There are so many words in English.
And there are so many vocabulary books to help you learn those words.
Let me help you select the best English vocabulary books.
Here are my 11 favourite ones. I love these! And I hope you’ll love them too!
1. “Short Stories In English” By Olly Richards
I couldn’t start this list of best English vocabulary books by not mentioning this book I wrote for you.
Okay, technically, this isn’t a workbook where you’ll just find word lists and exercises.
But it’s a book that will expose you to a great amount of language.
Language exposure is crucial for learning as it helps you absorb and assimilate vocabulary.
The book comes in two levels – beginner and intermediate – and gives you:
- Eight stories in a variety of exciting genres, from science fiction and crime to history and thriller – making learning fun, while you gain a wide range of new vocabulary.
- Controlled language at your level, including the 1000 most frequent words, to help you progress confidently.
- Authentic spoken dialogues to help you learn conversational expressions and improve your speaking ability.
- Pleasure! It's much easier to learn a new language when you're having fun, and research shows that if you're enjoying reading in a foreign language, you won't experience the usual feelings of frustration – ‘It's too hard!' ‘I don't understand!'
- Accessible grammar so you learn new structures naturally, in a stress-free way.
I can guarantee that in “Short Stories in English” you’ll not only find plenty of words in context but also narratives that will make learning English easier, fun and more effective.
2. “Any Language You Want: 18 Lessons For A New Kind Of Language Learner” By Fabio Cerpelloni
This is a collection of contradictory true personal stories in answer to “What's the best way to learn a language?”
It’s written by my colleague Fabio, a highly qualified English language teacher from Italy.
Fabio’s first language is Italian. He had to learn English. In “Any Language You Want” he tells you everything he did to master his second language.
Each of Fabio’s stories tells you what’s the best way to learn a language. But each story disagrees with the next.
One chapter tells you to hire teachers and take classes — just like Fabio did while learning English in London. The next one argues you should do everything on your own. Take no courses, hire no teachers. Do what Fabio did when he was living in Australia.
Which chapter tells the truth? Which story is right? All of them.
Fabio wrote these 80 pages to inspire you and show you that there’s no one single right way to learn a language.
“But where are the vocabulary exercises?” you may ask.
There are none.
“None? So how can I expand my vocabulary?!”
Let’s see what Fabio has to say about this. In chapter 4 – titled “Learn Unconsciously” he says this:
“[W]hen you are reading or listening to something in the language you’re learning, focus only on understanding the main message and proudly ignore everything that looks or sounds unfamiliar.
Don’t worry about that noun you have never seen before. Ignore that mysterious verb the actress in the movie has just used. Pretend you didn’t hear it or quickly try to guess its meaning and then move on.
Keep reading. Keep listening. Never press pause. Never interrupt a story to look up a word in a dictionary. If you are enjoying the content, you are doing fine. If you are struggling because it’s all too hard, stop and go find something easier.
Learn without being aware you’re learning.”
That’s how you’ll learn vocabulary.
3. “Active Listening Workbook” By Cara Leopold
Would you believe me if I told you there’s a book that helps you learn vocabulary while you binge Netflix and improve your listening skills at the same time?
I didn’t believe that until Cara Leopold, one of the most skilled English teachers of listening I know, wrote the “Active Listening Workbook”.
This is a book that will help you catch fast dialogue and learn new vocabulary as you watch movies.
- details on how to create listening and writing exercises using your favourite movies and TV shows.
- space in the workbook to do your own dictation exercises, reflect on your progress and note down new vocabulary.
“Hey, wait I second. Before you said you agreed with Fabio. You said I should never press pause and learn passively. Now you’re suggesting that I use an active workbook to note down new words while watching a movie?!”
That’s right, my dear reader. Learning a language involves both active and passive work. And if you’re into movies and TV series, Cara’s book is a must.
4. “English For Everyone: English Vocabulary Builder” By DK Publishing
I’ve already talked about the popular “English for Everyone” series in my post about the 20 top English grammar books.
“English Vocabulary Builder” is part of that series and it’s a unique combination of language reference and practical workbook.
It contains 3,000 of the most useful words and phrases in English, audio recordings for every word, and interactive exercises. It’s got an accompanying app too.
But what I love the most about this book is that words and expressions are illustrated through images and other types of visuals to help you understand their meanings.
“English Vocabulary Builder” is worth having if you love ‘learning by seeing’
5. “English Vocabulary In Use” By Raymond Murphy and Felicity Ann O’Dell
The Cambridge “In Use” is a series I can’t recommend enough.
“English Vocabulary in Use” is organised in well-structured vocabulary units that present words, phrases and expressions in context.
Word meaning is explained using simple terms, images, and lots of examples, and each unit has practise exercises too.
Everything is clear and easy to follow. No wonder the “In Use” series is one of the most popular self-study books for learners of English.
There are different levels: Elementary, Pre-Intermediate Intermediate, Upper-Intermediate, and Advanced, so you can choose the one that’s most suitable for you.
Just make sure you buy the one with the answer keys, so you can self-check your answers.
You can find “English Vocabulary In Use” on Amazon.
6. “4000 Essential English Words” By Paul Nation
This is a six-book series written by Paul Nation, an internationally recognized scholar in the field of linguistics and teaching methodology who’s been studying vocabulary acquisition for decades.
Trust me; this book is like no other.
“4000 Essential English Words” focuses on practical high-frequency words.
All the vocabulary you’ll be studying covers a large percentage of the words you’ll find in many spoken or written authentic texts from the real world.
These words have been carefully selected so rest assured you’ll only study vocabulary that you actually need to know in order to understand what you read and listen to.
In each unit, you’ll find:
- 20 words defined and used in sample sentences.
- Activities designed to present the words in different uses so you can see how they’re used.
- A story (yes!) that contains all the 20 target words
There are six different levels, from beginner to advanced. So you can start where you are and work towards learning advanced English vocabulary.
7. “English Collocations In Use” By Raymond Murphy And Felicity Ann O’Dell
When learning vocabulary, it’s useful to learn combinations and groups of words that are often found together. In other words, it’s useful to learn what we call collocations.
So, for example, instead of just learning the word “dog,” it’ll be more useful to learn “walk the dog,” “have a dog,” “feed a dog,” and so on.
Learning collocations can help you speak more fluently because you learn bigger groups of words as if they were just single ones.
“English Collocation in Use”, another great vocabulary book from the “In Use” series, helps you do just that.
8. “Work On Your Phrasal Verbs” By Jamie Flockhart and Cheryl Pelteret
Get up, find out, look up to, calm down – we have so many phrasal verbs in English.
And this book presents the 400 most frequently used ones showing you how to use them effectively.
You’ll find clear examples followed by practice exercises.
Each unit is 4-page long and contains, among other things, helpful study tips on learning and remembering phrasal verbs.
Suitable for B1-C2 learners.
9. “The Language Journal” By Lara Donadello
Lara is an English teacher and polyglot from Italy.
“English Vocabulary Booster,” the podcast where, in each episode, she tells you a funny story and teaches you 5 expressions, was for years one of the top 10 most listened podcasts in India.
Lara doesn’t need to learn new words. Her English is nearly better than native speakers.
But she’s in love with learning vocabulary so she created a language journal to help her learn and memorise new words.
She uses it when watching her favourite TV series in English. Always.
This journal is 190 pages and inside you will find:
- a consistency tracker to keep you accountable and motivate you to study daily.
- 10 vocabulary sections (with enough space to write down — and never forget — a total of up to 300 new expressions/words).
- 10 review sections to go over what you're trying to learn.
- Several dotted pages for you to customize and use however you want.
- Useful tips on language learning
Lara says this is not a phrasal book, so you won't find a list of random expressions. Rather, this is a tool to help keep all your vocabulary language notes in one place, so you can easily access them and review what you learn.
The Language Journal is not well-known but it’s definitely something for you if you’re serious about expanding your vocabulary.
10. “101 Conversations In Simple English” By Olly Richards
This is another book I wrote for you.
It contains exactly what the title says: 101 conversations in simple English that will immerse you in the language at a level you can easily understand and reproduce.
The book includes over 15,000 words of dialogue that include expressions real people use on the street.
Each conversation is limited to around 15 lines (150 words) to help you master the expressions more quickly and keep you moving toward the finish line.
I’ve also included vocabulary lists and chapter summaries to guide you through the stories.
If you’re a beginner or an intermediate student, this is a great book that will help you not only learn conversational vocabulary but also speak with confidence.
11. “RnR Stories To Save the World” By Martin Johnston
Martin Johnston is one of the funniest English teachers I know.
He has a podcast called “Rock’n Roll English” where he invites his friends, teachers and students to share the craziest stories.
Martin has a community of learners of English too. He calls them the “RnR Family”.
In this book, you’ll find 25 true short stories that Martin and his communityy put together.
Real stories that are, in Martin’s own words, “true, funny, shocking, disturbing, disgusting, inspiring and many more things, but…they are NOT boring.”
The e-book includes:
- 25 real stories from real people (Martin’s learners).
- A vocabulary section where you’ll find explanations of some of the expressions from the story.
- Dedicated podcast episodes where you’ll hear Martin tell the stories.
The title is “RnR Stories to Save the World”.
Why “Save the World”? Because by buying this book you’ll be helping families in Ukraine. All the money goes to them.
Best English Vocabulary Books
I hope you’ve found this guide to the best English vocabulary books useful. What do you think? Are there any books you can’t wait to get?
After reading this list, you may think that the best way to learn and expand your vocabulary is to sit down and read a book.
That’s partly true. Using books is one of the best ways to improve, not the best one.
Other great ways include:
- Having conversations.
- Watching movies in English.
- Using flashcards.
- Working with dictionaries.
- Listening to podcasts.
…and of course, stories!
But I’m sure you know that by now 😉