Who says advanced French readers should have all the fun?
As a beginner to the language, you might think you’re stuck with certain designated reading material.
You’ve been dutifully reading books at your level, but you’d like to get a handle on everyday French as used in practical, real-life situations.
And for that, Le Petit Prince ain’t gonna cut it.
Don’t get me wrong, books are still capable of using “real” language, and they’re a great way to pack in vocab.
But as a beginner, you can access a lot more written French than you might know about.
One of the best ways to do this is through native content online.
“Hang on,” you say, “I’ve already tried browsing the internet in French and it’s far too difficult. I’m not ready for that!”
Don’t worry! I’m not going to send you out there with no guidance whatsoever!
For the kind of reading I’m talking about, you have to know where to look.
Beyond Books and Learning Materials
One of the biggest problems beginning French learners face is that they don’t get enough variety in putting the language to use. They might cram vocab and occasionally read a book, but ignore other methods of building knowledge, such as playing games, browsing the internet, or simply watching videos on FluentU.
To keep learning dynamic and interesting enough to bump yourself up to an intermediate level, it pays to consider all your options.
Finding Native Online Content Simple Enough for Beginners
“Okay,” you say. “I’m sold. But where does this simpler native content come from, exactly?”
That’s a good question. If you check online chat and Q&A forums for questions from beginning French learners, you’ll find a lot of people asking exactly that.
“Hey guys, any easy French newspapers out there? Any options for easy reading outside of textbooks? Uh, guys? GUYS?”
When someone does bother to respond, it’s often the same answer: Read Le Petit Prince. Read Camus. Advance your level so you can get into more advanced books. You just have to work harder.
How about working smarter? Tackling whole books, with no light reading in between, can be discouraging.
Even a lot of French magazines require too intimate a knowledge of the language to be accessible to beginners. Even Le Petit Prince takes plenty of linguistic chin-ups to level up to.
So what is the alternative?
Consider, if you will, the following.
1. Content Simplified for Children
Just as French children’s books are an option for beginning readers, some French sites offer material specifically for kids. Learners of French often miss these sites because they aren’t advertised as being for French learners.
2. Content Simplified for Advertising
Speaking of advertising, it doesn’t pay to sell your product using big words or long, complex sentences.
French ads aren’t going to use tedious or confusing phrasing. Approaching the French language online from this perspective opens up even more options for beginners.
3. Content Simplified for Entertainment
With the evolution of viral buzz sites and social media that values quick, easy explanations, everything online is getting simpler. Some may see that as being a bad thing, but for language learners, it’s great!
It means you can read what everyone else is reading from the get-go, without having to build up a huge vocabulary first.
The above list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start. Now, let’s take a look at some real sites that offer easy reading in French!
12 Native Sites for Your Easy French Reading Fix Online
Here are some categories of websites that may use simpler language, and a few examples of each.
What better way to practice your French reading than with a daily dose of world events? These news sites, which post updates frequently because, well…they’re news sites, will keep you supplied with a steady stream of easy-to-read French content!
1. rfi.fr (Le Journal en français façile)
The French news service RFI offers a simplified daily summary of international news in both an audio and text format on their website. These summaries can be useful for dictation exercises (writing what you hear and checking what you come up with against the text) or just everyday French reading.
2. 1 jour 1 actu
A French news site for children, 1 jour 1 actu seeks to appeal to kids without being condescending or shying away from important issues. “actu” is short for “actualité” (news), and the name of the site refers to the fact that they post one new story per day.
You also have to check out the animated video section, under Les info animées, which attempts to explain serious subjects in a way that’s almost too adorable considering the seriousness of the subjects. Almost. The video descriptions provide good reading practice, too.
3. Le journal des enfants
A similar site for kids, this one lets you browse news stories through corresponding thumbnail images. Updates are more sporadic, but the content is high-quality and it more closely resembles an actual news site.
Browsing items for sale online is one of the best ways to apply a beginning reading level. You’ll be able to exercise your basic French vocabulary by recognizing names of colors and objects. Since online shopping almost always involves photos, you’ll also be able to make educated guesses at words you don’t know.
1. La Redoute
A sale site with thousands of listings for clothing, furniture and toys, La Redoute is a great resource for brushing up on your vocab as well as learning new words from context. You might know the word chaussures (shoes), but how about escarpins (heels)? Pretty soon you’ll be a French fashion and interior design expert ready to embark on a French shopping adventure.
Leboncoin is a resale/classifieds site that serves all of France. As the home page is a map with clickable regions, it’s as useful for practicing your geography as it is for your vocab! Just remember, even natives may be prone to misspellings and grammatical mistakes. The boutiques (stores) section is most likely to provide reliable and well-written information.
Pretty self-explanatory, right? It’s worth noting, if you’re not a frequent eBay user, that they’re actually pretty snazzy these days. More warehouse-chic than warehouse, the site reads like an online catalog. Featured collections are set off with short descriptive paragraphs that will gently nudge you toward an intermediate French level.
Travel sites offer a huge variety of simplified content in the form of pictures and lists. Plus, they can be a lot of fun. Take the opportunity to plan an imaginary vacation to a French-speaking country. If nothing else, it’ll be good practice for the real thing!
This is a trip-planning site run by France’s government-owned railway company, the SNCF. That’s the Sociéte nationale des chemins de fer français. (See if you can work that mouthful out if you don’t already know what it means.)
With ads for packages, and a ton of transportation and lodging options to play with, you can spend hours here, rolling up knowledge like nobody’s business. (That’s begging for a katamari reference. Sorry, Japanese blog, boules just doesn’t quite work!)
An intuitive, clickable site, Promovacances displays vacation packages with corresponding photos and hotel descriptions in short, bulleted lists. It also provides files for hotels with tabs that organize info into categories like FAQs, activities and the how-tos of transportation.
A discount trip site that really tries to sell you on vacation packages. You’ll encounter a lot of short, descriptive text paired with telltale photos and icons. While there are a lot of approaches you can take to browsing here, the design is intuitive and you shouldn’t have to think about it too much. Just let the words flow!
Trends and Entertainment
Sites that feature trending content are a fun way to learn French reading at a beginner’s level. Since these sites tend to have a certain recognizable edge to their humor, they introduce you to the language’s distinct personality early on.
The French love kitten pics as much as anyone. Given that it’s the French version of BuzzFeed, you should have no trouble navigating your way around this simple viral content site with familiar categories like LOL, WIN, FAIL and OMG. Since much of the content is photo-based, it’s easy to seize the meaning of a posting first, then break the language down bit by bit.
A fun, popular French site designed to be read second-to-second, you’ll find petites listes browsable by category here. You can amuse yourself with Topitrucs, short reviews of products that are funny, weird or just weirdly specific.
Skyrock is a huge French social networking site that’s worth checking out just because it’s so popular. It’s also a good source for quick music and movie news. Announcements and plot summaries, while they may contain colloquialisms you’ll need to work out, are short and to the point. You can access the music and movie blogs directly at music.skyrock.com and cine.skyrock.com.
And there you have it! Your gateway to easy French online browsing and hours of fun. If you use these sites regularly, your options for reading in French will swiftly multiply.
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.
Elisabeth Cook is a freelance writer and avid French bookworm who nevertheless enjoys playing around online like everyone else. You can follow her on Twitter (@CooksChicken) or read her book blog at litallover.com.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.