Step 1: Get an English reader.
Step 2: Relax and float away with a wonderful story.
English readers (also called graded readers) make it so easy to practice English reading. English readers are books that have been adapted specifically for language learners at different levels from beginner to advanced.
You can enjoy classic English literature or exciting new books—without getting lost.
In this article, we’ll show you why English readers are so important to your English reading practice, and where to find the best ones!
What Are Graded English Readers?
A graded reader is a book intended for learners at different levels of learning English. These books have complex and interesting stories, but are written in a way that’s comfortable for English language learners at every stage.
English readers have different grades: the higher the grade, the more difficult the ESL reading will be. These books are designed to use a specific number of difficult words (for example, one new vocabulary word every 500 or 600 words). This means you can understand and enjoy the book, but still learn from it.
Some graded readers use existing classic and popular modern books, and simply rewrite them to accommodate different levels. Other English readers write completely new and original stories. These kinds of books exist for kids, young adults and adults. They’re a great way to learn and to read some works that you wouldn’t have been able to understand otherwise.
How to Choose the Right Reader and Level
Choosing the right book (or series of books) depends on what you enjoy reading. There are plenty of choices, so you can really find something you’ll love! Of course, you’re reading these to learn, not just to enjoy. So how can you learn English from these books?
You can choose a reader based on the kinds of books you enjoy, since publishers offer different types of books. You can also choose a series based on the additional resources they offer, how many books are in the series, how long the books are and any other things you consider before choosing a book.
Once you find the right series for you, the next step is to find out your grade. Publishers have their own level charts to help you determine what grade of reader to start with. As with any other book used for learning, we recommend choosing a level that’s slightly higher than your most comfortable level. This will ensure that you can understand the text, but also challenge you to push yourself a little to learn new words and phrases.
Another way to find out which level is right for you is to try FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
FluentU includes subtitles in all of its videos. You can watch a few of them and see how much you understand before deciding which reader level is good for you. But bookworms beware! You may forget graded readers exist once you give FluentU a free try!
How to Learn English with English Readers
There are other ways you can enhance your English learning with graded readers. Here are a few tips before you begin:
- Listen along. Many readers come with an MP3 audiobook version of the written text. Listen to this file as you follow along with the text, or use the audiobook separately to practice your listening skills. You can even read along out loud to practice pronunciation. There are lots of ways to learn with audiobooks—make sure you use these files for an even better English learning experience.
- Learn vocabulary. Some graded readers come with a list of vocabulary words from the book. Use these lists to learn new words, then see them in context in the book. If the book didn’t come with a list, have a pen and paper ready as you read and make your own list of difficult words.
- Use the online resources. Some of the graded readers have other online resources available for free with the purchase of a book. These resources might include lessons plans, quizzes and other ways to learn English and understand the text better. Use them!
- Summarize and discuss. English readers are books—which means you can use every ESL reading strategy that you already know on these too. One of the best ways to make sure you understand what you’re reading is to discuss it with others. If you don’t have someone to talk to, you can just talk to yourself. Really! Sit in front of a mirror and summarize what you read. This will help you understand better and you’ll also practice your speaking skills.
Of course, the best way to learn is to just start reading!
Where to Find the Best English Readers: 7 Incredible Sources for Endless English Reading Practice
1. Cambridge English Readers
Price: $6-7 per book
Includes: physical or digital book, audiobook, worksheets, vocabulary test, lesson plans
Example book on Amazon: “Eye of the Storm”
The Cambridge series of graded readers has seven levels of learning, from beginner to advanced. These books are all original stories written around modern themes, and all are available as digital e-books.
2. Pearson English Readers
Price: $6-12 per book, $20+ for hardcover versions
Includes: digital or physical book, audiobook
Example book on Amazon: “Rip Van Winkle and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow”
Pearson English Readers offers a huge variety of books, from difficult classics like “Les Miserables” to modern fiction like “Love Actually.”
There are fiction and non-fiction books and plenty of different genres. Use these to read some complex classic books in English or to enjoy a great modern hit.
There are six levels of Pearson English Readers and you can find your level by taking these vocabulary placement tests.
3. Macmillan English Readers
Price: $8-11 per book
Includes: digital book, audiobook, written and audio worksheets, vocabulary exercises, information about the work and author, vocabulary/phrase list
Example book on Amazon: “The Black Cat: Elementary”
Macmillan loves the classics, and features a lot of great works by famous authors like William Shakespeare and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (author of the Sherlock Holmes series). There are lots of online resources that you can use with each book, some of which are available for free on the website.
The Macmillan readers are organized from beginner to upper intermediate, and you can find your level by taking this test.
4. Collins English Readers
Price: About $9.50 per book
Includes: digital book, audiobook, notes about the culture and characters (for Agatha Christie titles), a timeline for each biography, glossary, online classroom with student and teacher resources
Example book on Amazon: “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd”
Collins publishes two graded reader series, one with mystery works by Agatha Christie, and another with several collections of five or six biographies about famous people (sample pages are available for both!). Both series come with lots of resources to help you understand what you’re reading.
Besides learning English, these two series of books can teach you about history and culture.
5. Oxford English Readers
Price: Varies by length and edition
Includes: audiobook, digital book, an introduction before each story, illustrations, glossary, worksheets for before, during and after reading
Example book on Amazon: “Journey to the Center of the Earth”
To access Oxford’s huge library of graded readers, you’ll need to download their app and buy the books you want. After that, you’ll be able to access the books either through the app or on their library website here. There are six levels, and you can find out what level to start with here. Books and short stories of all kinds are available, from classics to modern stories.
If you’d rather have a physical copy and don’t want to use the app to purchase, you can buy some of Oxford’s older readers on Amazon (see the example book above). These are older books and don’t come with the online resources, but they can still be useful learning tools.
6. Garnet Oracle Readers
Price: About $3.50 per book
Includes: digital book, full-color illustrations and photos, glossary, worksheets with exercises
Example book on Amazon: “The Hitchhiker”
Garnet’s graded readers are written for teenagers and young adults, but adults can still find them interesting.
The series currently has 16 books from beginner to upper intermediate, and although all are original stories written specifically for English learning, there’s still a focus on story development and entertainment.
7. Helbling English Readers
Price: Varies by source and format
Includes: digital book, audiobook, vocabulary defined directly on the page it appears, before and after ESL reading activities, facts about the themes and culture in the book, online resources like listening activities
Example book on Amazon: “Grace and the Double Life”
Helbling offers a collection of classics rewritten for English learners, as well as some original titles written just for the publisher. You can download sample pages and audio for each book. The books are illustrated and short enough to get through in one sitting (about 40 pages).
You can order Helbling readers from one of their many international distributors, but there are also many available secondhand on Amazon, along with their CD audiobook companions.
Now that you know there are books designed specifically for English language learners, you’re sure to find the right one for you.
These English readers are way more fun than textbooks and are a fantastic way to get English reading practice!
And One More Thing...
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.