Extensive English reading (reading a lot) is the best way to increase your vocabulary. It helps your English fluency and understanding too.
The best way to motivate yourself to read a lot in English is to find readings that you can enjoy.
It's good to read selections that exercise your mind, but don't choose readings that are too hard.
It's important to understand what you read without stopping too often to look up words. The more you read in English, the easier that will be!
Are you looking for English reading materials matching your interests and reading level? This page can help you find them.
(If you are only starting to read English, see Easy Reading for ESL Beginners instead.) The rest of this page has suggestions for high intermediate or advanced-level readings.
You're lucky if you have access to a library with books and magazines in English. Find a section or two with subjects that you enjoy. Read several articles or short books on the same subject. You can also find lots of magazines and articles on almost any subject online. (See Online Reading for some suggestions.)
Studying similar information in different sources will reinforce the vocabulary you are learning. (Some of the same words will be used often.) Research shows people usually need to see or hear a word six or more times to learn it well.
Reading it in different contexts will show you if it has different uses. You will learn its connotations (the feelings it implies).
To reinforce the vocabulary even more, write a little about what you have read, or talk about it with a friend.
You might even start a book club. Read the same English-language book or article as your friends. Then you could have a great time being together-- and learning English!
Reading a book in another language can be a major project. That's why I suggest trying a few great children’s or young adult books even if you read English at a high intermediate level. Most libraries have a collection of YA (young adult) books that are short or medium length. Many are high interest whether you are in your teens, 20s, 30s, or above.
You can read several short children's or young adult books in the time it would take to read one adult book. They often equal the best adult books in accuracy, imagination, characters, and plot.
Look at books that have won the Caldecott (picture books) and Newbery awards. They're the best-of-the-best of American children’s books. For the Caldecotts, see the Easy Reading for ESL Beginners page linked above. They're all worth considering for yourself, as well as for reading to your children (if you have any).
Newbery winners are written for older children (8-12) and teens. (I’ve read many of them as an adult, some aloud to my daughter and some on my own. I’ve enjoyed many of them as much as really good “adult” books.)
Here are a few I highly recommend to adults as well as kids. They give vivid pictures of other places and times:
People the world over have loved The Little House on the Prairie and its sequels by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The series brings to life pioneer self-sufficiency-- and a wonderful family.
Consider some of the English children’s classics like:
You can also read reviews (or order these books) online. Ask a librarian for other recommendations.
Take a look at this ESL teacher's video. It recommends three of these and five other children's books. She suggests them as a great way to begin if you haven't read a whole book in English before.
I like the way she reads the first few sentences of each book, so you can get a better idea if you would like it. (I love Charlotte's Web, as well as the books I mention above. It is definitely a book for children, though.)
Some of the best books are written for teen and young adult readers.
A librarian will be able to show you fascinating books on almost any subject.
If you find them hard, there are also "high interest, low difficulty" books. (Try magazines and short stories too.)
For ideas, see the themed booklists on the Adlit site. They have about forty different lists. each list has short descriptions for some excellent but easier books on that theme.
There is a world of knowledge and interest awaiting you in books written for adults, as well. I'll suggest a few authors of classic "light" (recreational) English reading. (These are based on my experience working in a California public library for almost 10 years.)
Do consider looking at the children's and teen lists, as well. Many of those stories are classics, of high-interest to thinking readers of any age. They're also shorter, so you can enjoy them even if reading in English is difficult and slow for you.
For non-fiction, more recent selections, or current bestsellers, talk to a librarian. You can also check the New York Times Book Review. It lists and discusses the best in current American fiction and non-fiction.
Try adult fiction classics like To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Animal Farm by George Orwell.
(Humor in a different language and culture can be difficult to understand. It often relies on subtle language differences or on shared cultural values.
Don't fret if you don't find some of these authors funny. Try another author --some kinds of humor are universal-- or choose a different kind of reading.)
A few who write unusual mysteries, with humor, likeable characters, and a special twist:
For finding English reading materials online, see Online Reading.