If you’re looking for something to read to help you learn English, English fairy tales are a great choice. You can read about cunning cats and foolish boys, brave children, and naughty imps, all while learning lots of new words and practicing your reading comprehension. Here are our top picks of English fairy tales and fables you should read to improve your English.
- Puss in Boots
- The Tortoise and the Hare
- The Snow Queen
- Hansel and Gretel
- The Boy Who Cried Wolf
Why read fairy tales in English?
You might think that English folk trails are just for children, but they’re a wonderful way for anyone who is learning English to expand their vocabulary and see grammatical structures in context. There’s often a lot of repetition in fairy tales, which means you see the same or similar language in different contexts. This is a great way to truly learn new vocabulary. Another reason why fairy tales are so helpful is that you’re probably already familiar with the story, so it’ll be easier to follow the English version.
1. Puss in Boots
The first fairy tale on our list is “Puss in Boots”. The character got a starring role in the “Shrek” movies but “Puss in Boots” is also a beloved English folk tale. Read his story to follow a cunning cat who tricks and deceives people to gain wealth and power for his poor master. The moral of this story seems to be about the importance of hard work and practical knowledge. But also perhaps about wearing the right clothes and looking like you fit in!
You can learn lots of vocabulary in this fairy tale, like ‘rummage’, ‘ogre’, and ‘briskly’.
2. The Tortoise and the Hare
This is a classic fable by Aesop, a Greek writer, and it tells the story of a race between a fast hare and a slow tortoise. The moral is about the dangers of overconfidence and the benefits of perseverance. It’s also about how being slow and methodical can be more effective than doing things quickly but carelessly. These are great lessons for learning a language. The saying ‘slow and steady wins the race’ comes from this fable.
You can learn lots of adjectives in this fable, like ‘mocking’, ‘amused’, and ‘ridiculous’.
A German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, “Rumpelstiltskin” is actually around 4,000 years old, making it one of the oldest fairy tales on our list. It tells the story of a nasty little imp who can spin straw into gold, and about a bargain he makes with a young woman.
You can learn lots of useful phrases like ‘back and forth’, ‘all of a sudden’, and ‘fall in love’.
4. The Snow Queen
If you (or your children!) like the “Frozen” movies, you’ll definitely want to read “The Snow Queen”. This is the story the movies are based on. The tale was written in 1844 by Hans Christian Andersen and tells the story of two children caught in a battle between good and evil as a way to warn against cynicism. Interestingly, the evil Snow Queen doesn’t meet a bad end in this story.
In this story, you’ll learn lots of nouns, like ‘sleigh’, ‘cabin’, and ‘cheek’.
5. Hansel and Gretel
“Hansel and Gretel” is definitely one of the scarier bedtime stories or English fairy tales for children. It features children being abandoned by their parents, an attempt at cannibalism, and murder. Despite this, children love the tale of a gingerbread cottage in the woods and two children who outsmart an evil witch.
You can see examples of using double words for emphasis in this story, with adjectives like ‘deeper and deeper’, and ‘darker and darker’.
6. The Boy Who Cried Wolf
This is another of Aesop’s Fables, and it tells the story of a boy who repeatedly made false claims that he and his sheep were being attacked by a wolf. The first few times, the villagers were fooled and rushed to help him. However, by the time a real wolf attacked, the villagers had decided the boy was a liar and the sheep ran away. This is a cautionary tale about how important it is to tell the truth.
You’ll learn lots of verbs in this story, like ‘weep’, ‘grin’, ‘chase’, and ‘scatter’.
Which fairy tale will you read first?
“Puss in Boots” and “Rumpelstiltskin” are both classic fairy tales that are known in some form in most cultures around the world. That makes them a familiar place to start. If you prefer something a bit darker, look at “Hansel and Gretel” or “The Snow Queen”. And, if you’d rather read a fable with a moral attached, you’ll want to read “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” or “The Tortoise and the Hare”.
Laura is a freelance writer and was an ESL teacher for eight years. She was born in the UK and has lived in Australia and Poland, where she writes blogs for Lingoda about everything from grammar to dating English speakers. She’s definitely better at the first one. She loves travelling and that’s the other major topic that she writes on. Laura likes pilates and cycling, but when she’s feeling lazy she can be found curled up watching Netflix. She’s currently learning Polish, and her battle with that mystifying language has given her huge empathy for anyone struggling to learn English. Find out more about her work in her portfolio.