Gaining a second language unlocks a whole world of new literature. It’s one of the great pleasures of being multilingual! The ability to read another language’s classics in their original version can enrich your perspective on the world as well as your language skills.
Whatever stage your English reading skills are at, we’ve got a book recommendation: from philosophical children’s books to fast-paced thrillers to literary fiction!
Why reading stories is one of the best ways of learning English
Reading stories in English is a fulfilling study method for several reasons. Get started and you’ll wonder why you never tried it before!
Take them at your own pace
Reading stories is one of the most relaxing ways to learn English. That’s because you can control how fast you want to take in the information you’re studying. You can re-read, skip or stop and check sentences at your leisure. When practicing your listening skills, it’s more difficult to control how fast the speaker is talking. Even if you can — in the case of a YouTube video or a podcast, for instance — it usually interrupts the flow of the experience.
Writing and speaking are trickier skills to master than listening for most ESL learners. They involve knowing enough English to produce whole sentences yourself. Reading is the only core skill that allows you to use English at the most comfortable pace for you.
Make fast progress
Most adult learners find reading to be the easiest of the four language skills to pick up, and it’s not just because it’s self-paced. It’s also because reading in a second language is pretty close to reading something difficult in your first language. If you don’t know a word in a difficult sentence in your first language, you can usually work it out from context. It’s a natural way for adults to pick up new words in any language.
Learning a language is immensely rewarding, but undeniably difficult. It’s normal to feel like your progress is moving too slowly. When you’re feeling frustrated, try reading some English stories. Commit to half an hour of reading English stories every day, and in no time at all you’ll be able to understand whole paragraphs with ease. It’s a beautiful feeling when this starts to happen — no pausing, no translating in your head, just smooth comprehension!
See grammar in action
One awesome side-effect of ? Your grammar will improve too.
These days, language teachers often advise learners not to obsess over grammatical rules. The theory is, that if learners get enough exposure to the language in its natural forms, they will absorb the rules naturally. Read a lot of English stories, and you’ll get the chance to learn English grammar in a more organic way. You’ll see the patterns you have studied in action, and things will start to click fast.
Expand your vocabulary
Reading stories is one of the best ways to absorb new English words. When you discover new words within a story, you get a chance to learn them in context. Often, you’ll have an “a-ha” moment when you work out what a new word means without needing to look it up, by spotting the clues in the sentence around it.
Because your brain worked a little harder to find the meaning of this word than just by checking a dictionary, it is more likely to “stick” in your brain. You’ll also be more sensitive to the subtleties of how this word is used, which means you’re more likely to use it correctly yourself. It’s more interesting than using flashcards and immeasurably more effective!
Enjoy English in its most beautiful form
When people speak of the richness of the English language, they mean the English language as it is used in stories. When spoken, English is used in its simplest form. Grammatical rules are recklessly broken, and words are usually chosen based on the simplest one that will do, rather than the most specific option.
The writing in English stories is closer to the English you’ve studied in grammar exercises. The vocabulary is usually more artistic too. Writers spend time reflecting on the right words to use, considering subtle shades of meaning.
If you’re studying English as a language lover as well as for more practical reasons, reading stories will be really rewarding.
15 great stories for learning English (listed by skill level)
There are a lot of with on the web. But they tend to be free because they’re out of copyright — i.e., so old that their author is no longer alive to make money from them. When choosing a story, it’s important to remember that the English language changes very quickly, and you might be studying out-dated terms. The Oxford English dictionary gains ! To get the best value for your effort, it’s worth reading something up-to-date.
Here are some options, ordered by skill level from easiest to most advanced.
Please note, if you are reading this article with ease, then the first two stories on this list are definitely too basic for you. However, these suggestions might be useful to help you teach someone else Beginner English!
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle
A children’s classic that follows the first week of a caterpillar. It teaches the names of some basic food products, and is beautifully illustrated.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney
A graphic novel for children that’s great for learning up-to-date British slang. For context, “wimpy” means weak, uncourageous and easily bullied. Its style is like a comic book, so there are images to provide context throughout. Since most of the text is speech, it’s best for those who are more interested in learning spoken English than written English.
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
This is a children’s classic with notes of philosophy that adults can appreciate too, about a prince who meets a traveller on a strange planet. The original was written in French, and English is just one of many popular versions — perhaps you remember it from your childhood in another translation.
The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Edward Gorey
If you can’t bear to read a children’s book as an adult, but are still learning English, then stylish graphic novels are the way to go! You might be interested in the gothic humor and eerie illustrations of Edward Gorey.
The Gashlycrumb Tinies is definitely not suitable for children. It is an illustrated poem of 26 dramatic but whimsical deaths. Every sentence rhymes, so this book will also help with your English pronunciation.
Charlotte’s Web, Elwyn Brooks White
A very sweet, longer children’s book for those between beginner and intermediate level. A pig called Wilbur is about to be killed and eaten by a farmer, but a spider called Charlotte comes up with a plan to save his life.
When you reach intermediate level, don’t forget that many famous stories have been rewritten in simpler versions for English learners of all ages. Check to see if that great masterpiece you’re dying to read is available as a .
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Joanne Rowling
You knew this story was coming! As easy English books go, this children’s fantasy series is pretty unavoidable. Perhaps you’ve already read Harry Potter in a translation, or seen one or two of the movies. If so, you’ll have an excellent foundation to work with, since many of JK Rowling’s made-up words remained the same in every language version.
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
A fantasy book for teenagers. It’s written from the perspective of a 16 year old girl who lives in a nightmare version of the USA. Every year, one teenager is taken from every “district” and forced to compete in a reality TV show where only one person will come out alive.
It’s simple, imaginative and a good page-turner. Watch the film first to get an idea of the plot, then you’re free to concentrate on understanding the language.
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Mark Haddon
This is a brilliant mystery novel told from the perspective of a young man with Asperger’s syndrome. It is written in simple, direct language but the author skillfully implies many hilarious and thought-provoking things too. It is intended for both children and adults. This book is a great choice if you want to read literary fiction written in intermediate English.
Murder on the Oxford Canal, Faith Martin
If you don’t want to read a children’s book, but need to find a short story in very simple English, Faith Martin might be the author for you. She writes best-selling “cosy murder mysteries” — a genre where the main character solves a murder in an otherwise quaint and charming setting. The vocabulary is up-to-date and concerns everyday things. Be aware, however, that they are written in British rather than US English.
Killing Floor, Lee Child
This is the first book in a best-selling American series about the adventures of a rogue cop, Jack Reacher, fighting crime, battling his enemies and escaping bad guys. Popular thrillers are great for intermediate-level English learners: they’re designed to be read quickly, so the language is usually simple and direct.
The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
This is a classic novel that many North Americans study in high school, about the struggles of a Cuban fisherman to catch an enormous fish called a giant marlin. Hemingway is renowned for his stripped back, direct style of writing — perfect for English learners. That said, the book was first published in 1952, so some of the language is a slightly old-fashioned now.
At this level, you can pretty much read anything you’re interested in! Here are some suggestions to get you started.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
An absolute classic across the English-speaking world. It is written from the perspective of a young, white girl called Scout, as she grows up in 1930s America. Her father is a lawyer defending Tom Robinson, a black man, who is about to be punished for a terrible crime he did not commit. It is a very warm novel despite tackling such important themes.
1984, George Orwell
A short, brilliant science fiction novel set in a nightmare future where a government controls every aspect of its citizen’s lives, including language and thought. Truth no longer has any meaning, and the country is continually at war against an unknown enemy. The hero, Winston Smith, dreams of rebelling from his boring existence as a cog in the government’s wheel — and of falling in love.
It is written in very direct English, and deals with ever-relevant themes of totalitarianism, mass surveillance, and freedom of personal expression.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
A sweet story that follows the day-to-day adventures of a naughty schoolboy called Tom. He lives in a fictional town on the banks of the Mississippi with his aunt. It was written in 1876 so much of the language is outdated, but many students still choose to learn with it for its charm and insight into historical American culture.
Fun fact: it was one of the first generation of stories ever written on a typewriter.
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
The Kite Runner tells the story of a young boy called Amir and his friends growing up during a politically turbulent period of Afghanistan’s history. It is a classic novel that many American and British high school students study.
New Yorker short stories, various authors
The New Yorker magazine offers an excellent collection of . They are from a diverse selection of American perspectives, free to read and updated weekly. There is also a podcast for those who prefer to listen along to their stories.
Take your language learning to the next level with Preply
If you want to learn English stories, any of these would be a great place to start. However, if you want to find the kind of story that’ll change your life, a more personal book recommendation might be even better!
Want a story chosen just for you based on your own tastes and skill level? Book s with an English tutor on Preply, and you’ll have your own personal English expert to give you reading advice!
Preply lessons are also fully customizable. That means you could ask them to plan your lessons around a novel you’re reading, or even work through a story together.
This content was originally published here.