Learner English by Michael Swan – Book Review

Learner English (Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers)

Practical English

A practical reference guide that compares the relevant features of a student’s language with English, helping teachers to predict and understand the problems their students have.

by Michael Swan (Editor), Bernard Smith (Editor), Scott Thornbury (Series Editor)


Learner English is a standard textbook for Cambridge English and is a ‘must-have’ for teachers of English.  Learner English will help teachers understand students’ pronunciation difficulties.


Learner English is rated 4.2 stars by Goodreads.

4.20  ·   Rating details ·  126 ratings  ·  13 reviews

This updated edition is a practical reference guide that compares the relevant features of a student’s language with English. Understing language features help teachers to predict and understand the problems their students have. Learner English has chapters focusing on significant issues of pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and other errors as well as new chapters covering Korean, Malay/Indonesian and Polish language backgrounds.

  • Learner English is a practical reference book for English teachers, enabling them to anticipate common mistakes by learners from different language backgrounds.
  • The book is written in simple, accessible language and will be of particular interest to teacher trainers.
  • The book is accompanied by a cassette and CD which illustrate the various accents described, using authentic examples.


  • Dutch speakers
  • Speakers of Scandinavian languages
  • German speakers
  • French speakers
  • Italian speakers
  • Speakers of Spanis and Catalan
  • Portuguese speakers
  • Greek speakers
  • Russian speakers
  • Polish speakers
  • Farsi speakers
  • Arabic speakers
  • Turkish speakers
  • South Asian languages
  • Dravidian languages
  • West African languages
  • Swahili
  • Malay Indonesian speakers
  • Japanese speakers
  • Chinese speakers
  • Korean speakers
  • Thai speakers

The accompanying CD

Speakers of various languages referred to in the book were recorded to exemplify difficulties and characteristics speech.

The shopping list reading passage includes 44 English phonemes; in addition to the overall rhythm and tone, the way the phonemes and junctures are realized.

The duration of the CD is approximately 71 minutes


Purpose and scope of the book

This book is a practical reference guide for teachers of English as a foreign language. It is meant to help teachers to anticipate the inherent difficulties of learners of English who speak particular mother tongues, and to understand how these difficulties arise.

It is only possible, in a work of this kind, to give an outline account of the problems of the speakers of a few of the world’s many languages. In the twenty-two chapters, many teachers will find information that is useful to them.  Most importantly this book is designed primarily for teachers of British English, the selection is biased slightly towards the problems of those students that British teachers most often find themselves teaching. Teachers of other varieties should, however, also find much that is relevant to their purposes.

Most of the chapters discuss the typical ‘interlanguage’ of speakers of a particular mother tongue (by ‘interlanguage’ we mean the variety of a language that is produced by non-native learners.) In some cases (Swahili, Hindi, Tamil), the language focused on can be taken as broadly representative of a whole group. Speakers of related languages are likely to share a number of the problems described. In two chapters (those on West African and Scandinavian learners), the description relates to the English speakers of a whole group of languages.


Learner English by Michael Swan


GoodReads Rating



  • This book assists learners and teachers with problem pronunciation


  • This book will not help with grammar, vocabulary or written language

Aaron Skudder


  1. Excellent review you have up here and I’m glad I read through it. Learning English as a second or third language does not always come at ease because the language is full of inconsistencies and as such it becomes a cumbersome task for learners to comprehend it well. However, getting a book such as this Learner English by Michael swan would help to put the feet on the right path and help ease in identifying the kinds of problems every individuals face when it comes to the learning of English language based on various influences. Great post!

  2. No questions on the topic as the overall article is very well written and to the point. In my experience as we have heard from all they say English is one of the hardest languages to learn. My opinion is I thinks its hard to learn any language but this book will benefit lots of people trying to learn! 

    • Hi Trevor, I am not sure what you mean by 

      ‘No questions on the topic as the overall article is very well written and to the point’

      Should there be a clause after the word topic?  A comma would change the meaning of your sentence.

      I hope you have a look at Learner English, in my opinion, it is the best book available on pronunciation.

  3. I was once considering taking up a role to teach English to earn some extra cash. Not being a trained instructor this book would most helpful, by the sounds of it. The accompanying CD would be helpful in conjunction with the text. Is the need for English language instructors growing or getting smaller? Could a person operate as an instructor strictly online?

    • To answer your questions

      1. English became a Lingua Franca in the 20th Century.  This means Engish is used as a bridge language for countries where two or more languages are spoken, so yes, the need for EFL teachers is growing every year.  Jim Scriveners book Learning Teaching is the best book on the subject

      2. Yes, use Skype or a similar tool for teaching online

  4. Hey Aaron, great article. The English Learner is a must have item and I like how its all about learning; what makes it great is that it covers a multitude of languages which, if we’re being honest here, is a great tool to have especially if you’re a teacher who has students making pronunciation mistakes. Awesome article!

  5. I’ve gone through this book before, it’s an excellent reference  book that I’m always referring to- explains first language influence and also can really help identification of reasons behind learner error in beginner English. Michael Swan I must say is the man, the man who knows his stuff and the man who knows the anatomy of the learner and can also anticipate the common mistakes a learner might fall into and correct them right away. I love reading everything he writes.

  6. Wow!  Living in Stratford, London, I come across people from all parts of the world. 

    From Korea to Brazil and all the countries in between.  It must be quite hard to teach English to people whose sentence structure is completely different to proper English Language. 

    At the moment, I am on a Digital Marketing Diploma and part of the Effective Business Communication module is to understand English language sentence structure and grammar.

    Which means learning what adverbs, verbs, conjunctions, and so on, mean. And how to use them properly while constructing sentences.  It’s like going back to junior school!

    I can understand non-native speakers’ struggles to come to grips with British English….

    We live to learn!

  7. This is a really cool review. I think this book is really good and it’ll be great for those who have language intrusion. This learner English by Michael swan will help the speakers speak English better and help them focus on pronunciation which in my thought is a really hard thing for the second and third English speakers. Is there any book that focuses on other aspects?

    • Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage is also a book that you should read

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