Here’s what you don’t want to see in an English course book.
Pictures of huge car phones. Overalls. Crazy old-fashioned hair styles.
Basically, anything that screams: this textbook is super old!
After all, you’re trying to learn up-to-date English.
But there are tons of other reasons an English book might not be right for you, too. Maybe it reads like a boring manual, or it’s full of technical vocabulary you’ll never use.
And if you’re not interested in the book, you’ll put it down and never finish it—which is something you want to avoid at all costs when it comes to your English education.
If online English courses or live classes are not for you—or you simply want to supplement them by adding a course book into the mix—then you want to choose a book that will keep you interested.
So how can you choose the right course book to teach you and hold your attention?
I’ve got a guide to help you find the perfect English course book for you.
In this article, we’ll countdown the top 15 English course books for many levels and learning goals.
Things to Consider Before Buying an English Course Book
There are many important factors to consider when it comes to looking for the perfect English course book.
For starters, as hinted above, you’ll need to think about which type of book is relevant to you. This means first identifying your English level, easily done through one of the many reputable online tests, like this one used by the British Council.
Then, you need to target a book that addresses your language needs. In other words, are your goals simply to learn the basics of English, prepare for a trip to an English-speaking country, get into an English university or perfect your business English? The books below cover a range of goals and learning levels for you to choose from.
You should also reflect on what sorts of additional resources appeal to you as a learner.
For example, auditory learners, anyone looking for pronunciation practice and or anyone seeking listening activities might want to focus on books that have audio companions. Visual learners may want a book that incorporates lots of vivid images to explain English concepts.
If it’s important to you to be able to test yourself along the way, you’ll want a course book that has exercises and quizzes so you can check your progress. Though many books include the option for companion workbooks or suggested activities, not all include answer keys, something else to consider.
Lastly, there are plenty of English course books that come with online components in the form of games, videos or other activities, which can be very beneficial for interactive learners.
Of course, most course books aren’t going to contain all of the above perks. Consider ranking the importance of these aspects and then focus on getting something that fits your needs and learning style.
You can also supplement any book with immersive, multimedia English learning on FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
It’s an entertaining way to put your new English course book skills to practice. The videos are organized by genre and learning level so it’s easy to find the best ones for you—plus, FluentU suggests new videos based on what you’ve already learned. Check out all the videos and features for free with a FluentU trial.
The English Course Book Countdown! 15 Incredible Resources to Choose From
With so many options out there, it can be overwhelming. Why not start with some of my favorite choices below—chances are you’ll find the right fit!
We’ll “countdown” our top options by covering five beginner books, then four upper-level books, then three grammar books… you get the picture.
5 English Course Books for Beginners
“English for Everyone Course Book: Level 1 Beginner”
“English for Everyone” is a series of course books by DK, the famous nonfiction publishing company with a fantastic reputation in the world of educational books.
This course book for beginners covers all of the basic English topics such as the workplace, house vocabulary, leisure activities and routines. It’s specifically designed for self-study, so it works well for those who need something easy to understand and use.
The book also incorporates a wide range of activities covering all of the important language skills: speaking, listening, reading and writing. It includes plenty of visuals and exercises and focuses both on vocabulary and grammar rules.
As a bonus, “English for Everyone” comes with audio activities and lessons, which are available online or through a mobile app.
“Cutting Edge: Elementary”
“Cutting Edge” is a great choice for beginners looking to customize their textbook learning, because there are all sorts of purchase packages available.
You can order any combination of the following: student book, active book, teacher’s book, workbook with a key, online audio, access to the online English lab and DVDs or CDs. The prices range anywhere from $21.95 to $75.95.
The student course book and its accompanying DVD are broken down into 12 units and include guided speaking activities and video and audio exercises. These activities focus on applying cultural lessons and considering global issues.
One of the coolest components of this course book is the accompanying online portal called MyEnglishLab, and I recommend getting a package that includes the web access.
MyEnglishLab not only features additional video and audio content but also activities with voice recordings, which could be very useful for those looking to practice speaking and pronunciation skills.
“Practice Makes Perfect: Basic English”
“Practice Makes Perfect” is a very interactive course book that functions mostly as a workbook, with short lessons followed by lots of practice activities.
There are 53 lessons in total, covering subjects such as verb tenses, possessive adjectives, prepositions, negative forms and more.
So you don’t get overwhelmed, each lesson focuses on only one grammar concept and is created so as to take you no more than 15 minutes to complete.
For example, rather than covering all verbs in the past tense, a unit will simply look at the verb “to be” in the past tense. These bite-size units are only three pages long and incorporate lots of examples.
The exercises are meant to be fun and engaging and include everything from word searches to sentence scrambles.
A language lab app—accessible from both your computer and phone—is included as well. It contains 40 audio pronunciation exercises, a progress tracker and recorded speaking activities.
You can purchase “Practice Makes Perfect” on Amazon. Prices differ depending on whether you’re buying the e-book or the paperback and a new or used copy.
“English Made Easy: Volume One”
“English Made Easy” is a series of course books that’s especially perfect for visual learners. The entire teaching premise is built on learning English through images, and each lesson contains loads of pictures to accompany the text.
The book is divided into 20 units, each one beginning with an overview of vocabulary you can expect to learn and a pronunciation guide. Lessons cover a wide range of beginner topics like introducing people, starting conversations, discussing occupations, asking for and giving opinions, shopping and talking about time.
At the end of each unit, there’s a reading activity in the form of a story incorporating all of the newly learned vocabulary and grammar. This is a great way to sum up what you’ve just learned and check your comprehension of the lesson.
Every fifth unit is a review of the previous four units to help you remember and build on the lessons.
“Global Beginner Coursebook”
A unique option, “Global Beginner Coursebook” is published by the renowned education publisher Macmillan English.
This course book has been carefully designed to include lots of reading on various international topics for adults. The course book focuses on teaching you rich vocabulary and many fascinating multi-cultural topics.
The course book comes with an e-workbook for listening and pronunciation practice, plus additional resources and activities. The activities include repetition exercises, fill-in-the-blanks, multiple choice quizzes, word searches and more.
4 English Course Books for Intermediate and Advanced Learners
“American English File: Level 4”
This book from the “American English File” series covers a wide range of topics such as writing emails, colloquial speech and various grammar lessons.
This course book’s main goal is to improve your English communication skills, and a large part of the book is dedicated to pronunciation practice. To help with this, “American English File” has even created their own sound chart that associates images with the phonetic alphabet.
When you buy this book, you also get a workbook with practice exercises, plus a DVD with video activities and lessons.
“English Unlimited: Intermediate Coursebook”
“English Unlimited” is another fantastic course book series that aims to teach communication skills by focusing on international topics and real-world lessons.
Apart from the core lessons, this course book includes additional reference tools, strategies for learning independently, a vocabulary trainer and ideas for developing your speaking skills.
There’s even an e-portfolio DVD where you can record your progress. This is a great way to look back on how far you’ve come and compare your communication skills before, during and after the course.
The “Insight” series of course books uses carefully selected texts to promote discussion about English culture and literature.
The advanced level course book covers the most complex English language skills so that you can function in academic and professional settings. The topics here are quite interesting, covering everything from figurative language to common prefixes in science words.
You’ll also read about economics, science, art and the cultures of English-speaking countries, along with new vocabulary for each topic.
The book is broken into 10 units. Each unit has a vocabulary section and review at the end, and there’s another more extensive vocabulary bank at the end of the book.
The course book comes with the opportunity to purchase additional material such as a workbook, audio CD and online practice material.
“High-Level Everyday English”
“High-Level Everyday English” is a very helpful course book aimed at advanced students who still struggle with some difficult English vocabulary, idioms and expressions.
The course book is written specifically for those wanting to self-study and is fit for a wide range of English students including those who work in business, translation or teaching, those studying at the university level or those simply wanting to perfect the language for personal reasons.
The book uses real-life examples and dialogues to teach advanced vocabulary and includes lots of exercises for self-testing along the way.
“High-Level Everyday English” comes with an audio CD and is available for $29.37 from Book Depository. As a perk, they offer free shipping worldwide.
3 English Grammar Course Books
“Oxford English Grammar Course”
“Oxford English Grammar Course” is comprised of three volumes split into basic, intermediate and advanced levels.
These course books cover grammar for speaking, writing and reading. They use short explanations followed by lots of real-world examples and are full of images and cartoons to aid visual learners.
The series comes with a free downloadable teacher’s guide, which is also helpful for those studying on their own, since it contains lots of ideas for additional practice activities.
On top of the grammar knowledge, you’ll even get CDs to practice pronunciation, intonation and stress. Some of the topics covered by the CDs include distinguishing between questions and statements or practice with backchaining for rhythm.
“Clear Grammar” is a series comprised of four volumes and published by the University of Michigan Press.
The series aims to teach grammar while focusing on vocabulary usage and writing, speaking and reading skills.
The books use charts, short exercises and mini-lessons to teach grammar points and connect those points to all aspects of English fluency.
Additionally, the books contain companion websites for additional practice activities, and there are places within the course books to log your scores from the online exercises. These activities and quizzes are meant to help you track your progress and ensure that you understand each unit.
“ESL Grammar” is for upper-level students. It begins with intermediate-level lessons and ends with complex, advanced ones.
This course book aims to provide simple, short grammar lessons followed by extensive exercises so you learn through practice. The book also includes a CD with various charts and resources as well as vocabulary-building games.
Throughout the course book, there are test-taking tips and techniques to help those studying for ESL exams such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
2 Business English Course Books
If you’re looking for more business English course book suggestions beyond the ones below, check out this helpful article. It’s specifically geared towards educators but is very helpful for those looking for business books to aid with self-study as well.
“New International Business English”
“New International Business English” is designed for upper-intermediate learners who want to use English in the workplace.
The course book is divided into 15 units covering real-world business tasks such as using business English on the phone, writing reports, business meetings, etc. You’ll also learn specific vocabulary and phrases for fields like marketing, trade and sales.
“ESL Business English”
“ESL Business English” is written by Lucas Burns, who’s taught business English around the globe.
His course book covers a variety of important business English subjects such as creating memos, sending emails, talking on the phone and giving speeches. He includes vocabulary for money and banking, marketing, company structure and more.
The book is well-organized, progressing from simple to more difficult concepts.
1 Academic English Course Book
“Cambridge Academic English”
The “Cambridge Academic English” series is divided into three volumes for intermediate and advanced learners, each more difficult than the last. These course books target university students or others taking academic courses. They cover a wide range of subjects from different disciplines.
The books include audio and video material comprised of lectures, seminars and student interviews from Cambridge University.
Topics include listening practice, discussion skills and note-taking in English, and there are many study tips to help you along the way. Another perk of using these course books is that each unit is independent, so you can learn in whichever chapter order you prefer.
Now that you’ve got some great English course book ideas in mind, it’s time to get studying!
Camille Turner is an experienced freelance writer and ESL teacher.