This post’s title mentions English, but these helpful pointers work for reading for all language learners. First and foremost, I suggest you work on learning the basics of pronunciation and oral comprehension. Developing a solid foundation before reading too much can help you avoid forming bad speaking habits. For some help, check out our articles on learning and watching helpful TV series, learning to music and using online dictionaries. Once you understand simple fundamentals, reading can be one of the most effective ways to continue practicing a new language. Let’s take a look at some of the best books to read to learn English.
The Best Books to Read to Learn English Vocabulary, Grammar and More
If you only work on writing and reading, you risk developing poor language reading habits. In countries where the school system emphasizes teaching writing, students may have a stronger accent. I talked about this problem in a previous post on the importance of taking risks to improve speaking.
But that doesn’t mean that you should not read. On the contrary, it can be an effective and fun way to make great progress. Reading functions to expand your vocabulary and grasp of proper sentence structure without your even noticing. Plus, it’s a great feeling to have finished your first book in English (or in any other foreign language). Those feel-good vibes can be a major motivator for you to move on to the next great book.
How Do I Know What the Best Books to Read to Learn English Are?
In a previous post, we provided a list of books categorized by language and level.
It’s not hard to improve your English when you find the best books to read to learn English vocabulary and grammar in a fun, effective way. One tried-and-true method is to pick a book that you have already read in your native language. The other important consideration is to select a book that is appropriate for your level (not too hard, not too easy).
The Harry Potter series has helped millions to learn English. The advantage of Harry Potter is that the level of writing gradually becomes more difficult for advanced English learners. The author J.K. Rowling clearly had practice refining her style with each additional book, so the progression is perfect. Once you start, you won’t be able to stop. You’ll find a good amount of specialized vocabulary dealing with magic and sorcery. Keep a dictionary handy in the beginning, and you’ll know the words by heart by the end.
If you use our iPhone/Android MosaLingua app, don’t forget to take advantage of our search function and dictionary and to create new cards to help you learn any word in no time.
Some other authors I particularly like who write books that both kids and adults can enjoy, and that are great for learning English include:
- Roald Dahl (Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, are a few of my favorites, but he also wrote short story collections that are worth checking out)
- E.B. White (Charlotte’s Web)
Reading novels are great, but let’s face it: they can be the hardest to understand and are best for advanced English learners.
There are both short stories and novels in English, where a basic level of language is used especially for beginners. Detective and true crime are good for maintaining your interest. The suspense and mystery tend to make you want to keep reading. Here are a few authors who write crime books specifically for beginners:
Best books to read to learn English: personal development books
Otherwise known as self-help or self-development books. Another option is to look at self-help or self-development books that focus on a specific topic. In general, these books will use a smaller range of words than a novel. They tend to have short sentences compared to classic English literature, and give instructions that are concrete and easy to understand. And if you pick a topic that really speaks to you, you’ll naturally have an easier time understanding. You’re basically killing two birds with one stone by learning English and a new subject. The disadvantage is that if you don’t like it, you probably won’t want to finish reading it.
Luca made a video about 5 of his favorites from the self-help book genre and what they can teach us about language.
Here are some ideas of the topics that may be of interest to you when determining which best books to read to learn English and also help in your English writing:
- Meditation, yoga
- Child education
- Computers, Information Technology
What Device Should I Read On?
You can get an old fashioned paper copy of a book if you like to write in the margins. Another option is to get an electronic book that is compatible with your e-book reader, tablet or computer. With electronic versions, you often have access to an integrated dictionary that lets you click a word to see its definition. You can also often highlight and make virtual notes on these devices.
My suggestion is to use the free Kindle Reader available for PC, Mac, iOS, Android, etc. It comes with an integrated dictionary and even permits you to listen to a word’s pronunciation. It’s perfect for reading the best books to learn English.
I personally own a Kindle tablet (worth around $100). I find it very practical. It has the advantages of a book but with more functionalities and convenience. It’s portable and lightweight enough to be taken anywhere. With the integrated dictionary and the ability to have an entire library in one place, it’s invaluable. Your local library might even have free books that you can check out and read electronically.
What Should I Do if I Have Trouble Understanding?
Not only is it totally normal to not understand every word, but it is not even necessary. Context is king. You don’t need to comprehend every word as long as you get the main gist from the surrounding words. If you understand everything, you’re probably reading at too easy of a level. Aim to find a book in which you understand roughly 70% of the words. Of course, when you see a word 10 times in a story and don’t know the meaning, check it out on an online dictionary.
If you’re feeling like you need to review more, take a look at our MosaLingua apps that jump-start your language learning and enable you to learn vocabulary at lightning speed.
The important thing is to find a great book at the right level. One that challenges you without leaving you discouraged and ready to quit.
Pay close attention to pronunciation
Reading takes thinking about meaning, but it’s good to also think about pronunciation. It might seem strange, but reading aloud has proven highly effective. Even if you just say the words aloud in your head, you’re forcing your ears and your mouth to become accustomed to another sound system. Still, working on your pronunciation outside of reading is important so that you form a strong base from the beginning. Otherwise, poor pronunciation habits can become “fossilized” in your mind, making it difficult to later un-learn them.
Listen to the audiobook while reading
I encourage you to listen to the audiobook version while you read to optimize your English language learning. This strategy will teach you the fundamentals of good pronunciation. It’s great for languages like English where there are more than 1000 ways to write the same sound!
You can also use a synthetic speech feature that reads the text to you (like you see on Kindle ebooks). But I find that a human voice makes for a more natural learning environment.
Don’t forget there’s Amazon’s WhisperSync for Voice, which can automatically synchronize the audiobook and the text copy. All you need is a book that is compatible with it to get started. If you want to test it out, there’s a list of books that come with a free audio version. Unfortunately, the Audible app for iPhones and iPads isn’t available in every country yet. It’s easy to create an account (see this video), and you’ll have access to apps in English that are inaccessible elsewhere.
Why Should I Read in a Foreign Language?
If you’re still not convinced that you should read books to master the English language, listen to what Luca has to say about it:
By the way, have you already subscribed to our YouTube channel? We post new video tips and tricks for language learners every week.
There you go, I hope that this article on the best books to read to learn English has been helpful to your learning endeavors. If you wish to become an English learner, it is important to stay active within a learning community. What about you all, have you already read your first book in English? Let us know in the comments section below which books you’ve conquered. Or what’s holding you back from starting to read a book?