Learning English as a second language (ESL) can be a tough job. Fortunately, the best ESL books and study guides make the daunting task of picking up a new language much easier. Containing a wealth of different exercises to make the learning process more fun and simple, the best ESL textbooks are an invaluable aid to anyone – students as well as those in business – trying to improve their English skills. We’ve compiled a list of the Top 10 most effective ESL book resources below.
Speaking is an important part of learning any language, and useful speaking exercises can be hard to find. Compelling Conversations (subtitle: Questions and Quotations on Timeless Topics – An Engaging ESL Textbook for Advanced Students) comes to the rescue with a huge vat of speaking-based activities for English learners. Students can learn new vocabulary, including idioms and common phrases, and then put this into practice with engaging and fun activities. This highly popular ESL textbook by authors Eric H. Roth and Toni Aberson is an excellent tool for prompting conversation and fueling lengthy discussions and debates.
For more advanced learners, this guide also contains some quotes to provoke discussion, allowing for complex and interesting interactions. As a speaking-focused resource, Compelling Conversations really shines in a group setting or with pairs of students; those looking to study alone will find it far less useful. Also, there is a lack of focus on grammar and theory, and the book is geared towards adults, with the subject matter being too advanced for young learners. It is, nevertheless, an excellent aid to any conversation class and a great way to practice a highly important element of language.
For a more American approach to ESL, students should look to English the American Way for a textbook that focuses on U.S. English and culture. The book deals with ordinary topics approached from an American perspective, allowing students to gain an understanding of how life works in the United States alongside their language studies. The title is therefore among the best ESL books for anybody who is learning English in preparation for a vacation, or a life, in the States. There is good coverage of idioms, slang, and colloquial speech, which are presented in the context of everyday scenarios. The included CDs allow learners to practice listening to American accents and improve their own pronunciation, although the speech can be a little quick at times.
The guide is written in a funny, charming tone, and its casual approach makes it a pleasure to read. However, some aspects can be tough for beginners, and occasionally the language is slightly too colloquial, making it overwhelming for those without much experience of the dialect. Overall, English the American Way is highly useful in its primary purpose, which is to inform new English speakers about American culture and language norms. For a more comprehensive learning experience and greater coverage of the basics, it may be helpful to combine with a more general textbook.
The Face2Face textbook series – published by Cambridge University Press – caters to all ability levels, from beginner through intermediate and advanced, which makes it easy to pick a book that’s exactly right for you. Packed with dozens of topics, these books are a great source of fun, interactive exercises which help to drill in vocabulary knowledge and provide opportunities to put new material into practice. What’s more, grammar is taught in a way that links closely to the theme of the chapter, making the drudgery of learning grammar much more interesting and engaging.
The Intermediate Students Book that we focused on for this review comes laden with a host of reading and listening activities, which again cover a wide range of topics and are tailored to the difficulty level of the book. A big advantage of the Face2Face textbooks is their comprehensiveness; each lesson covers multiple skills in depth without taking up too much time or becoming boring. Students may want to skim over some exercises and spend more time on others depending on their strengths and weaknesses, and the format of the books allows for this. Review sections at the end of each chapter provide a useful opportunity for learners to test their knowledge and identify any problem areas.
Overall, given their broad coverage of skill levels, their in-depth and clear approach, and thanks to the host of practice exercises and review sections that they offer, the Face2Face series offers the best ESL books for most types of learners.
Focusing on business English, Pearson’s Market Leader textbooks offer a range of interesting and well-researched topics. Students working or studying in the business sector will benefit most from these books, with their in-depth coverage of themes such as advertising, consultancy and finance. As a source of business-related English vocabulary and phrases, the Market Leader guides are at the top of their game, and at the more advanced level they are enough to challenge even the most capable of students. As well as lots of specialist language and entertaining exercises, the books offer a good opportunity to learn grammar, which is taught in the context of business.
Language learners can expect rich, well-sourced reading materials and listening activities that cover a variety of different accents and dialects to keep the audience on their toes. It’s important to note that Market Leader can be more challenging than other textbooks, and the listening clips in particular can be very difficult. However, this also means that you will learn faster and better. What’s more, the focus on business-related topics and language may become a little monotonous over time for some readers. When used in conjunction with more general guides, however, the Market Leader textbooks are an invaluable resource for anybody looking to use English in a business setting. If you fit into this category, this will be the best ESL book (or the best ESL business English textbook).
A well organized and structured resource for English learners, the English File books by Oxford University Press (similar to the Face2Face series) cover all ability levels in detail. The strongest point of these textbooks is the focus on speaking exercises, with lots of different activities designed to increase conversation among students and allow them to use their newfound knowledge vocally. This sets the series apart from other study guides, which sometimes place too much emphasis on uninspiring grammar exercises and gap-fills which can lead to boredom. Focusing on speaking means that learners are forced to use English as they would in a ‘real life’ scenario and develop practical conversation skills.
In this vein, much of the material in the English File books is geared towards everyday situations, with an emphasis on genuinely useful vocabulary that can be applied immediately. The books come with lots of additional material, stored at the back of the guide for readers to peruse at their will if they come across a topic that requires more work. What’s more, the books are colorful, pleasant to read, and easy to follow, with plenty of picture-based work for lower levels. One downside is that some materials, such as audio CDs, are not included and are available only at extra cost.
For those in search of a professional, reliable business English resource, Business Result is – as an alternative to the Market Leader books – another strong option. Clear and informative, this OUP series of guides has been developed by people with a high level of knowledge in the business world, and this is evident from the content. The series comes with its own video materials; a valuable resource that many other textbooks fail to provide. The online work pack and supplementary materials available with the books allow students to study easily outside of the classroom, maximizing learning time.
The Business Result guides focus on practical topics, relevant to real life business, and include case studies based on actual business scenarios to give valuable credibility to the lessons. Though the difficulty level is high and the chapters can progress quickly, these textbooks are an excellent resource for any student who is serious about learning useful and applicable business English.
A creative and novel approach to learning English can be found within the pages of English Made Easy. In a departure from the often text-heavy nature of ESL study guides; this series of books relies mainly on pictures and visual exercises, aiming to teach using the link between words and images. Catering to a range of ability levels, the books cover a range of everyday topics and work well both for self-study and in the classroom. What’s more, the clear and simple layout makes English Made Easy accessible to all, and beginners will find the books a comfortable introduction to learning English without being swamped by heaps of new information. The activities inside are engaging and unique, including comic strips where students have to fill in the dialogue using their own English words.
A downside to this minimalist approach is that information can be sparse at times. Students who are weak visual learners, or rely on lots of text and structure, may be put off by the format, and it may be necessary to complement the material with a more grammar-focused, word-heavy textbook. Nevertheless, English Made Easy still makes it onto our list of the best ESL books given that it is an imaginative and fresh resource from which the right students will benefit tremendously.
Consisting of three textbooks and nine CDs, this pack by Living Language English covers a great deal of material with a very reasonable price tag. Students can expect a variety of audio materials on a range of different themes, and a collection of online resources which can be accessed for free. The wide range of independent study resources make this pack ideal for students who are self-studying English, although it can certainly be used in the classroom with success. The materials are accessible to speakers of most languages, and easy to use.
The three books in the pack come in difficulty levels beginner, intermediate, and advanced, although they may not be challenging enough for higher level students. For students in the intermediate range, the Living Language English series provides an excellent opportunity to take advantage of a rich library of media without having to rely on a teacher.
Finding success in simplicity, Easy English Step-By-Step (subtitle: Master English Communication Proficiency: Fast) teaches the basics first and works its way up. As the name suggests, this book relies on a ‘step-by-step’ method, gradually increasing the complexity of the language and associated exercises to give students the opportunity to adapt and learn at their own pace. Lots of practice exercises for progress checking allow students to monitor their improvement, and a store of online audio materials brings variation to the exercises and targets a variety of linguistic skills.
The focus is on practical use of language, and the book contains numerous conversation exercises which are realistic and centered on ordinary activities such as ordering a meal or taking a vacation. The materials are clearly organized and the format is easy for students to follow. Learners should be aware that this textbook can be a little challenging for absolute beginners, who will require some level of existing English knowledge to really get the most out of it. For those capable of this, however, Easy English offers an enjoyable and rewarding learning experience which is extremely well priced.
A well formatted, clear textbook, Cutting Edge by Pearson/Longman publishers offers an enjoyable learning experience for ESL students of all levels. With entertaining and varied topics, learners will find it hard to get bored, and there are plenty of opportunities for conversation and group work. One particular strength of the Cutting Edge series is the presentation of grammar, which is clear and easy to follow. There are also several grammar exercises which walk students through the topic and provide opportunities to activate new knowledge with group or pair work.
The textbooks contain an impressive selection of reading and listening materials, true to the difficulty level and designed to provoke conversation and debate, more so than similar textbooks. There is also a good range of writing exercises built around real life scenarios, alleviating the tedium that students sometimes associate with this skill. For the most advanced students, or those who wish to specialize in a certain area such as business or law, these books may be insufficient or a little too easy. Overall, though, the Cutting Edge textbooks deserve their title as one of the best ESL books given that they offer an entertaining and enjoyable ESL learning experience, grounding language topics in everyday themes to keep readers hooked and eager to make progress.
Best ESL Books - Top 3
|Ranking||Publisher||Book Title||Pages||Year||Practice Tests||Price Range|
|2||Research Education Association||English the American Way: A Fun ESL Guide to Language & Culture in the U.S||288||2013||N/A||$$|
|3||face2face Intermediate Student's Book||My Revision Notes Series||176||2013||N/A||$$|