Recommendations for books for ESL students
February 5, 2017 10:09 PM   Subscribe

Looking for books or stories that will appeal to two twentysomething women who are learning English.

I recently started tutoring two young women (21 and 27) who are in an intensive ESL program. They speak English fairly well and have good comprehension in conversation, but they asked me to suggest books or stories for them to read to help improve their reading comprehension. I don't know them very well yet, so I'm not sure of their tastes or interests. One of them asked for something with a message at the end. I suggested fairy tales, but she balked at that, and she also asked if she could read The Secret -- so I'm thinking that "a message" means that she wants something that maybe has some practical application or some purpose? Nothing too technical or long or overwhelming, but things that are geared towards adults rather than kids/new readers. Fiction or non-fiction is fine.
posted by pised to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie)? It's a classic, it's pretty short, and it could make for some interesting conversations about US culture, if they want that.
posted by asphericalcow at 10:21 PM on February 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Animal farm?
posted by benadryl at 10:47 PM on February 5, 2017

Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie might be a good one. It's short and not too complicated.
Anything Nick Hornsby, especially High Fidelity, About a Boy, and A Long Way Down.
Going off benadryl's comment, how about George Orwell's 1984? It's recently become a bestseller, and with good reason.
posted by Champagne Supernova at 11:02 PM on February 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

My friends who teach ESL report their similar aged students are riveted by The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:42 PM on February 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just how well is fairly well?
I have a very high-level student from Vietnam who communicates beautifully, writes okay and reads very well in class. Give her a novel and she struggles through it with a dictionary and lots of questions, which results in an interminable and not particularly enjoyable reading experience at home. Your students must be much higher level if they have no trouble with idioms and turns of phrase that confound even advanced learners. Maybe assess this by giving them a young adult book and discussing it book-club style afterward?

I gently advised my student to view her reading adventures as a cultural education. Read what most Americans read while growing up, even the really young stuff (Goodnight Moon? Hungry Caterpillar?), so she knows what kids are talking about, and so she picks up more cultural references. She'd never heard of Cat in the Hat, for instance, so she took it among a stack of library books. Dr. Seuss is a must! I found a great list from Common Sense Media of books everyone should read by age 12. I urged her to start there. There were several I'd never read, and so I did. I really liked Esperanza Rising and think it will give her just the right balance of enjoyment, education and challenge. I recommend it. If they're advanced, then have them read it (or whatever, at a similar reading level) slowly over a week or two, take notes and bring their questions to you.

If that's too easy, how about the Hunger Games?

Also, depending on their level of tech, they can "check out" books on a Kindle, or use the app on their phones, and this gives them instant dictionary with a touch of the word. Audiobooks can be great too.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 11:44 PM on February 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

I know people like that and they loved The Giver.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:25 AM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

How about poetry? Emily Dickinson for example is rather easy to understand but not obviously for young readers. Short tales tend to be good, too. Try Edgar Allen Poe or the Sherlock Holmes canon because probably your students will already have heard about them.

Anyway, I'm biased because I learned English reading Penguin Classics (cheapest import books!)and Terry Pratchett, out of desperation because Discworld translations obliterate most puns.
posted by sukeban at 12:28 AM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Children's books are really hard to read if you didn't learn English as a child, since there is too many child specific vocabulary. I have lived in English speaking countries for 10 years and work a professional job in English, but still don't know a lot of the vocabulary in children's books/songs.

I learned English by reading the Time magazine. Haven't read it for 15 years but I used to like it a ton. Then I graduated to The Economist, which is much more difficult.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Alicia is fantastic (very easy to read, page turning story).

Since you're in Canada... I hate to be cliche but.... A Handmaid's Tale!
posted by yonglin at 5:51 AM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

How about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time? Simple prose and fairly short but still a compelling story for adult readers.

Or for explicit "nonfiction with a message", something like Shonda Rhimes's Year of Yes might be perfect. I haven't read it, but it looks fairly light and engrossing.
posted by veery at 7:20 AM on February 6, 2017

Seconding Hunger Games series. It's a pretty ripping yarn, but told in reasonably simple language. Good for adults.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:22 AM on February 6, 2017

How about literature that they're already really familiar with from their native language? That could be a religious text, a novel, etc.

Literature textbooks or anthologies that cover a wide variety of essays, short stories and poems might be good and would help them find authors they'd like to explore further.

If it's practical, you could also take a field trip to the library. Present some guidelines for how to select a book - I believe I've seen guidelines that cover things like percent of unfamiliar words on the 1st page, etc. Help them get library cards if they don't already have them.
posted by bunderful at 7:26 AM on February 6, 2017

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