Is there a lazy way to learn French?
Wouldn’t you love to be able to kick up your feet and absorb the language from your recliner?
What if I told you it’s possible to do exactly that? However you like to relax—on the beach, in the tub, in your bed—you can do it while getting some excellent French practice!
Okay, okay—learning French is hard work, there’s no getting around that. But with French audiobooks, you can build your vocabulary and listening comprehension skills without sitting at your desk or slogging through drills and tests. Alongside your less relaxing study techniques, French audiobooks are a wonderful resource for learning language and culture.
Plus, there are so many different types available to you! No matter what genre or level you’re interested in, there are French audiobooks out there for your virtual bookshelf.
Ready for some “lazy” learning you don’t have to feel guilty about?
Why Listen to Audiobooks in French?
- You’ll hear different accents: Have you ever thought you had a pretty good grasp of French comprehension, only to hear an unfamiliar pronunciation that was totally lost on you? Audiobook narrators come from around the world, which means they can expose you to a diversity of accents that you wouldn’t hear otherwise.
Getting accustomed to different accents and pronunciations will be challenging, but you can always slow down, rewind or even listen more than once—the first time for the general storyline and the second time for the details.
- You’ll learn more words: You can get audiobooks covering so many different subjects, time periods and settings. All of these factors make for diverse language exposure and vocabulary building. Just like you learned your native language by listening to people speak in different situations, you can use French audiobooks to expand your vocabulary in the same way.
- You’ll observe how French is applied to different settings: Remember the first time you wrote a cover letter and found yourself suddenly questioning the best way to formally state your name? Language is fluid and evolves to fit the need, time and background of the speaker.
Academic language is different from language used in business, and dialogue in fiction is generally more conversational than nonfiction exposition. Audiobooks allow you to observe the many ways that French can be applied.
- You can use up dead time: What else can you do when your hands are immersed in soapy water, attacking a pile of dirty dishes? Stand there in silence? Listen to music? Engage in meaningful conversation with your spouse? Nonsense. Why not turn mundane daily tasks into an educational opportunity? You can learn a lot by listening to these audiobooks.
- You can learn about French literature: You probably had to read some classic literature in high school: “The Great Gatsby,” “The Wind in the Willows,” “Pride and Prejudice,” etc. Don’t you wish someone could’ve read those to you instead? Now’s your chance!
But don’t think you have to stick to classics, although those are good, too. The fantastic thing about French audiobooks is that they can open you up to a rich array of French literature, classic and contemporary. Some of it may be over your head or out of your wheelhouse, but some of it may be just your jam.
- You can immerse yourself in French (for free): Listening to audiobooks is probably the easiest and most budget-friendly way to immerse yourself in French without traveling (although that’s certainly an option too). Better yet, listen to French audiobooks while you travel to a French-speaking country. Double win.
If you’re looking for an active, immersive way to expose yourself to diverse French accents, hear French used in many different contexts, effectively build your vocabulary and make better use of your idle time, try FluentU.
Check it out with the free trial!
Types of French Audiobook Learning
Now that you’re thoroughly convinced of the value of French audiobooks, which ones should you listen to? There are four important types of French audiobooks that you can explore depending on your proficiency level and learning goals:
- Listen to books in the original French: This is the purist approach, and the best way to grow in your understanding of culture and language. The only cons are that there’s a limited selection of audiobook titles in French and a bigger learning curve. These are the books you may want to give a repeat listen to, in order to make sure you get everything out of them that you can.
- Listen to books translated into French: This is where you can find the largest selection of French audiobook titles. The great thing is that you can find books translated into French from a multitude of other languages. The downside is that some of the richness of the original language, as in any translated work, can be lost.
- Listen to books from your childhood in French: This approach really allows you to focus on language comprehension because you’re not keeping track of plot and character development. The language is typically straightforward and accessible to beginner French learners, and you’ll already have a grasp of the narrative. The flip side to this approach is that your listening may be a bit more passive. But if you’re lazy like me (see above), you’re okay with that.
- French audio short stories: French audiobook short stories may be overlooked, but don’t underestimate what a great addition they can be to your French repertoire. The positive side of short stories is that you can listen to an entire audio short story in one sitting, and there are generally multiple short stories included in one collection. This also makes repetition easy, since you’ll be able to listen to a whole short story a second time a lot quicker than you’ll be able to listen to a whole book a second time.
- Free French audiobooks: Who doesn’t love free things? If you are a bookworm like me, then a constant supply of French books that is easier on the wallet may be the perfect choice for you. The upside is that many classic French novels can be found and read for free in audiobook form, but the downside is that many contemporary French audiobooks and translated audiobooks are not often offered for free.
10 Fantastic French Audiobooks All Learners Will Love
Here are some of our favorite French audiobooks, organized by the categories discussed above.
Audiobooks in the Original French
“Chroniques des jours entiers, des nuits entières” (“Chronicles of Whole Days and Nights”)
Where to access this audiobook: Bibliboom
If you’re in the mood for a French story that’s a modern and unique alternative to the typical audiobook format, “Chroniques” might be a good pick for you.
This is an artsy, theatrical social commentary that combines sound, dialogue and monologue. This audiobook is short and sweet (about an hour), and is narrated by several actors, meaning you’ll be exposed to a variety of accents.
Where to access this audiobook: Littérature Audio
This is a French classic—and not the kind you have to slog through, checking the number of pages (or hours) until the end. You know this story has to be good if it was banned for being too risqué. Published in 1856, the story follows Charles, an officier de santé (health officer or doctor) and his wife Emma who engages in adulterous affairs.
There are two versions of this audiobook available on Book d’Oreille, as linked above. I prefer the one by Alain Lawrence, because his speech is very accessible to the French language learner.
This novel makes use of complex language, so it’s a good pick for more advanced French learners who want to expand their vocabulary and gain exposure to really interesting stylistic phrases unique to Madame Bovary (coined as “Bovarysmes”), such as “plate comme un trottoir de rue” (roughly, “boring as a sidewalk”).
Audiobooks in French Translation
Where to access this audiobook: Audible (check availability)
This is a 1938 English classic that reads as easily as a modern-day thriller. This story has got all the trappings of a chilling Alfred Hitchcock movie, so it’s no surprise that Hitchcock adapted it for the screen in 1940.
It features a widower, his new wife (living in the shadow of his dead wife Rebecca) and a fanatical housekeeper. The narrator speaks at an easy pace, and if you’re really a fan of the story, you can watch the movie too.
“Rebecca” is a book that’s all about the subtleties. Nothing is written (or spoken, as the case may be with audiobooks) without intention. This isn’t a particularly hard read, but the French learner will benefit from really tuning in with a keen ear to the nuances of the story and how the language gets the point across by showing, not telling.
“Les hommes qui n’aimaient pas les femmes” (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”)
Where to access this audiobook: Audiolib
While this title literally translates to “Men who didn’t like women,” this book is better known in the English world as “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
This well-known crime series has been made into several movies, and for good reason—it’s a compelling story, which follows a Swedish journalist, his colleagues, a young computer hacker and her misogynistic murderous father.
Listening to stories translated from languages other than English gives you a glimpse into an unfamiliar language and culture. It doesn’t hurt that the narrator, Emmanuel Dekoninck, is engaging and dramatic.
Books from Your Childhood in French
“Harry Potter à l’école des sorciers” (“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”)
Where to access this audiobook: Amazon (check availability)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re already familiar with the adventures of Harry and his wizard friends at Hogwarts, which means you can focus on the language (including how the French narrator pronounces made-up words like “muggle!”).
In fact, the strength of the “Harry Potter” series is that it’s available in multiple languages and in multiple formats.
As explained by our host on FluentU’s YouTube channel, you can read “Harry Potter” as a book, listen to the audiobook and watch the movies with subtitles in French and in your native language. This makes it easier for you to understand, and you can grow your French language skills while enjoying Harry Potter’s world!
Check out the video for more “Harry Potter” learning hacks, and don’t forget to subscribe to the FluentU YouTube channel for more insightful language learning videos.
The first few books were written for a grade-school audience, so this is a good choice for those French learners who want to listen to a story without complex language. You can practice building your listening comprehension skills without getting lost or overwhelmed.
“Les aventures d’Alice au pays des merveilles” (“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”)
Where to access this audiobook: Littérature Audio
It’s a delight to read about the weird adventures of Alice in Wonderland, but in French. You’ll find yourself drawing parallels between the very British language and the French translation. It’s a wonderful option if you’re looking for a story that’ll hold your attention and delight your ear.
This version is read by a strong narrator who speaks slowly, which is always helpful for those new to French.
French Audio Short Stories
“La petite fille aux allumettes” (“The Little Match Girl”)
Where to access this audiobook: Bibliboom
Even though Hans Christian Andersen was a Danish writer, his story stories have been read and enjoyed all over the world as well as translated into many languages.
On Bibliboom, you can access one of his best known classics, “La petite fille aux allumettes.“ This story runs less than 10 minutes, so it is perfect for a blast of French in a short amount of time. It is about a young girl who is attempting to sell matches to passersby on New Year’s Eve. As the night gets colder, she lights the matches to stay warm and see wonderful visions.
This story has clear French audio as well as great sound effects and music. There is also a text version of the story that can be downloaded from the website so that learners can read along while they listen to the story.
“Le petit chaperon rouge” (“Little Red Riding Hood”)
Where to access this audiobook: FluentU
Did you know that the story of le petit chaperon rouge dates back to the 17th century?
While its actual origins are unknown, it follows the story of a young girl who travels through the forest to bring her sick grandmother food. Along the way, she encounters a Big Bad Wolf who has a different meal in mind.
There have been many retellings of the story over the centuries, and this one featured on FluentU is aimed at children, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a child in order for it to benefit your French. In fact, this retelling is perfect for beginner and pre-intermediate learners who are just starting to listen to French stories and audiobooks.
Add in FluentU’s interactive subtitles in French and English as well as clickable words for detailed dictionary explanations of French words, and this story is sure to be a French learning gold mine.
Free French Audiobooks
If free French audiobooks are what you’re after, you’ll be happy to know that there are quite a few places online where you can find them.
For starters, Littérature audio (Audio Literature) claims to have over 8,000 French audiobooks for free download on its website. Many of the books are in the public domain, meaning that they were written so long ago that the copyright has expired and they can be hosted and downloaded at no cost. You can also find some modern audiobooks there as well as translations of popular audiobooks from other languages.
While not as expansive, there are other websites where you can find free French audiobooks. These include Bibliboom and Librivox, a website that uses volunteer native speakers of French for its collection of 800 free audiobooks. There is also Audiocite that hosts not only romans (novels) but also an array of non-fiction books for voracious French readers.
Last but not least, free French audiobooks can be found on YouTube! There are many individual French audiobooks that you may be lucky to find if you search the French book by title, and there are even a few playlists such as this one by Guarda ora to keep you going.
“Le tour du monde en 80 jours” (“Around the World in 80 Days”)
Where to access this audiobook: Littérature Audio
Jules Verne is one of the most prolific French adventure writers, and you can listen to this classic on Littérature audio for free.
The story follows Phileas Fogg, a wealthy British man who wages half of his fortune on a bet that he can circumnavigate the Earth in 80 days. His journey takes him to Japan, India and the United States of America by train and steamer on this marvelous adventure through a 19th-century world.
This French audiobook is recorded by a native French speaker in a mainstream Standard French accent. That means that this book is a great way to listen to the French that you’ll most likely encounter in French media, at school and at workplaces in France. It is also a great way to learn words and expressions used in 19th century French literature.
“Le petit prince” (“The Little Prince”)
Where to access this audiobook: YouTube
Le petit prince is a French classic loved by children and adults alike. It was originally written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and then translated into dozens of languages, and you can listen to it for free on YouTube.
This book is about a little prince who travels through outer space, visiting various planets and encountering many colorful characters along the way. While it sounds like a light-hearted children’s story, “Le petit prince” explores the themes of friendship, solitude and grief, and it can get quite philosophical at times.
This audiobook is an older one, featuring a grandfatherly male voice. It’s also complete with sound effects and music. Best of all, you can read along to the story with this audiobook because the words of the story are part of the YouTube video. This is a huge benefit for French learners who want to mine for vocabulary.
Now that you’ve picked an approach and an audiobook to tune into, go ahead—hurry up and go improve your French the lazy way.
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.
Loie Gervais is an educational writer and editor. She specializes in language, post-secondary education, academic skills and organizational behavior.
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