Instead of poring over tedious language learning tips and read almost the same thing over and over again, you might as well give good old reading a try. Apart from improving your second language learning abilities, it helps you integrate new words in your everyday vocabulary.
But there is a difficult choice of where to start and which book to start with, for reading and language learning, especially for ESL students. Complicated syntax, a maze of subtext and to add to it, a multi-layered topic makes it difficult for second language learners to understand the language, let alone the book.
Learning English through literature is one of the most efficient and enjoyable ways of learning a language (as a literature student, I vouch for it). The absence of technicalities and unnecessary theory makes the process easier for an ESL student.
To develop a love for reading in English, you need to find the right kinds of books; uncomplicated vocabulary, linear plot, simple syntax and an engaging theme. We have 10 books for you from which you will never look back again!
#1 Matilda by Roald Dahl
Why don’t we start with a classic about the power of reading? “Matilda” by Roald Dahl is a heartwarming story about a tiny girl of 5, Matilda, who learns to read at the tender age of 3 because of the continuous neglect of her parents and brother. She finds an unlikely listener in Miss Jenny, a kind-hearted schoolteacher, who treats her with respect and understanding.
The text is very simple and is peppered with wonderful illustrations by Quentin Blake. This book will propel you into the world of a serious reader who is merely five years old. The style of storytelling is rich and engaging and the plot will warm your cockles and the make the process of English language learning more fun. This is probably one of the best books that you can start your neverending reading journey with.
#2 The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery
Apart from being a simple moral story at its surface, “The Little Prince” is about so much more. A fox teaches a little prince important life lessons and teaches him to look from the heart instead of just with his eyes. The book is popularly categorised as “a children’s book for adults”.
Originally written in French, this book has been superbly translated into more than 10 languages, including English. The uncomplicated vocabulary and text will certainly make learning English much easier than the usual ways.
As a children’s book, the language is obviously simple and straight to the point. Apart from this, it is a great book for ESL students to probe deeper and interpret the book individually.
The universality of the lessons of the book makes it much easier for reading identifying it with themselves. This book is a must-read and a great start to your reading adventure!
#3 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
Christopher is a 15-year-old boy with autism, who sets off to explore what exactly happened to his dog and how did it die. The language of the novel reflects Christopher’s problems with normal communication and his pin-straight logical nature, which makes this a simple and easy read.
This book also sparks the empathy of readers towards learning disabilities and exposes them to the kind of language and style that piques their interest immediately. This is one of the fewer detective fiction novels that engage with an amateur reader in terms of style and story.
#4 The Adventures of Tintin
Surely, everyone adores comic books! What better way to improve your English than to read a fascinating comic full of adventure and travel? Tintin is a fearless reporter who travels all over the world solving mysteries. His three companions in these endeavours are his dog Snowy, brash and sceptical Captain Morgan and the intelligent albeit hearing-impaired Professor Calculus.
Reading comics is an excellent English language learning tip and Tintin is definitely a top choice for it. Getting acquainted with a second language becomes an enjoyable activity, rather than a tedious task for a reader with comics. This is probably why it is a must-read on most lists of top ESL books.
Originally written in French, it has been translated into numerous languages, including English. If you want to spend your free time circling the myriad cases that he takes on, read away my friend!
#5 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (and the entire series)
Yes, yes I know. I know that this is the most quoted book for almost any situation that you could ask for. But it is a book worthy of that. Written in 1997, this classic by J.K. Rowling is the first of a series of 6 books full of magic, adventure and heroism.
The book’s protagonist, Harry Potter (duh) is a wizard and has to begin his schooling at the age of 11 at the most prestigious school there is Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The books deal with his friendship with Ron Weasley and Hermoine Granger, who go on to become his best friends, his enmity with Draco Malfoy and his constant tussle with Voldemort, a dark wizard who is out for his blood.
The language is engaging and simple, written lucidly. You will put the book down only after completing the whole of it in one sitting. This has to be most ESL readers’ top choice to learn English because it has to be, without a doubt, one of the greatest books ever written in the English language.
#6 A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Two Children and Three Witches going on an adventure defying the boundaries of time. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?
Meg Murray and her brother, Charles Wallace have been living without their father, Mr Murray ever since he discovered a way to travel to another planet with the help of a tesseract that he built.
The children, joined by Meg’s classmate Charles and three witches: Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which, travel to the planet to find their father. Little do they know that the planet is replete with all the evil of the world.
Megan narrates the story, which makes it simple and without too many literary flourishes. The absence of complicated terms and metaphors make learning English more efficient and at the same time, engaging. This will make it simple to comprehend and prod you on a fantastical reading trip!
#7 The Room on The Roof by Ruskin Bond
Ruskin Bond wrote this book when he was 17 years old and living alone in the quaint town of Dehra.
The book will plod you down in the middle of an imaginary meadow amidst the tall pine trees, with cool breeze rushing through your hair. Is this enough bribe to make you read this book? Maybe.
Rusty, an orphaned Anglo-Indian boy, escapes his tyrant guardian and finds shelter in a group of four boys: Kishen, Somi, Ranbir and Suri. He finds employment as Kishen’s English tutor and becomes enamoured with his mother, the beautiful Meena. The book trapezes through his daily life and the adventures that he has with his friends.
The language is extremely simple and in the style of an anecdote. If you want to live the life of the hills and at the same time, familiarise yourself to learning the English language, this is the best book to read.
#8 Mieko and the Fifth Treasure by Eleanor Coerr
At only 77 pages long, “Mieko and the Fifth Treasure” is probably the easiest book to finish on this list.
Mieko is a very talented calligrapher and artist, who is sent to live with her grandparents during the war. When she injures her hand during a bombing, Mieko is scared that she would lose her talent and her “fifth treasure”- the beauty in her heart. This is the key to her happiness and the inspiration for her art.
The book is about her struggle to adjust in a school where the children are mean to her but her spirits are lifted by her patient and kind grandparents. She becomes good friends with Yoshi, a kind-hearted boy and his stern yet affectionate aunt. If you are looking for a heartwarming tale, you need not go any further.
#9 The Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene
I mean, you would definitely want to read about a badass female detective solving crimes with brilliance. “Nancy Drew” is the ultimate teenage detective when it comes to solving cases regarding weird situations and dangerous crimes. It is the longest-running series, with 175 books being devoured by book lovers everywhere.
With simple yet engaging diction and riveting cases for you to keep track of, language learning will seem like a piece of cake with this mystery book series for ESL students.
Begin immediately because you have a long and interesting way to navigate with Nancy Drew herself.
#10 Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
A man sits with his old college professor, who is slowly dying of a degenerative nerve disease and learns about valuable life lessons. “Tuesdays with Morrie” revisits that kinship that you might have had with a great mentor in your life.
This mentor may be a stranger you accidentally met on the bus, a schoolteacher, a friend who is younger than you or your mother.
Written in simple dialogue, this book will make the more complicated moral questions that you might have, more understandable and easy enough to grasp. And don’t worry, this book is not one of those tedious, philosophical books which preach and preach and doesn’t seem to stop.
So what are you waiting for? Brew a good cup of tea (or coffee, we don’t take sides) and curl up in your favourite reading spot. Improved reading will only lead you to become a better writer, for which we have tips too.
Who knows, by the time you’d have absolutely plundered this list, you’d want another, bigger list to devour.