As we’ve said in multiple other posts on this blog, learning English takes time and, depending on your goals, can require a significant amount of regular study time. While a lot of people can afford the time to study English in a language school, others might find it more convenient to self-study. Whether it is because of a busy work schedule, family commitments, or education purposes, self-studying English might be the better choice for busy people. It’s quite possible to make significant progress when learning English on your own and to accomplish that, you need the right books and materials.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking for the right English self-study course books in order to make suggestions to my students who want material to study on their own. These books can range from full general English coursebooks that contain exercises for all skills to more specialized books to help you improve specific aspects of your English, such as grammar and vocabulary. Keep in mind that English learning course books are generally designed for both classroom and self-study purposes in order to appeal to a broader target market. Unless they’re meant for a specific skill or language aspect, it’s difficult to find books and material that are purely meant for self-study purposes. Nevertheless, the books outlined in this article have been useful to real English language learners like yourself and I highly recommend them.
English Grammar in Use
I imagine you were hoping not to see grammar mentioned in this article so I apologize for the disappointment. The truth of the matter is, though, that English grammar can be complex with all of its rules and multitudes of exceptions. If you’ve ever been confused about English grammar, I don’t think I could recommend a better book than English Grammar in Use, by Raymond Murphy. You might even have been recommended this book by your teacher in the past because almost every single one of us believes this to be probably the best book series on learning how to use English grammar. The lies in the “in Use” part of the title.
When learning English in whatever context you’ve chosen for yourself, grammar is often taught in an isolated way. Teachers tend to focus too much on the rules, the forms, pronunciation, and the exceptions while the actual meaning of each grammar point gets sidelined or lost in the process. English Grammar in Use takes a different approach by focusing first on what the grammar means and when it should be used. It achieves this by giving you a real context before presenting you with the form of the grammar and its rules.
The main downside is that the English Grammar in Use series exists in several editions that have been updated in different years from each other. The Intermediate English Grammar in Use book is in its fifth edition. Basic Grammar in Use, which is the elementary level of the series, is in its fourth edition. Advanced Grammar in Use, on the other hand, is still in its third edition. The other issue with the book series is that the exercises might not be enough for some learners who need some extra practice. English Grammar in Use, the intermediate book, has a Supplementary Exercises book that contains more practice activities if you need a bit more to sink your teeth into.
All in all, if you’ve been looking for an English self-study book to help you better understand the confusing world of English grammar, you can’t go wrong with the English Grammar in Use series.
English for Everyone
One of the few instances where an English learning coursebook series is more focused on self-study students rather than classroom situations is the English for Everyone series. This colorful series of books is an absolute delight on the eyes as it’s been clearly designed for a more modern and younger audience. The books focus more on grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and listening skills with reading and writing being much less practiced. This makes the series better suited for English learners who prefer to study fewer things in a more focused manner.
English for Everyone comes at several levels. There are two Beginners books, Level 1 and Level 2, along with a level 1 exercise book and a level 2 exercise book. The Intermediate book is Level 3, with its own exercise book and the Advanced book is Level 4, which also has its own exercise book. There are also some guide books focused on several different aspects of English. The English for Everyone Grammar Guide is like a smaller version of the English Grammar in Use books. The series also has a Vocabulary Builder to help you learn more words and a book for English Idioms for more advanced learners. If you’re looking to study more business type material, English for Everyone has a short series on Business English as well.
While this series of books is neatly designed with a lot of good ideas that can help self-study English learners achieve better success, there is one problematic area. The levels of the books don’t seem to correspond with actual CEFR levels (A1-C2). Some of the grammar points, for example, that you will find in the Level 4 book are definitely closer to a B1-B2 level rather than C1 and C2 which are the advanced levels of the Common European Framework. It’s not the most problematic thing in the world but it’s important to keep in mind that learning from these books won’t be fully representative of your actual English level. Nevertheless, English for Everyone is an affordable and well-designed series of books that will help you learn English in a modern way,
Collins Work On Your Accent
I’d like to make something clear before continuing with this review. The title of this book is misleading because it uses the word “accent” instead of “pronunciation”. Accent and pronunciation aren’t the same things. It’s very difficult to completely get rid of your foreign accent when learning English. This book aims to help you speak more clearly by improving your pronunciation, which means the way you say English sounds. This may reduce your foreign accent but you won’t necessarily sound 100% like a British or American speaker. Despite its controversial title, however, the book is well recommended for those who want to improve their English pronunciation.
One of my favorite aspects of this book is that it provides all of its audiovisual material online and not on a CD or DVD. It’s not just that it has a more modern approach to its material but also it's convenient that you can have access to its audio and video anywhere you might be. There are a lot of English learning books out there that still make use of physical media like CDs and DVDs even though we live in the age of the internet. You’ll have quick access to clips of proper native speakers pronouncing all of the sounds of the English language as long and as many times as you need. The book also contains plenty of charts and images to help guide your mouth and tongue positions to help you get the sounds just right. There are even sections on the most problematic sounds with advice on how to best practice them. Finally, the best part is the “What am I doing wrong?” section which provides common mistakes you might be making because of your mother language and how to best think of them in a natural and accessible way.
Collins Work On Your Accent is a single book and by buying it you have direct access to the audio and video material from their website. It’s best recommended for B1 to C2 learners but I think that if you’re still at A2, this book can still be useful as pronunciation is important to practice from as early as possible.
Complete IELTS, Complete First and Complete Advanced
Here is something for the exam students out there. The Complete series by Cambridge English is one of the most modern and well-designed books for exam preparation. I’ve used Complete Advanced in the past with my English exam preparation classes and they’ve been a valuable resource of both good advice and important language points that students need to know before taking an exam.
Depending on which exam you’re taking, each book in the Complete series is divided into units of common topics that are used by examiners. Furthermore, units are split into sections that represent individual parts of your chosen exam. This allows you to set a pace for yourself and choose what you want to study without necessarily needing to follow the order of the units.
For IELTS English learners, Complete IELTS comes in three versions, one for Band 4-5, one for Band 5-6.5, and one for Band 6.5-7.5. For Cambridge English exam learners, Complete is available for First and Advanced. There are also Workbooks for each exam to help you get some extra practice.
There you have it! I hope this has been useful. If so, share this article with someone who wants to learn English, follow us on Instagram and try making some examples in the comments below!
See you in the next lesson!