What to read when you’re a beginner?
Simplified books (also called graded readers, easy readers or learner literature) are books written in simple English especially for English learners. They use only the most basic English words and grammar.
Simplified books are the ideal solution for people who are just starting to read in a new language. When I was studying German for my college exam, I spent a few months reading a series of simplified detective stories about Helmut Müller, a detective from Berlin, and his secretary, Bea Braun. For me, these little books were a perfect way to learn: much easier to understand than “real” German texts and so gripping I couldn’t stop reading!
After reading a few simplified books (maybe about 120 pages in total), I noticed I was beginning to
get a feel for
basic German grammar. For example, I started to “feel” that you should say
der Flug, not
die Flug, von dir, not von dich,
Leute, die uns helfen können, not Leute, die können uns helfen,
Ich kenne einen Ort, not Ich kenne ein Ort.
The incorrect phrases simply sounded weird to me,
while the correct phrases sounded familiar.
When writing, useful phrases like das heißt (that means) or
eigentlich nicht (not exactly) appeared in my head.
It was a very exciting experience for me. For the first time, I could write something in German in a natural way, instead of trying to recall grammar rules (“Let’s see... the preposition von takes the dative case and the dative form of du is dir”).
Simplified books are available in different levels of difficulty — the simplest ones are written only with a few hundred most common English words (e.g. make, when, hear, look). Which levels should you choose? I do not recommend the lower levels (below 500 basic words) because they sound very artificial and can teach you some very unnatural English, for example water in eyes instead of tear (tear is not one of the 500 most common English words). If you can read this article, you should definitely start with intermediate or advanced books (over 1,000 words).
How to choose a simplified book that you will like:
- The best way is to go to a bookstore which sells simplified books in English, pick up a few books, and look at the first pages. The first page of a book usually tells you if the book will hold your interest.
- If you don’t know what you’ll like, try detective stories. People have different tastes in books, but almost everybody likes detective stories. That’s why they are one of the best choices for an English learner. Recently, many detective books have appeared on the market, and they’ve become quite popular. Among the best authors of original detective stories for English learners are: Richard MacAndrew, Philip Prowse and Sue Leather. Besides original stories (written especially for learners), you can get simplified versions (adaptations) of “real” detective novels by authors such as Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Arthur Conan Doyle or Alexander McCall Smith.
- Another idea is to visit the website of the Extensive Reading Foundation, which gives annual awards to the best simplified books.
- You can also browse publisher websites:
- ...or check out the Amazon.co.uk Language Readers department.
Simple English Wikipedia
The Simple English Wikipedia is a real treat for every English learner who likes to learn about the world! The Simple English Wikipedia contains over 80,000 encyclopedia articles written in simple English. The language is simple, but not too simple — generally, articles use something like 1,500 most common English words, but they also use other words when it makes sense.
Example articles from the Simple English Wikipedia: