How to Choose the Best English Textbook to Achieve Your Learning Goals

When embarking on the journey of learning English, a good, up-to-date, state-of-the-art textbook becomes your main learning companion. Gone are the days when textbooks were dull, black-and-white volumes filled with rules and repetitive grammar exercises. Nowadays, language textbooks embrace a more communicative approach, featuring conversation triggers, listening activities, and even video materials accessible via QR codes. These modern resources transform textbooks from mere books into comprehensive courses. However, this level of effectiveness is only possible if you choose wisely.

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In today’s blog, we’ll tell you how to choose the best English textbook to cover your learning needs by exploring 3 key questions.

1. Why Are You Learning English?

Consider this analogy: when cooking, you don’t purchase random ingredients and then decide what to make with them. Instead, you think of the dish you want to prepare and then buy the necessary ingredients. Learning English follows a similar principle. You need to start by identifying your learning goals, whether it is becoming fluent in the language, preparing for an international exam or navigating job interviews in English.

General English Learning

General English training involves developing the four key skills: speaking and writing (productive skills), and listening and reading (receptive skills). Additionally, vocabulary and grammar are essential components. A good general training textbook will cover all six areas to provide a balanced approach.

To learn English globally, two great options are the English File and Speakout series. English File, published by Oxford University Press, is known for its engaging content and focus on practical language use. It includes a mix of grammar, vocabulary, and skills practice, along with plenty of speaking activities to encourage communication. Speakout, published by Pearson, offers a comprehensive approach with real-world content and multimedia support, including videos from the BBC to enhance listening skills and cultural understanding.

Getting Ready for Your English Exam

Fortunately, there are English coursebooks tailored to academic purposes as well. For example, if you need to prepare for an English exam such as IELTS, PET, or TOEFL, you can find books that offer comprehensive training as well as those that focus on specific skills like Writing or Reading. Some excellent examples include “Cambridge English IELTS Trainer” for overall preparation, “IELTS Writing” by Pauline Cullen for focused writing practice, and “Official TOEFL iBT Tests” by ETS for reading and listening skills. These textbooks are designed to target specific skills required for the exams and are published by reputable companies like Cambridge University Press and Educational Testing Service (ETS). The best thing about these English textbooks is that they bring mock tests that closely simulate the real exam experience, providing you with valuable practice and helping you become familiar with the format and timing of the test.

Learning English for Work

English textbooks can be even more specialised. For instance, Oxford University Press publishes the “English for Specific Purposes” series, which includes titles like “English for Aviation,” “English for Nursing,” and “English for Tourism.” These textbooks are tailored to the specific language needs of professionals in various sectors, offering relevant vocabulary and scenarios that they might encounter in their jobs. For example, “English for Nursing” equips healthcare professionals with the language needed to interact with patients, understand medical documents, and communicate effectively with colleagues, while “English for Tourism” prepares individuals working in the travel and hospitality industry to deal with tourists, handle bookings, and provide information about attractions.

Understanding your learning goals is crucial in choosing the right English textbook. Whether you need general training or a specialised course, there is a textbook out there to meet your needs.

2. What Is Your Target Variety of English?

When selecting an English textbook, it’s essential to choose the variety of English that aligns with your goals. Most publishing companies produce materials in either American or British English. Deciding which variety to focus on depends on your specific needs and circumstances.

For instance, if you plan to move to London or work with British colleagues, familiarising yourself with British English will be beneficial. Textbooks designed for British English learners will include audio and video materials in British accents, helping you to understand and emulate the target variety. This immersion can enhance your listening comprehension and speaking skills in the appropriate dialect.

Moreover, there are notable spelling differences between American and British English. For example, American English uses “color” and “favorite,” while British English uses “colour” and “favourite.” These differences extend to other aspects of language, such as vocabulary and usage. Therefore, if you’re learning English for a job where you’ll need to write emails or reports, choosing the right textbook is crucial to avoid confusion and ensure accuracy.

As we mentioned before, one popular textbook that caters to learners of British English is the “English File” series by Oxford University Press. Well, for those who prefer American English, there’s an “American English File” version of the series, which is tailored to American English learners with appropriate accents, vocabulary, and cultural references.

Other excellent general training textbooks include “New Headway” by Oxford University Press for British English and “Side by Side” by Pearson for American English. Both series offer engaging content and structured lessons to help learners achieve fluency in their chosen variety of English.

Young woman carrying a book and a folder.

3. What Is Your Current English Level?

Rounding out our guide on how to choose the best English textbook, it’s crucial to understand your proficiency level before selecting your learning materials. English textbooks are typically aligned with international proficiency levels, which ensure that learners use materials appropriate for their skills. These levels are standardised by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). The CEFR divides language proficiency into six levels:

  • A1 (Beginner): Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type.
  • A2 (Elementary): Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g., basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment).
  • B1 (Intermediate): Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken.
  • B2 (Upper Intermediate): Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in their field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes
    regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.
  • C1 (Advanced): Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express ideas fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions.
  • C2 (Proficient): Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express themselves spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.

Most English coursebooks are graded to match these proficiency levels, ensuring that learners can study at a pace that is both manageable and challenging. For example, a beginner learner might start with a textbook labelled A1, which will cover fundamental grammar, vocabulary, and basic communicative functions. As they progress, they can move on to A2 and beyond, each step providing more complex language structures and broader vocabulary.

To determine your proficiency level, it is crucial to consult a native English teacher who can assess your skills accurately. Alternatively, you can take a free online English test designed to evaluate your language level. Many language learning websites offer free or paid placement tests that align with the CEFR levels, providing a clear indication of where you should start.

Understanding your level ensures that you choose a textbook that matches your abilities, enabling you to learn effectively and build a solid foundation in English.

How to Choose the Best English Textbook: FAQs

1.   Which English book is best for beginners?

The best English books for beginners are ‘Cutting Edge Starter’ and ‘English File Beginner.’ Both provide a solid foundation in grammar, vocabulary, and everyday language use, ideal for those new to learning English.

2.   Which English book is best for intermediate learners?

‘Speakout Intermediate’ is the top choice for intermediate learners. It offers a comprehensive approach to developing speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills, with real-life contexts and engaging activities.

3.   Which English book is best for advanced learners?

“English File Advanced’ is the best book for advanced learners. It provides challenging content and exercises that refine language skills and enhance fluency in complex contexts.

4.   What is the best series of English books for children?

The ‘Oxford Reading Tree’ series is the best for children. It features engaging stories and illustrations that cater to different reading levels, promoting a love for reading while developing literacy skills.”

5.   What is the best series of English books for teenagers?

The ‘Face2Face’ series is the best for teenagers. This series combines engaging topics with a strong focus on real-life communication skills. It includes interactive exercises, vocabulary building, and practical speaking activities to keep teenagers entertained.

6.   What is the best series of English books for adults?

The best series of English books for adults are ‘English File,’ ‘Cutting Edge,’ and ‘Speakout.’ These series offer comprehensive materials for different levels, with a focus on practical language use and real-world communication.

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Choosing the best English textbook is a crucial step in achieving your learning goals. By considering why you are learning English, your target variety of English, and your current proficiency level, you can select a textbook that will guide you effectively on your language journey.

However, you don’t have to do it all on your own.

Our native English teachers are here to help assess your level, learning goals, and preferences to choose the best materials for you, including but not limited to English textbooks. With our tailored one-to-one courses, you will receive personalised attention and feedback to ensure your English course in London, Liverpool or Surrey (just to mention a few spots where we offer in-person English courses) is both effective and enjoyable.

Start your journey with us today and unlock your full potential in English.