Have you ever read a whole book in English? Maybe you have tried but never made it to the end, or maybe you started to read one, didn’t recognize most of the words, and gave up? That’s because books can have complicated vocabulary or grammar. Well, if that’s your case, keep reading this blog post because we have created a list of books for ESL students to learn English. We also explain why you should read to learn English, go over some strategies for you to have a better reading experience, and give you a list of good children’s books in English for you to get started.
Reading is important to learn English
For any language, there are four types of skills to learn: writing, listening, speaking, and reading. Most people want to focus on speaking, and so they search for English courses that will emphasize that skill. We get that! In fact, we encourage speaking as much as possible.
Although speaking is important, the best way to learn new words is actually by reading. When you read, you see new words in context, which makes you learn them by understanding the situation — just like you learned your native language.
Besides improving your vocabulary, reading also helps you learn sentence structure and grammar rules. And, on top of all that, reading is fun! It helps you escape reality and broaden your imagination. Are you convinced that reading is important?
What kind of book should I read?
When choosing a book to read in your native language you don’t have to worry about understanding the language itself, so you can just go ahead and pick something that suits your fancy. As an English learner, when choosing a book to read in English, you need to pay attention to the level that book is recommended to.
Some publishing houses, such as Pearson, Cambridge, Collins, and Oxford, have graded reader series, which focus on books for English learners. You can even go to their website, take a placement test, and then choose a book that is good for your level.
Children’s books help ESL students learn
A great way to start reading in English is by choosing a children’s book, especially if you are just beginning to learn English. The language is simpler and the images help you understand the context of the story.
Besides that, children’s books usually have a positive message and can be inspiring. You can choose to read them by yourself or read them to kids in your family. By reading them aloud to kids, you will have a chance to listen to yourself.
Although you may read often in your first language, we want to give you some strategies to read successfully in English. Keep in mind that you might read slowly at first using this method, but you’ll learn a lot at the same time.
- Read one page of the book without stopping. Don’t check vocabulary, don’t translate anything. Just read the whole page.
- Read the page again, but this time write down the words that are new to you (you can do that on a notebook, on your phone, or on your tablet).
- Look for the new words in an English-English dictionary. I like using learnersdictionary.com because the explanations are simple and they have lots of examples.
- If you still don’t understand the English definition of that word, try doing an image search on Google. Is it helpful?
- Finally, if you still don’t understand, go ahead and translate the word into your native language.
When you get a new book, you need to check its level. The simple way to know is by reading one page and counting the number of words you don’t know. If you count more than 10 words that are unfamiliar, it’s probably too difficult for you. If there are less than 10 unfamiliar words, it is a good book for ESL. By following those steps we mentioned above, you will be able to have a good experience reading it.
You should also try to not read more than five pages a day. We don’t want you to get overwhelmed and give up. It doesn’t matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop!
10 children’s books in English for all ESL levels
Here are 10 books we believe are a good way to get started for ESL students. These are not just for kids though! Each book has a topic that we believe adults will find either interesting or informative.
Each recommendation has a CEFR level. Remember, CEFR refers to your level of English. It stands for Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, which is an international standard for describing language ability. It goes from A1, which are beginners, up to C2, which refers to those who have mastered a language. If you can’t find these books in your local bookstore, try getting the Kindle version on Amazon.
Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What do you See?
CEFR level: A2 (Elementary)
Synopsis: A Bald Eagle soars, a Spider Monkey swings, a Macaroni Penguin struts, and a Red Wolf sneaks through Bill Martin Jr’s rhythmic text and Eric Carle’s vibrant images, and all are watched over by our best hope for the future-a dreaming child.
Doctor De Soto
CEFR level: A2 (Elementary)
Synopsis: Doctor De Soto is a picture book for children written and illustrated by William Steig and first published in 1982. It features a mouse dentist who must help a fox with a toothache without being eaten.
CEFR level: A2 (Pre-intermediate)
Synopsis: Rain School highlights some of the struggles that children face in getting an education, as well as the great lengths that people will go through to go to school – even if it involves building the school itself! The story was inspired by the author’s own experiences in Chad as a Peace Corps volunteer.
A Long Walk to Water
CEFR level : B1 (intermediate)
Synopsis: A Long Walk To Water teaches about water conditions in South Sudan, Africa. The story is told from two perspectives, a girl named Nya and a boy named Salva. The reader follows the story of Salva and Nya’s journey through Sudan with little water, and little family.
CEFR level: B1 (intermediate)
Synopsis: It’s boys versus girls when the noisiest, most talkative, and most competitive fifth graders in history challenge one another to see who can go longer without talking.
CEFR level: B1 (Intermediate)
Synopsis: Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.
One Crazy Summer
CEFR level: B1 (intermediate)
Synopsis: Set during the summer of 1968 in Oakland, California, One Crazy Summer follows the lives of the Gaither sisters, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern, as they visit with their mother who abandoned them some seven years before.
Number the Stars
CEFR level: B1 (intermediate)
Synopsis: Number the Stars is a work of historical fiction by the American author Lois Lowry about the escape of a Jewish family, the Rosens, from Copenhagen, Denmark, during World War II. The story centers on ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen, who lives with her mother, father, and sister Kirsti in Copenhagen in 1943.
Hidden Figures (Young Reader’s Edition)
CEFR level: B2 (upper intermediate)
Synopsis: This is the amazing true story of four African-American female mathematicians at NASA who helped achieve some of the greatest moments in the space program.
Diary of Anne Frank
CEFR level: B2 (upper-intermediate)
Synopsis: This book recommendation for ESL students is really for anyone who loves history and true stories. It tells the story of Anne Frank’s family, who live in Frankfurt, Germany and suddenly have to go into hiding as a result of Hitler and the Nazi Party’s treatment of Jews in Europe during the second world war. They escape to Amsterdam where they go into hiding with other Jews.
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Listen to children’s stories
If you like audiobooks, you should definitely check out this website where you can listen to children’s books. It’s great for English learners and ESL students because the videos feature images, to help you understand the context of the story, and captions, so you can connect the words to their pronunciation. It has videos featuring famous actors reading children’s books alongside illustrations. Imagine! You can listen to a story read by people including Oprah Winfrey, Viola Davis, Kevin Costner, and more.
Reading is one of the best ways to improve your vocabulary and knowledge of grammar because you can see the language being used naturally. If you read children’s books to learn English, you will also be more confident with new words and phrases. Don’t forget to try listening to books because this will help your pronunciation and listening as well! We hope these strategies for reading and our recommendations for children’s books in English will help you read more in 2021. Enjoy those books!