How to improve your English by reading. What should my first book in English be?
Reading in English 📚
A complete guide to reading in English in order to improve, with suggestions for the best books to read in English!
There are many ways you can learn and improve your English. Of course, you can study vocabulary and grammar or talk to natives, but reading in English is another great way to improve, that we don't talk about enough! It allows you to associate the pronunciation which you have already learned with the written version of the word. The other great advantage is that you can do it by yourself, and you can read about any topic you like. If you're interested in current events, why not read the news in English? If you're passionate about cooking, why not find recipes from the New York Cheesecake in their original version?
It's important to find ways to practice English which you actually enjoy - watching movies, TV shows, reading comic books or simply talking to natives! That's why we'll zoom in on each of these resources, in order to show you how to make the most out of it and learn to speak English like a pro!
As you already found out, today's all about reading. More specifically, we're going to see what book to read in English according to your level, but also Internet sites and other resources which you can use to get started.
Reading in English: Why? How?
Reading an article from, say, The New York Times might seem daunting, if you're still learning the language. Don't worry, though, that's perfectly normal. In order to stay motivated and enjoy all of the advantages that reading in English can bring, it's better to take things slowly, one step at a time. That's why you should try to match your reading with your comprehension level.
Reading in English for beginners and experts
Okay, you're all set, you feel ready to open your first book in English, but you don't really know where to start. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you improve your English in a fun way.
Read and listen at the same time
Audiobooks allow you to hear everything you read, and that's a gamechanger!
First of all, it's useful to combine reading and listening, this will help you enrich your English vocabulary and improve your pronunciation at the same time!
There's a great tool to help you do that - audiobooks! The best approach would be to start off with a book which you have already read in your native language, or a book you're already familiar with. You'll be able to understand more, because you can guess the meaning of new or unfamiliar words. Make yourself comfortable, with your book and earphones, and let yourself get transported into another universe! Here are a few websites to find audiobooks according to your taste:
If you're worried that reading a book would be too long or too hard, you could also start by watching videos with subtitles in English.
Here are some videos that are dedicated to learning English:
Accent's Way English with Hadar
Or, you could also check out these videos made by and for native speakers:
Jenna Marbles - entertainment
It's Okay To Be Smart - science
Simple History - history
Don't worry - there are articles dedicated on learning English with YouTube videos coming soon! 👀
Make sure that any subtitles were done by the person who posted the video. Auto-generated subtitles are often inaccurate.
And if you're looking to improve your listening comprehension in English, check out our guide to understanding spoken English! 👂
Books for English learners
Many publishers have their own collections of bilingual books which are specifically designed for learners. Here are a few suggestions:
- Mandarin Chinese-English
And if you speak French, you can check out our dedicated article on the topic!
These first suggestions offer a selection of the classics in the English literature, while the next ones are texts which are specifically written for learners:
The Cambridge English Readers collection organizes the books from the collection according to their level of difficulty. The text is only written in the original language, but you can also download an audio version on the site, and apply our technique of reading and listening at the same time.
If you're interested in reading stories in English for beginners, TipTongue is a great resource you should check out! It's collection of books in English for teenagers. These stories naturally blend in French with English and allow the reader to acquire vocabulary little by little. The last chapter is entirely written in English and looks back at the whole remaining part of the story. The books in this collection are organized by level of the CEFR. An audio version of these books is also available to download on the site.
Collections of bilingual and monolingual books for learners in English
Ebooks in English
... or when technology only wants what is best for you!
Whatever your level in English may be, there will always be words you don't know. And, let's be honest, who's patient enough to open the dictionary each time a new word comes up? There's nothing more annoying than stopping your reading session in order to look up a word in the dictionary. It's to make a list of words to look up later, you might say? Okay, but we end up forgetting the context we saw them in, so we don't end up learning a lot from doing that.
That's where e-book readers come to the rescue! All you need to do is highlight the mystery word, and your e-book reader will provide you with the relevant dictionary entry. It's up to you if you prefer using a bilingual dictionary, so you can see the word's translation, or you prefer a monolingual dictionary, so you can read the word's definition in English. How much time will it take? Fifteen seconds. How many words will you end up learning after that? Dozens! If you'd like to write them down, so you can get back to them later, all you have to do is highlight them with the tip of your finger, and the word will be added to your notes - just like magic! ✨
It doesn't matter if you prefer Fnac or Amazon, or maybe I should say Kobo or Kindle, you'll find that e-book readers are extremely practical and easy to use (nothing like tablets). E-book readers are real learning tools that put technology on your side!
Kindle or Kobo, which one is the best English e-reader in your opinion?
The importance of pronunciation
We always have to pronounce words, no matter whether we're reading them out loud or in our head. Maybe that's quite simple in your native language, but it can get tricky when you have to do it in a language you're still learning. That's the reason why you should focus on learning methods which emphasize on pronunciation and the spoken language. By doing this, it'll become easier to associate the written word with its pronunciation.
An example of such a method is Click & Speak, which allows you to master the 5000 most commonly used words in the English language, by using a method based on both the spoken and the written language. In other words, you enrich your vocabulary in English, while improving your pronunciation as well!
That's why all of our articles on this blog put a strong emphasis on the importance of pronunciation.
How to use the Internet to read in English
Reading isn't just about books, there's also the Internet! And given the fact that half of the Internet is written in English, you couldn't possibly say there aren't enough materials. So, go ahead! Blogs about cooking, traveling or lifestyle, international news or scandals about famous people, it's your choice. Scared of getting lost in the sheer amount of information on the Internet? Here's our guide, our tips for reading in English on the World Wide Web!
Extensions to help you better understand what you're reading
What is an extension, actually? It's a little application which is integrated into your web browser in order to give it some additional functions. They can be free or paid, compatible with only one browser, or all of them, but what's sure, is that these little tools can be very useful. Here's a small selection (if not specified, the presented extensions are compatible with the main browsers).
Mate is a great language teacher-assistant. It gives you the translation of any word with a single click, and lets you hear it as well. It saves all of the words you've searched, along with their translations, so you can get back to them later and review them.
It also offers an extremely practical and user-friendly translation tool. You can type in a word or a phrase which you want to translate, and you will get a suggestion for how to say it in English.
Mate adds a bilingual dictionary in your browser
You can ask Mate to translate a word into English
(available only for Chrome)
Readlang is like a more developed version of Mate. By using it, you can get a translation of a selected word, but also of groups of words (up to 6 words for the free version). The suggested translations are of relatively good quality and can be very useful to understand more complicated sentences.
On the flipside, you can also use it in the other direction, when you want to translate something from another language into English. Say, you're reading something in your native language and are wondering How do I say that in English?
Just like on Mate, you can save your history (searched words) and get back to them later, in the form of a wordlist, or flashcards in order to train your memory.
Readlang translates terms which you highlight in a text
Readlang also offers texts organized according to level and topic (literature, current events, culture, music, cinema, etc.) which you can read. Some of them even offer a recorded version so you can read and listen to the same thing at once!
Readlang offers a selection of text in English in different levels
Grammarly was originally an online English spell-check tool. They have however developed this extension and now it allows you to get the English definition of a word you click on, as well as synonyms. That last function can be very useful when writing.
Given the fact that the extension is entirely in English, it's more of a tool adapted for people who already have a high intermediate level. This will however help you reach the next level in your studies - stop trying to translate everything and to integrate the meaning in another language. It's a great achievement once you pass that stage!
Grammarly integrates a monolingual dictionary in your browser
First books to read in English
Here are a few ideas for easy books to read in English, from the big classics, the "page turners" (the books you just can't put down until the end), and books which have recently been adapted to films.
Books with film or TV show adaptations
Do you want to learn English with Harry Potter? Why not read the books!
The big advantage of reading books which have movie adaptations is that you're already familiar with the storyline. Keep in mind that the adaptations are sometimes far from the original story, but you'll feel less lost in any case. Here are a few suggestions:
Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling
Twilight, S. Meyer
50 Shades of Grey, E L James
Pride & Prejudice, J. Austen
The Handmaid’s Tale, M. Atwood
Charlie and the chocolate factory, R. Dahl
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, M.A. Shaffer and A. Barrows
If you're eager to discover the classics in English literature, here are some easy novels to read in their original version:
The Old Man and the Sea, E. Hemmingway
Treasure Island, R.L. Stevenson
Dracula, B. Stoker
The Hound of the Baskervilles, A. Conan Doyle
Animal Farm, G. Orwell
The Picture of Dorian Gray, O. Wilde
Whether you like adventure stories or horrors, the classics will not disappoint you!
Looking for a book in English online? Here are a few suggestions:
Start reading in English
You can find entire websites which are designed for English learners on the Internet, with texts adapted to different levels. These sites are a great way to make the next step in your reading journey, entirely in English.
News in levels - here you can find articles in English for beginners on current events. The same topic is approached by three different articles, each focusing on a different level, along with audio support.
British Council Magazine offers articles which cover cultural topics in depth. At the end of each article, you will get questions which will allow you to test your overall comprehension of the text.
Learn in English, this website offers articles on different topics (current events, history, culture, etc.) organized according to their level of difficulty. Each article has an audio version available as well, so you can listen to it at the same time as you read the text. What's more, you'll get additional videos, where some of the terms are explained. At the end of the article, you will get explanations on the most difficult terms (in English).
For more advanced reading
The Internet is an extraordinary place of exchange, where everyone can express themselves and show off their talents. This is also true for literature! An increasing number of sites offer their users to write and publish their work on the net. Readers are then invited to discover stories of all genres, and maybe even share what they think about them.
Here are some of the more popular ones:
- CreepyPasta - the published stories are relatively short and new, on the topic of the paranormal and horror. NOT recommended for sensitive souls!
- FanFiction is a whole other genre, as it offers its devoted fans a series of books to write and share their stories inspired by their favorite superheroes. You can find sequels, prequels, and spin-offs of many novels.
And since the Internet is also the ultimate place for sharing culture with a capital C, The Gutenburg project has taken on the task of disposing the biggest number of works in the public domain. You can find more than 50,000 books on their site, written in all languages, as e-books, absolutely free of charge. What's more, volunteers have completed this fantastic project by recording audio version of many of the books. There are more than 24,000 audio files of readings of books for The Gutenberg project (some books have several audio versions, it's up to you to choose the one you like the most!).
Imagine the biggest library that you could dream of, with a number of free books in English - the Gutenberg project opens its doors to you!
If you're looking for more recent works to read in English, you can dive into the universe of Amazon and its whole section entirely dedicated to books in English. There you can find paper books, Kindle versions, and even more audio books!
We just saw how you can learn English with books and other types of texts. No matter what topic you're interested in, reading everything that you come across will help you improve your English, be it improving your vocabulary, grammar, or simply your fluency.
What about you? What's the first book you ever read in English? Which site are you going to use next? Hit us up with any questions. Share your plans with us, and do not forget - reading should always be fun!
If you want to read more in English, you can check out these sites to find books in English :
Karine Le Moigne