told me’ which can be rewritten in the style of a story starting 'They told me to come…'.

Day 22

Time for 1950s crooner, Andy Williams.


The title of today’s song is a quick reminder of the rules about comparatives. Is it….?


A.    It’s the wonderfulest time of the year.

B.    It’s most wonderful time of the year.

C.    It’s the most wonderful time of the year.


Hope you’re enjoying the holiday feeling!

Day 21

Another upbeat song (at least the chorus is).


I’d like you to listen to Underneath the Tree by Kelly Clarkson and tell me what she sings in verse one.


A.    Tonight I will hold you close.

B.    Tonight I’m going to hold you close.

C.    Tonight I’m gonna hold you close.

D.   Tonight I gonna hold you close.


Check back later, to find out.

Day 20

Fill in the gaps to guess the name of today’s song


We’re ___________________ in the ___________.


This song was featured in the Christmas film, The Snowman which was based on the book of the same name by Raymond Briggs. The film is shown on TV every Christmas, along with some other classics such as the Wallace and Gromit series.


Anyway, back to the song. If you only had this song to go off you might think that the present continuous (I am floating) is used much more than present simple (the villages go by). Actually in real life we use the simple aspect much more than the continuous one.


If you want to know when to use simple and when to use continuous, book some lessons with me.

PS Today's song is Walking in the Air by Peter Auty.

Day 19

Today’s song features the phrase ‘used to’. We use this phrase to talk about past habits and past states.


Any idea what the song might be?


Here are some clues:


  • It’s a Christmas classic.

  • It’s got the word ‘Christmas’ in the title.

  • It’s famously been performed by Frank Sinatra.

  • It expresses the wish that Christmas is snowy!


As usual, tell me in the comments what the answer is, then check back later.


And how about practicing ‘used to’. Tell me something that you used to do but no longer do.

Day 18

Let’s do a lyric round!


I’m going to write some lyrics and you have to guess the song.


“All the lights are shining so brightly everywhere

And the sound of children’s laughter fills the air”


Do you know which song this is?


Clue – the artist has probably made millions from this. Released in 1994, it first hit number 1 in the US in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.


Any ideas? Check back later to find out if you are right.

The answer is All I want for Christmas by Mariah Carey.

Day 17

Did you guess today’s song?

It was released in 1973 and made it to number 4 in the UK charts that year.


The song is I wish it could be Christmas every day


Today’s question is as follows:


The sentiment of the song refers to the future. Bearing this in mind, why is a past tense used? I’ll let you ponder that and then check back later, when I’ll explain.


Ok. so this something that is essential for all English learners to know.


We use past tenses as follows:


1.      To talk about the past

2.     To be polite

3.     To express hypotheticality


If you want to read more about this, check out this blog post.

Day 16

Merry Xmas by Slade hit number one in the year of its release in 1973. Maybe it’s not the best Christmas song from that year but it has certainly sold a lot of copies.


Today I have a quick grammar question – one that some of my students find a bit tricky.

 What are the words of the song?


A.    Everybody’s having fun

B.    Everybody are having fun


Hopefully if you get this right, you’ll remember that the word everybody is followed by a singular verb.


If you want to know more about words like everybody and everyone, try a lesson with me.


PS Tomorrow I’ll be talking about another Christmas song from 1973 – one that I think is better than Slade’s Merry Xmas. I wonder if you can guess what it is?

Day 15

Today’s song is the John Lennon classic Happy Xmas (War is Over), seemingly as relevant now as when it was first written.


Today’s question focuses on the verb ‘hope’. Tell me what John Lennon sings:


A.    Let’s hope it’s a good one.

B.    Let’s hope it will be a good one.

C.    Let’s hope it’s going to be a good one.


Listen to the song and pop your answer in the comments, then practice using hope by completing the sentence:


I hope….

Day 14

Santa tell me – just which conditional this is????


Every line of the chorus of this lovely song by Ariana Grande features an if sentence – but none of them are the typical patterns we teach.


Two lines of the song are first conditionals but they use the imperative in the result clause, rather than will. Here’s one of the lines.


Santa, tell me if you’re really there


The other two lines put the will after the if. Here is line two of the chorus,


Don't make me fall in love again if he won't be here next year


This seems to be breaking the rules that we teach and yet it sounds ok to me.


What do you think? Is it ok to have if + will/ won’t?

Day 13

On Monday we found a first conditional.

On Tuesday it was a second.

Today we’re looking for the third.


These aren’t the only types of conditional though – there’s also a mixed and a zero. In other words there are lots of ways you can use ‘if’ in a sentence.


The reason we teach the conditionals is that ‘if sentences’ are really useful. Personally I don’t spend much time teaching the zero one as students tend to get it right without my help. The first, second and third conditionals are different though – and tend to trip up a lot of language learners. Seeing these conditionals being used correctly in real life can help you to learn these structures.


Today’s song is ‘I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’. The version I’m most familiar with is by The Ronettes and was released in 1963.


I’d like you to listen to the song and identify the correct words.


A.    What a laugh it would have been, if Daddy would have only seen.

B.    What a laugh it had been, if Daddy had only seen…

C.    What a laugh it would have been, if Daddy had only seen.


If you want to practice the third conditional, complete one of the sentences.

I would have been really happy if...

I would have been really unhappy if...

Day 12

Yesterday we were on the hunt for a first conditional and today we’re looking for the second one.

As I mentioned yesterday, conditionals are sentences with the word 'if' (or a similar word).

We use the first conditional to talk about things that are likely and the second conditional is to talk about hypothetical things, things we don’t really think are going to happen but which are nevertheless worth discussing.

To find a second conditional, you need to look for the word 'if' (or a similar word) followed by a past tense.

😕 A past tense? Even though conditionals are used to talk about the present or future?

That’s right. The past tense in a conditional shows that we are talking about something hypothetical. Confusing? Yes, but that’s the system that English uses.

Anyway, today’s song is a carol with a really lovely tune, called ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’. Your task is to search for the lyrics and spot a second conditional.

Day 11

Can you spot a first conditional?


Today’s song is Let it Snow which was written during a heatwave in 1945. It’s been recorded by various artists including Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.


Today’s task is to identify the first conditional in the lyrics.


Clue – a conditional is a sentence containing the word ‘if’ or a similar word and we use the first conditional to talk about something we think is likely.


If you find it, do put your answer in the chat!

Day 10

Today’s song is, according to my piano music, an old Welsh carol.


Being old, it has some interesting vocabulary that even I have had to look up, such as the following line


“troll the ancient Yuletide carol”


I guessed that ‘troll’ means ‘sing’ in this context, which it does, but I can’t say I’m familiar with this meaning.


So today I want you to realise that lots of words have more than one meaning and I also want you to appreciate that English pronunciation is tricky.

The first line of the song is


“Deck the hall with boughs of holly”


A bough is a large branch and I can never quite remember how to pronounce it. Is it?


A.    bough – rhymes with tough

B.    bough – rhymes with toe

C.    bough – rhymes with cow


Simply listen to the song and this should help you to remember how to say this word. If you need an extra aid, think of a visual clue to help such as a cow sitting under a bough.

Day 9

You better watch out! Or should that be you’d better?


Today’s song is Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, first published almost 90 years ago. It’s been recorded by loads of singers, including Bruce Springsteen, The Jackson 5 and Frank Sinatra.


Anyway I’m not sure whether it’s a British English vs American English thing but I would expect the first line to be you’d better but all the online lyrics I’ve checked suggest otherwise.


Anyway, let’s imagine the lyrics were ‘you’d better’. Do you know what ‘you’d better’ is short for?


A.    You had better

B.    You would better


Check back later, when I’ll tell you.


PS Most of my students get this wrong!

Day 8

'Wanna' learn something new?

Let’s listen to Justin Bieber’s Under the Mistletoe and pay attention to the use of non-standard words in the lyrics. Spoken language uses lots of shortened words and slang and these words often feature in song lyrics. 

However, in written language we tend to write out the words in full. Obviously it depends what the writing is. Text messages may contain lots of shortened words and emojis whereas an essay and other more formal pieces of writing will normally use the full forms. 

Today's task is to translate some of the song lyrics into the standard English you might need to pass a Cambridge exam.

Here are the words I want you to change into standard English

A.   I’m a be under the mistletoe

B.   I don’t wanna miss out

Check back later when I’ll tell you my suggestions. 

PS If anyone knows who or what Shawty is, do tell.

Day 7

So far you’ve learned what holly is, practiced using deduction ‘must’ and noticed that the plural of reindeer is reindeer. You’ve realised that listening to song lyrics can be a challenge and that switching on the subtitles can be a big help. You’ve also learned about words ending in ‘ly, many of them (not all) are adverbs.


Today we’re going to talk about expressing regrets by listening to Fairytale of New York by The Pogues.


In the year before I went to university, I got to see three fantastic concerts. One of those was The Pogues at Manchester Apollo – I guess it would have been Christmas 1988. It was an amazing concert with a very special guest appearance by Kirsty MacColl. I feel so lucky to have seen Fairytale of New York being performed live – it was incredible.


On Saturday evening I went to an 80s night at Papiersaal and got quite emotional listening to this song after the death this week of Shane MacGowan, who co-wrote the song.


Back to today’s topic, regrets. What words in the song express a regret?


A.   I could be someone

B.   I could been someone

C.   I could have been someone

D.   I could of been someone


Listen to the lyrics, or check them out on Google, then practice making sentences.


Day 6

It’s time for another old song today, which has just reached number 1 in the US.


The singer is now 78 years old but recorded the song when she was only 13.

It was first released in 1958, was a hit in 1960 and featured in Home Alone. More recently it has been a popular song on streaming services.


Any ideas? Check out today’s picture for a clue. Then keep reading for the answer and today’s grammar tip.


So – today’s song is Rockin Around the Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee.


And today’s topic is adverbs.


  • Many adverbs end in ‘ly.

  • Many words ending in ‘ly are adverbs.


Which of the following words from Rockin Around the Christmas Tree is an adverb?


A.    holly

B.    jolly

C.    merrily


Day 5

Back to 1981 for this song which has always been one of my favourites, Christmas wrapping by The Waitresses


This time, it’s not a quiz question. Instead, it’s a tip about listening.


Even though I’ve heard this song hundreds of times, I still can’t work out all the words are. But now I’ve just spent a few minutes doing an online search to find out the lyrics and everything has started to make a lot more sense.


Admittedly there are some cultural (US) references that I still don’t get (A&P) but overall the message of the song is much clearer.


So today’s tip is to Google the lyrics of your favourite songs so that you can sing along.

Day 4

Another old classic. This time it’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.


Two questions for today.


  1. What is the plural of reindeer?

  2. Can you spot a second conditional in the song lyrics?


Check the comments later to find out.

Day 3

Today’s song is the very beautiful Snowman by Sia. If you haven’t heard it yet, I can highly recommend listening to it.


Whilst doing so, pay attention to the way Mrs Snowman makes a promise. Listen carefully and tell me what Mrs Snowman says. Is it?


A.   I love you forever

B.   I’ll love you forever

C.   I’m loving your forever


I must admit that I'm intrigued by this one, as she doesn't sing what I expected.

Day 2

We’re going to head to a Christmas song that you might not have heard yet. The song is ‘Must be Santa’ by Bob Dylan, a fast-paced ditty, featuring lots of questions and answers about Santa Claus. Turns out it wasn’t written by Bob Dylan, as I’d assumed, rather it was written by Hal Moore and Bill Fredericks.


Today’s quiz question is about the modal verb in the title of the song. How is ‘must’ being used?


A.    To express obligation

B.    As a deduction


Tell me what you think, then check back in the comments later.

Day 1

Today’s song is Holly Jolly Christmas. It’s been recorded by Burt Ives and more recently the Bublé. You’ve probably heard the song but do you know what holly is?


If you don't know the word, can I suggest searching for it online and looking at the image results. Some words are much easier to learn in a visual way, rather than as a translation, and holly is one of those words.


If you want to remember this word, can I suggest singing along to the song and drawing a picture.



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