Reading is one of the best ways to improve your English. Whether you are preparing for a Cambridge exam or just studying to improve your language skills, you should be reading outside of class. It’s a great way to improve your vocabulary, explore new structures, see expressions used naturally and really get a feel for the language.
The best books to read first are books that you have already read in your own language.
What is your all time favourite book? Why not try reading it again in English?
Here (in no particular order) are my top 5 books for language learners:
1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night – Mark Haddon
This is always the first book I recommend to students when they ask me for a good book to read. It’s a lovely story about the adventures of a young boy, Christopher, who suffers from autism.
Christopher goes to a special school and finds it very hard to understand and communicate with people from the outside world. He discovers that his neighbours’ dog has been murdered and decides to investigate the crime. This takes him on a terrifying and challenging journey that changes his life.
The story is told by Christopher, which means the language is simple and easy to understand. It was the first book I read in Spanish and all my students who have read it have loved it!
2. Fantastic Mr Fox – Roald Dahl
In fact any book by Roald Dahl, the greatest children’s author of all time! He got me into reading when I was a child and I think his books are great for adult language learners too!
Fantastic Mr Fox is the story of three mean local farmers and a sly fox who steals their chickens, geese and apple cider to feed his family and friends. Boggis, Bunce and Bean (the horrible farmers) plan to capture the fox by digging into his home, but Fantastic Mr Fox has a plan of his own….
Another great thing about his books are the illustrations by Quentin Blake. You'll have to buy one to find out more!!
3. The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway is famous for his clear, minimalist style of writing - perfect for language learners. He used short sentences and got straight to the point, and he did it brilliantly!
The Old Man and the Sea is a short novel about an epic battle between an old Cuban fisherman and a giant fish. Hemingway uses the simple story as a fable which explores the themes of challenge, courage, survival, defeat and personal triumph.
It’s a book I’ve read several times and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!
4. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
It’s a modern classic, and a popular one to read at school. It was the set text for the Cambridge Advanced Exam earlier this year and a lot of our students already knew the book. Whether you’ve read it in your own language or not, it’s a good one to try in English.
The book begins with a plane crash which leaves a group of boys marooned on an island. Alone on the island, they elect a leader and create their own society. Things go horribly wrong and a war for leadership begins. The boys turn savage and form two rival tribes, resulting in panic, fear and death.
It will make you think about human nature; will our cruelty and hunger for power end up destroying us.....?
5. Empty World – John Christopher
I read this book at school and it really caught my imagination. The language is simple because it was written for a teenage audience, but it is as dark, disturbing and thought provoking as any adult book.
When Nick’s parents are killed in a car crash, he moves to live with his grandparents. Shortly after the move, a deadly virus spreads around the world and kills most of the population. Nick is left alone to survive in a lonely and empty world…..
It’s probably one you haven’t heard of before but it’s worth a read if you manage to find a copy!
Director of Studies - Edinburgh Language Centre