Improving Your English

Explore 18 of the best books to learn English, for beginner to advanced learners

Reading books is a great way to learn English. Whether you want to expand your vocabulary, enjoy a short story, or study English grammar or pronunciation, books will help improve many facets of your English language skills.

Here we will take you through 18 of the best books to learn English through self-study. You can choose to focus on one topic at a time or pick a comprehensive resource to take your English to the next level.

We will also look at how you can use ebooks and audiobooks to learn English.

In each section, we have book recommendations suitable for beginner, intermediate, and advanced English learners. So, we hope you find something here that piques your interest, whether you are browsing English learning books for yourself or as a gift for someone else.

man reading the best books to learn english

The best English learning books

Let’s begin with some of the best books for English learners who want to take a comprehensive approach to learning English or improving their fluency. The following books cover all aspects of English in one place – from vocabulary and grammar to reading, writing, and more.

English for Everyone: Beginner Box Set

Level: Beginner (A1 – A2)

Focus: Straightforward and well-illustrated vocabulary, grammar, and sentence-building lessons for self-study.

Highlights: This box set of 2 course books and 2 practice books is ideal for beginners who want to give themselves a strong start in learning English. The full-color pages are engaging and easy to understand. Supplementary audio recordings are available on the DK website and app to enhance ESL learning, making this one of the best self-study English books for beginners.

English Made Easy: Volume One

Level: Beginner to intermediate

Focus: Learning English through pictures

Highlights: Written by experienced language teachers who wanted a completely new way to teach English visually, this book is full of illustrations and comic-style dialogue. Rather than directly teaching grammar, it lets English students learn by observing language patterns and building simple sentences.

Volume Two moves on to more complex sentences and grammar patterns.

Practical English Usage, 4th Edition

Level: Advanced

Focus: Common vocabulary and grammar questions from advanced English learners

Highlights: Divided into two parts covering grammar and vocabulary, this is one of the best books to learn more advanced aspects of English like the singular ‘they’, how to communicate politely, and differences between British English vs American English. The book is written by an English teacher with over 20 years’ experience, so he understands the questions that ESL learners often have.

English Short Stories for Beginners

Level: Beginner

Focus: Building English skills by reading stories (with comprehension exercises)

Highlights: Build up your English vocabulary by reading short stories in English for beginners, based on real-life situations. While reading, you will also naturally improve your English grammar skills through exposure to different sentence structures.

Stories are written in simple language suitable for beginners learning English. Each chapter has a glossary and a comprehension test to reinforce what you have learned.

If you like this style of English learning book, you may also want to purchase English Short Stories for Intermediate Learners.

The best books to learn English vocabulary

Next, we have some English books that focus on learning new vocabulary at different levels. Whether you want to learn words, phrases, idioms, or slang, the books in this list should help.

1001 English Expressions and Phrases

Level: Intermediate

Focus: Common expressions and phrases shown in natural English conversation dialogues

Highlights: An essential part of English language learning is not just learning individual words, but knowing how they fit together to form phrases. This book has over 1,000 expressions to help intermediate English learners get a better grasp of the language.

The author, Jackie Bolen, has been an ESL teacher for over 20 years. She has also published Advanced English Expressions, Idioms, Collocations, Slang, and Phrasal Verbs, which is an equally good resource for advanced learners mastering English.

English for Everyone English Idioms, Vocabulary Builder, Phrasal Verbs – 3 Book Box Set

Level: Beginner to advanced

Focus: General vocabulary, idioms, and phrasal verbs

Highlights: This set of 3 books for English learners teaches more than 5,000 words, expressions, and helpful phrases. Beginners will find it helpful for expanding their general vocabulary, while intermediate and advanced learners can dig into more complex phrasal verbs and idioms.

77 Real Life English Dialogues with 500 Most Common English Words

Level: Beginner

Focus: Learning how to use 500 common English words

Highlights: This book includes 77 English conversation dialogues for beginners, including free audio dialogues that you can play at slow or normal speed. They cover everyday topics such as ordering food and making plans, and you’ll even begin learning business English.

This English learning book is a good way for beginners to understand how to use 500 of the most common English words in writing and speaking.

The Big Book of Words You Should Know

Level: Advanced (and native)

Focus: Advanced and obscure vocabulary

Highlights: Reading this book will expand your vocabulary beyond a reasonable level and teach you some new words that most native speakers don’t even know. It’s certainly not an essential book for English learners, but is a real treat for those who like to have an above-average vocabulary.

English Collocations in Dialogue

Level: Intermediate

Focus: See English collocations in use in conversation and learn what they mean

Highlights: Collocations are groups of two or more words that commonly go together, such as “make a mistake” or “take care”. They are an important linguistic element for anyone wanting to improve their vocabulary for TOEFL, TOEIC, or IELTS exams. This book lets you learn American English collocations by seeing how they are used in everyday conversations, with a definition provided for each one.

Fancy A Cuppa? The Hilarious Guide to British Slang

Level: Intermediate to advanced (and native)

Focus: A humorous guide to British slang, idioms, swear words, and more

Highlights: For those who want to learn British English in a way the textbooks don’t teach, Fancy A Cuppa? is packed full of authentic English colloquialisms. You’ll learn some classic British idioms, insults, and Cockney Rhyming Slang to make you feel more at home in the UK.

This book would also make a great novelty gift for a language lover who is unfamiliar with British slang terms – but be advised that some of the language used is not suitable for children.

Of course, another book that you’ll find invaluable for improving your vocabulary is an ESL dictionary. These are specially designed with English learners in mind and cover grammar points and confusing words, too.

The best books for learning English grammar rules

Our final selection has some books for English learners (and even native speakers) who want to learn English grammar properly or build on what they already know.

Grammar Daily: 365 Quick Tips for Successful Writing from Grammar Girl

Level: Intermediate to advanced (and native)

Focus: An assortment of 365 grammar tips to help you communicate more clearly (and correctly)

Highlights: New York Times bestseller and successful podcaster Mignon Fogarty (AKA Grammar Girl) addresses common grammar questions – as well as some vocabulary and punctuation topics – in an approachable way. From the misused ‘supposably’ to the controversial ‘a myriad of’ and from prepositions to pronouns, each day you can take a step toward improving your use of English.

The English Grammar Workbook for Adults

Level: Intermediate to advanced (and native)

Focus: Detailed explanation of essential grammar for everyday use

Highlights: Whether you are learning English as a second language or are a native speaker who needs to improve your grammar skills, this comprehensive guide to English grammar is an excellent resource. Look up a particular topic of interest or work through the book methodically, completing simple exercises on each topic you learn.

Word Order in English Sentences

Level: Intermediate to advanced

Focus: Word types and sentence structure

Highlights: If you’d prefer to tackle one topic at a time rather than buying an all-encompassing grammar guide, Phil Williams’ learning guides are great books to learn from. This one focuses specifically on how to build sentences and the flexibility that exists in English grammar. Exercises throughout the book put into practice what you are learning.

The English Tenses Practical Grammar Guide is another book by the same author that’s a good investment for anyone who needs help understanding verb tenses.

The Perfect English Grammar Workbook

Level: Intermediate to advanced

Focus: A comprehensive grammar guide to American Standard English that’s easy to understand

Highlights: This self-study grammar workbook takes you through everything you need to know to keep your speaking and writing mistake-free. It’s a great reference tool for ESL students and teachers, and even editors. Each section contains quizzes and exercises to recap the topic.

This workbook is deliberately written to be easy to understand, without the academic explanations that make some grammar guides unapproachable for learners.

The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Level: Intermediate to advanced

Focus: A guide to grammar, punctuation, and other helpful topics – with quizzes

Highlights: This book is a straightforward guide to the basics of English grammar, as well as punctuation, capitalization, and commonly misused words. It doesn’t go as in-depth into grammar as some of the other resources mentioned here, but nevertheless, it’s a popular reference guide that’s now in its 12th edition.

Can you learn English with ebooks?

Yes, studying English with ebooks (digital books) can be just as effective as using physical copies. The only slight inconvenience is that where there are questions to answer, you can’t write directly on the page. However, it’s much easier to carry books around with you on a Kindle or other e-reader than to take a physical copy wherever you go.

Most of the best books to learn English that we listed above are available on Amazon Kindle. If you are planning to read a lot as you study, consider a Kindle Unlimited subscription. This gives you access to up to 10 ebooks at a time for a fixed monthly fee, so you can mix some fiction books in with your English learning textbooks.

The best audiobooks for English learners

If you prefer to listen to audiobooks rather than read physical books to learn English, you will find that some of the books on this list are also available as audiobooks. This format works better with some (such as the short stories) than with others (such as grammar guides).

Probably the best way to learn English with audiobooks is to listen along while you read. Reading helps with comprehension while listening helps you pick up the correct pronunciation.

If you just want to be able to listen to audiobooks as part of learning English, we recommend using Audible. This program from Amazon gives access to thousands of audiobooks and you can try it free for 1 month.

Here are some of the top Audible audiobooks for learning English:

You might also benefit from listening to podcasts to learn English. Many of these come with free transcripts and accompanying exercises so you can dig deeper into each topic.

Benefits of using books to learn English

Here are some great reasons to use books to help you learn English:

  • Affordable: A book costs a lot less than a course of English lessons. Although it’s a different way of learning English, it can be just as valuable. There’s also the possibility of buying textbooks second-hand to make them even more affordable.
  • Longevity: A physical book can last a lifetime and be passed on or sold to other people.
  • Accessibility: You can take a book anywhere and read it any time; no internet connection or power source needed.
  • Self-study: When you buy a book to learn English, you can work through it at your own pace; as fast or slow as you like. You can also dig deeper into any topics that particularly interest you, without the constraints of a course curriculum.

Tips for using books for English learning

As you learn English by reading, there are other things you can do to supplement your learning, giving you a better chance of retaining the knowledge and feeling confident using it yourself.

Firstly, we would recommend you keep a notebook handy at all times to write down the key points of what you are learning. You may want to keep a list of new vocabulary and topics you need to research in more detail, for example. Refer back to this regularly to review the vocabulary you have learned and to take action on any notes you made while reading.

Secondly, although books are a great self-study tool, you will probably learn English faster and more effectively if you take an online course or use a language-learning app to boost your learning in other areas at the same time.

Finally, one of the best ways to improve your speaking skills and become more fluent in English is to practice conversations in real life. Whether it’s with a group of other English language learners, with friends who are native English speakers, or via an online language exchange, this is where you will truly build confidence.