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How to Pick a Good Novel When Learning English As a Second Language
How to Pick a Good Novel When Learning English As a Second Language

Learning English through reading novels and books is one of the most rewarding methods available today. In a world filled to the brim with all sorts of literature, there really is no better resource to use. But you may now be wondering what makes a book the best choice for students who want to learn the English language.


A suitable ESL (English as a Second Language) book is both accessible and entertaining at the same time. The book must be both interesting yet easy to read, otherwise it will not be enjoyable for the student.


What Makes A Book Suitable For ESL Students?

It’s important to know and understand what qualities a book must have for it to be accessible and useful to an ESL student. The goal is to provide a novel or text that is easy enough to read, but also expands their vocabulary and their understanding of English. You also have to be aware of any slang, dialects, and cultural references made in the novel as well. For instance, a novel based in today’s modern world would be much easier to read than a story set eight hundred years in the past.


Here are a few qualities to keep in mind when selecting a book to read:

  • Choosing the right dialect

Deciding which dialect of English to use is one of the easiest mistakes to make. Depending on where you’re teaching English, it may be more valuable to the students learning to use American texts as opposed to British. For instance, if you’re teaching English in eastern Europe, it makes sense to use British English due to the proximity of Britain. However if you were teaching in South or Central America, it makes sense to use American English.

  • Consider the setting and background

You should also take into consideration the setting and style of the novel. Contemporary novels are much easier for intermediate ESL students and beginners due to their modern settings. The similarities between the novel and the real world will make it much easier for them to understand and follow the text. Historic fiction and fantasy books are recommended for advanced ESL students, due to their requirement of comprehension and imagination.

  • Does it have a movie version?

Choose a novel or book that has had a movie or television adaptation made out of it. Not only will the film make the text easier to understand, but it will also encourage conversation and discussion about the book.

  • Choose a real page turner!

Finally, choose a novel that is exciting! There’s nothing quite as bad as trying to finish a book you’re simply not interested in. If you’re learning English and the book you’re reading is boring, how are you expected to put the work in? Make sure the book is exciting and enjoyable, and it will become much easier to read and learn.


Some Suggestions For ESL Books

Now that we’ve covered what makes a book suitable for an ESL student, let’s look at a couple of examples for different levels of readers.

  • A Fault In Our Stars by John Green – Recently made into a movie, this book is set in a modern setting and is quite a simple book, while still being challenging enough to allow the reader to expand their vocabulary. An intermediate level ESL student should find this suitable, especially when accompanied by the movie.
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B White – A classic story of how Fern helped save Wilbur from his fate with the help of a friendly spider. This is a great story that will keep younger/less advanced ESL students entertained and learning.
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl – Another classic, this book pushes the imagination a bit and does mix a small bit of fantasy into reality, yet the easy reading style is perfect for anyone learning English. Suitable for experienced beginners and intermediate ESL students.



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