In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” earthling Arthur Dent is able to instantaneously understand alien languages with the aid of the Babel Fish in his ear.
Imagine reading a classic work of French literature cover to cover—and not stumbling over any unknown vocabulary.
Sounds almost like a superpower, doesn’t it?
Less toil, less trouble.
Welcome to the world of French-English bilingual books.
They’re like a Babel Fish for your eyes.
Seeing Double to Bring French into Focus: The Advantages of French-English Bilingual Books
- Use them at any stage of French learning. It doesn’t matter whether you’re just learning to say “Bonjour” (“Hello”), or if you’ve just finished French IV: There are bilingual books out there for virtually every French language learner, in almost any phase of learning.
- Read without reaching for the dictionary. Have you tried reading French books, only to find yourself looking up words every few minutes? Although dictionaries can be invaluable references, all that stopping and starting can interrupt the flow of a good story. It’s exactly why FluentU uses bilingual subtitles in their videos so that you can enjoy the content without having to pause every ten seconds to look up definitions.
Bilingual texts, both subtitles and books, are like a built-in dictionary, so you don’t have to stray too far from the action when the vocabulary needs a little glossing.
- They’re literary, not literal. While some types of bilingual books translate word-for-word, most of them translate entire passages. This gives readers a better sense of meaning within context, and respects the flow and pacing of the original work. It’s also a great way to learn idiomatic expressions, which deepen your understanding of Francophone people and cultures.
- They bring French literature into reach. If you can’t wait to dive into the classics, but find yourself a few years away from full fluency, wait no longer! Bilingual books can give you the linguistic equivalent of Inspector Gadget arms, pulling the work of well-known authors into the realm of your immediate understanding.
Bilingual Book Formats
Bilingual books come in a wide variety of formats. Here are four of the most common:
- Line-by-line. This format lets you see the English translation of each line, either directly above or below the original French.
- Section-by-section. Whole sections—often, paragraphs—are displayed together, in French and English. This format keeps more of the literary continuity intact, while still providing steady assistance with difficult words.
- Page-by-page. If you’re fairly confident in your French comprehension, but still feel like you need to double-check yourself, a page-by-page translation can give you the perfect balance.
- Side-by-side. Want to switch back and forth between French and English on the fly? Side-by-side translations give you the opportunity to focus entirely on one language or the other, while still making it easy to confirm your comprehension with the translated text.
Finding Bilingual Books
Many publishers offer bilingual books. This small sampling will give you an idea of the variety of subjects and formats available to you.
- Milet Publishing. Based in Britain, Milet Publishing also has a U.S. website, with bilingual offerings primarily geared at children. Topical picture dictionaries comprise most of their catalogue.
- My Grandma’s Tales. Grandma’s stories are bilingual fairy tales, according to this colorful publisher. They offer over a dozen vibrantly-decorated French-English books, which they sell through Amazon in both paper and electronic format.
- Black Widow Press. Get bitten by the poetry bug with these collections of bilingual French poetry. You can buy them directly through the publisher, or on Amazon. If you cast your web wider, you can find them at brick-and-mortar stores throughout the United States, and 15 other countries throughout the world.
- Doppeltext. A purveyor of venerable works in electronic form, Doppeltext’s e-books are priced by length. You can read a free excerpt of every book; Doppeltext offers Guy de Maupassant’s groundbreaking horror story, “Le Horla,” in its entirety. For a “pop-up” translation into English, just click or tap on a phrase or sentence in the original French text.
- Farkas Translations. Farkas publishes public domain works free of charge in side-by-side, paragraph-by-paragraph translations. Available books are listed in tables by language. They’re downloadable as a .zip file that extracts into both text file and HTML format. You can also read them online in your web browser.
- Wolf Pup Books. Exclusively an electronic publisher, Wolf Pup Books offers celebrated works in both Kindle and NOOK formats. It’s easiest to find them through the publisher’s website, which will link to the product page on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. The translations are paragraph by paragraph, with the English and French rendered in contrasting colors. Footnotes and additional glossing within the text add historical and linguistic context to the translations.
- Folio bilingue. French publisher Folio’s bilingual book imprint features a wide range of Anglophone authors, including Arthur Conan Doyle and Jack Kerouac. Folio bilingue books are available as paperbacks, and not in electronic format.
With the exception of works from Farkas Translations, you can find most of the books from these publishers on Amazon.
A Diverse Dozen: 12 Bilingual French-English Books to Try Now
Can’t wait to double your reading pleasure? With just a few taps of your finger, or clicks of la souris d’ordinateur (the computer mouse), you can redouble your literary enjoyment with these bilingual beauties.
Bilingual Children’s Books for Learning Basic Words
Picture dictionaries and story books teach fundamental vocabulary for beginners. The colorful illustrations reinforce concepts.
“My First French Book”
If you’ve never studied French before, this picture dictionary is a charming way to learn the basics. Each word or phrase is introduced with a brightly-colored picture, accompanied by the English word and boldfaced French equivalent. A glossary at the end of the book recaps all the words you learn.
“What Am I?”
This slender volume teaches vocabulary with a series of riddles in French and English. (It may also give you flashbacks to the elephant-in-the-fridge jokes of your youth.)
Café (Coffee) and Thé (Tea) battle for supremacy, not realizing they must credit Eau (Water) with their very existence! This quirky book, part of a wacky bilingual series by author Miley Smiley, will put un sourire (a smile) on your face as you improve your French.
The Magic of Bilingual Fairy Tales
The familiar stories and characters make it easier to focus on French. Vivid and visceral, the powerful imagery touches your imagination and sparks your emotions. Go beyond the book and film adaptations—get the real story when you read the French original. Contes de fées (fairy tales) are an important part of the French cultural lexicon. These bilingual books can open an enchanted door into French language, history and folk culture.
“Contes de Charles Perrault (Tales of Charles Perrault)”
The Hans Christian Andersen of France, Perrault turned folk tales into literary classics that have been adored for centuries by children and adults alike. Some of the best-loved fairy tales were preserved for the world’s enjoyment by Perrault’s plume: “Sleeping Beauty,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Puss in Boots” and the quintessential “Cinderella.” “Contes de Charles Perrault” is an illustrated collection of several of his best-known works.
“Cinderella” is perhaps the most beloved of all French fairy tales. This bilingual edition boasts antique illustrations and side-by-side French-English renderings of Perrault’s original text.
“Learn French with Fairy Tales: Interlinear French to English”
This is a collection of nine fairy tales, including “Les Trois Ours” (The Three Bears) and “Blanche-Neige” (Snow White). Each line of a given story is presented first in large, boldfaced French—with word-for-word, literal English translations right underneath the French. You’ll see English idiomatic equivalents for some words and phrases.
Experience the rhythm and cadence of French poetic language. Bilingual editions of French poems highlight metaphor and subtle shades of meaning.
“Selected 19th Century French Poetry, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Gautier, deLisle, Heredia”
Among these notable poets is Charles Baudelaire, famous for “Les Fleurs du mal” (The Flowers of Evil). Another poet in the collection, Théophile Gautier, helped pioneer l’art pour l’art (“art for art’s sake”)—a concept still with us today.
“The Defiant Muse: French Feminist Poems from the Middle Ages to the Present: A Bilingual Anthology”
This anthology brings to light often-overlooked works of female Francophone poets. Along with many poems in modern French, “The Defiant Muse” incorporates poems in Old and Middle French to preserve their historical integrity.
“Préversities: A Jacques Prévert Sampler”
Prolific Jacques Prévert wrote in simple verse. His works are often memorized by French schoolchildren. His poem “Les feuilles mortes” (The Dead Leaves) became the English-language song “Autumn Leaves.”
Classics of Bilingual Literature
Enjoy challenging works of philosophy and drama without frustration. Many of these books are in the public domain, so they’re often free or inexpensive.
“Le Tour du Monde en 80 Jours (Around the World in 80 Days)”
Jules Verne’s precursor to “The Amazing Race” is available free from Farkas Translations, with the accompanying audiobook from Project Gutenberg. Go on a global adventure with Phileas Fogg and his trusty valet, Jean Passepartout.
“Les Trois Mousquetaires (The Three Musketeers)”
Meet swordsman d’Artagnan and his comrades Aramis, Porthos and Athos. This swashbuckling quartet has inspired a plethora of international works including anime, television series, video games, a musical and a chocolate candy bar. Dumas’ original novel married high adventure with political criticism of l’Ancien Régime (the Old Regime).
“Le Médecin malgré lui (The Doctor in Spite of Himself)”
Many of the comedic devices in “Le Médecin malgré lui” will doubtlessly seem familiar to filmgoers and sitcom viewers. Enjoy Molière’s influential farce about Sganarelle, the woodcutting scoundrel who took advantage of his wife’s attempt to punish him. Much like his predecessor Shakespeare did in English, Molière introduced words and expressions into the French language that are still widely used over three centuries later.
French-English bilingual books pack learning and understanding into the same pages.
It’s the best of both worlds.
Wonder Twin powers, activate!
And one more thing...
If you like learning French on your own time and from the comfort of your smart device, then I'd be remiss to not tell you about FluentU.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews, documentary excerpts and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native French videos with reach. With interactive captions, you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:
Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you've learned in a given video with learn mode. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning, and play the mini-games found in our dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
All throughout, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a totally personalized experience. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
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