English as a second language is a huge market. There are a lot of books out there, all of which promise to teach you perfect English. All of these choices may feel a bit overwhelming.

First, let’s get familiar with the acronyms that are used. They are all slightly different, so it’s good to know which ones pertain to you.


For Students

  • ESL (English as a Second Language): English is the country’s most common language
  • EFL (English as a Foreign Language): English is NOT the country’s most common language

For Teachers

  • TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language): Teaching English in a country where English is the most common language (e.g., United States, Canada, Australia, UK)
  • TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language): Teaching English in a country where English is NOT the country’s most common language
  • TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages): A more general term for teaching English, regardless of whether English is the common language

Exam Preparation

  • TOEFL (Test of English Fluency Level): Used mostly in the U.S. as a university entrance exam to prove English competency
  • IELTS (International English Language Testing System): Used mostly in Europe, but considered more international

Learn English

Books for Learning English as a Second Language

General English as a Second Language

Do you want to learn English for everyday use? These books focus on grammar and daily English.

  • Headway by Oxford University Press: This series offers American English or British English. Both have four levels, which increase in difficulty. Student books include CDs to practice listening.
  • Interchange by Cambridge University Press: This series offers international English and has four levels, from Intro to Level 3. Student books include a self-study DVD.
  • The Blue Book: A simple and fun guide to learning English grammar and punctuation. Includes examples and practice tests.

TOEFL Exam Preparation

Do you need to study English in order to pass the TOEFL exam? Here are some great books.

IELTS Exam Preparation

These are some good books to help prepare for the IELTS exam.

Extra Reading Material

As your English level advances, you may want to try reading novels in English. English books can teach you advanced vocabulary and everyday expressions.

However, avoid reading Shakespeare. Shakespeare is difficult even for native English speakers. The English is out-dated and may make you feel confused and frustrated.

Here are some great novels to get started.

  • All Quiet on the Western Front
  • Harry Potter
  • Huckleberry Finn
  • Of Mice and Men
  • The Hunger Games
  • The Kite Runner
  • The Old Man and the Sea
  • The Tell Tale Heart
  • Tom Sawyer