9 Best Novels for ESL Adults and Drastically Improve your English Skills

This post contains affiliate links.

Best Novels for ESL Adults and Drastically Improve your English Skills
ESL Adults reading novels

I find that learning a new language is a challenging task, especially as an adult. And whether you are learning English as a Second Language (ESL) or another language, I believe one of the best ways to improve your skills is through practice and reading.

Reading novels can help ESL adults learn more about the language while enjoying a good story. In fact, several studies showed that speaking and learning a second language offers tremendous benefits for both adults and children.

Here are some of the best novels to consider that can help you on your journey to mastering English when learning English as a Second Language. You might also enjoy reading: What is ESL? A guide to understanding English as a Second Language!

1- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist is an inspiring novel about following your dreams and taking risks. It is one of my favorite books. This book follows Santiago, a shepherd from Andalusia, as he embarks on a magical journey of self-discovery.

Though it is considered to be a fiction novel, this book has many lessons for readers. It has been translated into over 70 different languages, making it accessible to many people around the world.

For ESL adults who are looking for something captivating but not too difficult to read, The Alchemist is definitely worth checking out.

2- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye is considered one of the greatest American novels of all time, and it’s easy to see why. Written from the perspective of Holden Caulfield, an angst-ridden teenager, it follows his journey from prep school to New York City after being kicked out for failing most of his classes.

Though this book may not be suitable for all readers due to its mature themes, it provides plenty of opportunities for reflection and thought-provoking conversations about life and growing up.

If you are an ESL adult looking for something more challenging than The Alchemist but still within reach, then make sure you add The Catcher in the Rye to your list.

3- Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling

This classic series follows Harry Potter as he discovers his magical powers at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Not only does this series provide hours of entertainment (especially with all 8 movies!), but it also contains plenty of complex vocabulary and interesting dialogue that will challenge ESL adults while still being entertaining enough to keep them engaged throughout the entire series.

You don’t need to wait until you finish reading all seven books before watching the movies, as each movie stands alone if you prefer watching first, then reading afterward.

4- To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird is an excellent choice for ESL readers because it features easy-to-understand vocabulary and short sentences that keep things simple while still telling an engaging story.

Set in Alabama during the 1930s, this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel follows Scout Finch as she confronts racism, injustice, and inequality within her small-town community when her father takes on a controversial case defending a black man accused of rape.

To Kill A Mockingbird is a classic novel that I believe will provide plenty of food for thought while teaching valuable lessons on morality and justice along the way.

5- The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

Like The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby is considered one of America’s greatest novels, and it is perfect for ESL readers looking to expand their vocabularies in an engaging way.

Set during America’s Roaring Twenties, this novel tells the story of Jay Gatsby as he pursues Daisy Buchanan across Long Island society with tragic results.

The Great Gatsby’s use of symbolism makes it great for discussing literature and exploring deeper themes, such as class conflict and materialism, without bogging down readers with long descriptions or complex sentence structures that can be difficult for beginners to understand.

6- The House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango Street narrates the story of Esperanza Cordero, a young Latina girl, and her life growing up in Chicago. 

Sandra Cisneros uses easy language and short sentences, making this book relatively easy for EFL students to read. I like that this book helps students understand and empathize with a different community.

7- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is about a young boy Christopher who has Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism. People with Asperger syndrome usually have difficulty in social relationships and communicating, which is the case with Christopher. 

When he discovers the murder of a neighbor’s dog, he decides to investigate it. I like that the story is narrated from Christopher’s point of view, making it clear, logical, and easy to read for ESL adults. 

General students adore and enjoy reading this book and connect well with Christopher’s character.

8- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck 

Of Mice and Men is about the life of George Milton and Lennie Small, 2 migrant ranch workers who move from different places in California while looking for new jobs during the Great Depression in the 1930s. 

Steinbeck’s exciting story is concise and narrated in naturally simple language. 

Keep in mind that you might notice several contractions, including “ain’t,” ‘why’ n’t,'” wanta,” and “gonna,” which most students find a little confusing. 

9- The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver is set in a society that initially appears utopian; however, as the novel progresses is revealed to be a dystopia. The leading character is a young boy named Jonas who thinks he is living in an ideal world until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver. 

Then he starts to understand the shady secrets behind his community. I like that the book is in short sentences and simple language, making it popular among ESL adults. 

What to read next:

Wrapping Up

I found that there are so many great novels out there that cater specifically to ESL adults looking to improve their English skills while having fun at the same time.

From inspirational stories like The Alchemist to coming-of-age classics such as The Catcher in the Rye, there’s something out there for everyone, no matter what their skill level is.

In addition, if you’re looking for something lighthearted yet still educational, then make sure you check out JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series; you won’t regret it.


Hello friends, I am Altiné. I am SO excited you are here! I am the guy behind Project English Mastery. I am from Toronto, Canada. I graduated with a Master in International Economics and Finance from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. After working a few years in the banking industry and completing my 120 TEFL from the University Of Toronto, I decided to teach English in China. Project English Mastery is a blog that provides helpful resources for English Teachers and Learners: vocabulary and grammar, exercises, and class activities ideas and tips.

Recent Posts