A common question I receive from students who are learning English is which books they should read in order to learn English. It makes me happy to hear this because reading in your own time is vital in learning English quickly and efficiently. However, a lot of of students seem to be looking for some magical list of books that will allow them to learn English in 3 months. Unfortunately this is not the case. Whatever some English guru told you, there is no magical list. You must create your own.
When it comes to choosing what to read, your selection will be dependent on your level of English and what you are interested in. A super catholic latino is likely not going to enjoy reading I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. Reading a British novel may not interest you if you prefer Australian culture.
Here is my advice on how to choose which books should read to develop your English.
While from my experience, reading is not a common hobby for many latinos, it is a great way to pick up new vocabulary and reinforce what you are learning in your classes.
If you read my article about my English learning framework for student, you know that I am not a huge fan of reading in the beginning stages. Latino students especially often begin to make a connection between English’s spelling system and speaking system because that is how it is in Spanish. This is a bad thing to do because in English how we spell words is not how we will pronounce them.
I would probably wait until you are a late beginner or a early intermediate student to begin reading. At this point you should be reading stories meant for young learners. In other words, children books like Where the Wild Things Are, Dr. Seuss, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See?, or The Story of Ferdinand.
The trick to choosing what material to read will be finding material that you can understand 95% of, and only 5% you don’t understand. This way you will not frustrate yourself, and you will always be learning something new.
Once you feel comfortable reading children’s books, you can move onto Fairy Tales like those by Hans Christian Anderson of the Grimm Brothers.
Another good option for this stage would be Easy Readers. These are shortened versions of classic literature that are specifically made for English learners. Later when you become more advanced, you can re-read the books, but the regular versions, not the shortened versions. You could read George Orwell’s classic 1984 for example as an easy reader. Then later on you can read the original and it will be easier to understand.
Another option is manga or comics. These are suitable for this level as the stories are not complex, and the images will help you understand any new words you encounter. Below are some my favorites.
If you have read the above suggestions with no issues, you are likely at an upper-intermediate or lower-advanced level of English. At this point you can probably begin reading books such as Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, Jules Verne, or Henning Mankel. As well, English news should be intelligible to you.
Remember, at the end of the day, you are the one who should decid which book to read.
If you like fantasy, then you can read Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, or the Chronicles of Narnia.
If you prefer politics, then read some George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Joseph Heller or Ray Bradbury.
If you prefer crime, then Sherlock Holmes or books by Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson will suit you better.
Once you’ve reached fluency, you definitely should not stop reading. One of the main benefits of learning English is your new access to knowledge that is often hard to obtain in other languages, including such an important one like Spanish. My personal selection would be Mastery or 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, Ayn Rand’s novels, The Sovereign Individual, Millionaire Fastlane, or any of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s books.
Again, you do not need to read these, they are just suggestions. It’s always best to read books that genuinely interest you. Doing this will make reading fun, instead of a chore.
One Last Piece of Advice
Do not stop reading every time you encounter a word you do not understand. This will only slow you down and frustrate you.
What you should do instead is underline any words or phrases you do not understand and see quite often. Once you finish reading the chapter, then you can go to your dictionary or the internet and figure out what this word or phrase means.
The key points that you should take away from this article are:
- There is no set list of books you must read when you learn English.
- You should be reading what genuinely interests you.
- Read things that you can understand 95% of. The 5% of things you don’t understand will be the challenge that pushes your English further, without making you quit out of frustration.
Have you read any books while reading?
Let me know what you have read down below in the comments.
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