When beginning to learn a language, one can go about it in many ways: travelling, watching TV shows and movies, subscribing to online language lessons or reading up on some classics in your target language.
Books of all shapes and sizes are a fantastic way to improve your level of English, particularly if you read them. Sadly, fiction is a somewhat neglected way of learning a foreign language. Many learners just aren’t into investing in a 400-page novel in a foreign language. We get it – we barely read our emails at this point.
Nevertheless, books are extremely helpful in your language learning journey. Not only will they improve your English, but they will also help build vocabulary and improve your spelling. Don’t forget that audiobooks are also a great way to learn the language and work on your listening skills. We won’t tell anyone that you “read” your book while riding public transport.
Without further ado, here is a selection of five fantastic books to read when learning English.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1943)
Who would have thought this list would start with a French book? We certainly didn’t. The English version of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince is surprisingly recommended for beginner learners of English and can be enjoyed time and time again. Likely, you will already be familiar with the book in your native language, which will help you speed through this one.
With over 200 million copies sold worldwide and 400 million readers, The Little Prince has become a timeless work of literature. With just 96 pages, this novel is great to use as a starter in your English learning journey. It will not only allow you to expand your English vocabulary but also learn idiomatic expressions, all of which are illustrated with watercolors of the famous golden-haired boy.
Pro tip: although the narration is quite simple, there are lessons to be gleaned from this blonde interplanetary child, so don’t judge this book by its cover.
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (1911)
A book that will make you lament the inexorable march of time, Peter Pan will appeal to your inner child and possibly your real child as well. In his famous 1911 tale, Scottish author J. M. Barrie tells the story of a boy named Peter Pan who has no desire to grow up and who, one night, convinces Wendy Darling and her brothers John and Michael to follow him to the imaginary land of Neverland. Ripped from the pages of our reality when you think about it.
As you read and discover the book’s cast of characters such as Captain Hook, Nana, Tinker Bell, and the lost boys, you’ll discover new sentence structures, vocabulary and grammar. Some editions even offer a glossary at the end of the book with the phonetics of each word. A fair warning: after reading this book, you will constantly curse the Disney movie for its lack of realism.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (2003)
Christopher John Francis Boone, fifteen years, three months and two days old, has Asperger’s syndrome. He knows all the countries and their capitals by heart, and all the prime numbers up to 7,507. One night, his life takes a strange turn when he discovers the dead body of Wellington, his neighbor’s dog.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is an unusual novel in that it is written in a first-person writing style and lasts 233 shortish chapters. British author Mark Haddon immerses the reader in Christopher’s world as he sees it, complete with drawings and sketches. The novel is accessible to non-English speakers and is so intriguing you’ll want to finish it in one sitting.
Pro tip: the first-person narration can be disorienting at first. The book also includes complex mathematical formulas, which may cause some confusion, but this shouldn’t affect your reading.
Did you know? Not only is this a very good book for learning English, but it also had an award-winning adaptation on the stage.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843)
A Christmas Carol is one of the most popular and read stories in the English language. It is a tale by one of the most famous authors of British literature, Charles Dickens, and is sure to make an indelible mark.
On Christmas Eve, Ebenezer Scrooge is haunted by four ghosts (his former partner Jacob Marley, along with the spirits of the past, present and future). Scrooge is taken on journeys by the spirits to show how his actions affect his own life and the people around him.
Did you know? The term scrooge, named after the novel’s protagonist / antagonist, is now used to designate a miserly person, often a rich and grumpy one in English.
Pro tip: some words and expressions can be tricky (after all, it is Dickens). Feel free to use this chapter-by-chapter vocabulary list to simplify your reading experience.
Agatha Christie’s detective stories (1920 – 1975)
Detective stories are an excellent way to develop your vocabulary and improve your understanding of the English language. Agatha Christie will accompany you on your journey: whether it’s behind closed doors on an isolated Devon Island in And Then There Were None, aboard a legendary train in Murder on the Orient Express, or alongside Hercule Poirot to solve the mysterious death of the famous painter Amyas Crale in Five Little Pigs. Agatha Christie helps readers in their own investigation by clearly introducing each character, and giving clues to their nature with the help of dialogue. Her novels are so compelling that you will progress in English without realizing it.
Pro tip: each of Christie’s investigations are different, and the degree of difficulty may vary from one book to another. We cannot guarantee a perfect understanding of the 91 books but highly encourage reading them all!
In the meantime, don’t forget to try our online English course Gymglish for free for 7 days.