Is it OKAY for an adult ESL Learner to practice their English by reading CHILDREN’S BOOKS?


There are many schools of thought on this one. I want to lay down the pros and cons then give you my opinion on it. And may I say it is only my opinion.

Pros Cons
Children’s books use easy language. Children’s books are not targeting ESL language and often use complicated grammar that only native speakers use.
Children’s books often have an easy to follow story. Children’s stories may not hold the attention of the adults because they are ‘children’s’ stories.
Children’s books are cheap to buy. Children’s books may be cheap but are read quickly and then thrown away, so could be a waste of money.
Children’s books often have pictures to help the reader understand the meaning. Pictures can be useful for ESL students, but again, the story is for children and the pictures also may not be of interest to the adult reader (saying that I do think some of the pictures in children’s books are amazing!)
Children’s books are short in length, so easy to finish. Again if the books are short, the adult may find them not challenging enough for them, so finish them quickly, and not look at them again.


So a few times over the years I have had an adult student come to me after class with a children’s book in their bag proudly saying “Teacher look, I have bought a book! Is it an okay book to help me with my English?’

I have to say, usually by the time they have finished their sentence they have a look of apology and embarrassment on their face and all I can put it down to is, they are so keen to get better at their English, but they just can’t find any reading material to suit them, so have ended up going to the ‘baby section of the bookshop’ and succumbed to the baby books….

Sad but true.

So do I think it is okay?

I can’t say I recommend it to my students, more because of what their reaction to me would be, but I would say if anyone has bought a book, why not…read it secretly at home and you never know, any kind of reading is better than no reading.

In fact if you really want to get reading, there are ranges of books written specifically for ESL  readers, and if you are a discerning teacher you will notice the difference in how the text in the ESL book differs from the children’s book text.

What do you think?


12 thoughts on “Is it OKAY for an adult ESL Learner to practice their English by reading CHILDREN’S BOOKS?

  1. I agree completely! As a learner I enjoy reading second language children’s books for all the reasons you have listed in the pro column. As a teacher I would NEVER use children’s books to teach adults English for all the reasons you have listed in the con column.

  2. I found some bilingual English/Somali children’s books. I found them helpful. If I only had them, though, I would get pretty bored.

    I noticed that children’s books can use some pretty obscure vocabulary. When I taught my kids Russian, we would read kids’ books. I had been speaking Russian for 10 years, and the vocabulary of sparrows and wheelbarrows were new to me. Also, there were so many diminutives in the kids’ books.

    • Yes it’s true, there is more to a children’s book that ‘easy words’ than we think. People think children’s books are easy to write, but they are carefully targeting a certain kind of mind.

  3. Speaking as a language learner, I often use translated copies Tintin and Asterix to start reading in a foreign language. I think coming across unusual vocabulary is one of the perks of reading this kind of fiction, in that it makes you think you are learning ‘real’ German, Spanish, etc.

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