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.
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 three 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 final 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 on 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.
6 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: Book d’Oreille
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 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
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!”).
These 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: Litterature 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.
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 with fun, addicting and authentic material, then you’ve got to try FluentU.
FluentU lets you learn French from real-world content like music videos, commercials, news broadcasts, cartoons and inspiring talks. Since this video content is stuff that native French speakers actually watch on the regular, you’ll get the opportunity to learn real French—the way it’s spoken in modern life.
One quick look will give you an idea of the diverse content found on FluentU:
Love the thought of learning French with native materials but afraid you won’t understand what’s being said? FluentU brings authentic French videos within reach of any learner. Interactive captions will guide you along the way, so you’ll never miss a word.
Tap on any word to see a definition, in-context usage examples, audio pronunciation, helpful images and more. For example, if you tap on the word “suit,” then this is what appears on your screen:
Don’t stop there, though. Use FluentU’s learn mode to actively practice all the vocabulary in any video with vocabulary lists, flashcards, quizzes and fun activities like “fill in the blank.”
As you continue advancing in your French studies, FluentU keeps track of all the grammar and vocabulary that you’ve been learning. It uses your viewed videos and mastered language lessons to recommend more useful videos and give you a 100% personalized experience.
Loie Gervais is an educational writer and editor. She specializes in language, post-secondary education, academic skills and organizational behavior.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.