Learning to read in French doesn’t have to be a struggle.
It’s something anyone can achieve with time and persistence.
But why hike through the mountains when you can take a train?
Taking things one step at a time will ensure you reach your goals, true.
One way to make your journey toward fluent reading more streamlined and comfortable is to entrust your time to French readers, books that assemble or create French texts for learners just like you.
French readers can reduce frustration and provide a painless way to build your vocabulary.
They can also take care of some of the trickier logistics of reading for you, while you just watch the language unroll like a long stretch of beautiful scenery.
Using French readers doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. I’ll tell you everything you need to know about getting the most out of them.
Are you on board?
The No-Fuss, Nitty-Gritty Guide to French Readers
What French Readers Can Offer You That Regular Books Can’t
Guidance. French readers come in several different formats, but they can all offer some help. Some of them might be put together like a mini French course, introducing new words and asking questions at the end of each chapter or story. Others might include footnotes or glossaries to assist you with more difficult vocab.
Texts specifically written or compiled for your needs. French readers may provide material that makes up a single story or narrative, or they may provide several different texts. The material may be original or taken from various outside sources. Whatever the case, most readers have a specific focus. Whether it’s helping you learn French or simply introducing you to new reading material at your level, there’s going to be a primary purpose. It’s your job (and mine for the time being) to figure out what that is. When using these, you can have a better idea of what to expect than you would by just picking up any old book!
As your reading level becomes more advanced, French readers can help you continue to test your comprehension by giving you a variety of reading material suitable for your level. They also provide a way to sample authors whose works you might want to look into, without the commitment of buying an entire novel.
Being at an advanced reading level also allows you to read French texts beyond traditional literature with more ease. No longer will you have to struggle to read French subtitles on movies and TV shows. However, it’s not an issue if you aren’t quite there yet, since you can always work your way up with the help of the subtitled content on FluentU.
Each video is equipped with both French and English subtitles. As a beginner or intermediate, you can keep both language subtitles on. Once you’ve progressed through French readers, you’ll easily be able to watch videos with just French subtitles. Learn more about the FluentU program by checking out the free trial.
Helpful Features of French Readers
Let’s take a look at some of the specific help French readers have to offer and how you can get the most out of using them!
1. Annotation or Glossaries
Many readers allow you to check the definitions of more difficult words as you read. This might be done through footnotes or a glossary in the back of the book. Some readers break up the text into smaller portions and provide a glossary for each one.
Whatever the case may be, annotation is an invaluable learning tool. It allows you the experience of reading on your own while at the same time knowing you have an arsenal of vocab at your disposal. You also have the option of rereading later to see if the new words you’ve learned have stuck.
One popular format for readers is dual text, in which stories or other writings are shown in French on one side of the book and in English on the other. This format has its benefits, but watch out! It can be tempting, especially if you’re really getting into what you’re reading, to just switch to English. You’ll want to avoid this, as well as using the translation as a quick reference tool. Even very literally translated sentences often won’t correspond exactly word-by-word and you may end up confusing yourself!
Comparing the two texts in detail, however, or taking a crack at translation yourself, can be highly beneficial. You can also read through a page in French (preferably while keeping the English translation covered) and then read through the same text in English to see if you’ve grasped the general ideas or plot points. With many French readers now being available in e-book format, the pages are presented one at a time, which helps control the urge to read along in English simultaneously.
3. Comprehension Questions
Some readers provide you with questions at the end of each chapter or story. These are a great opportunity to see if you’ve understood what you’ve read, and answering them serves as good writing practice. Answering out loud will help your conversational skills as well!
Factors to Consider When Selecting Readers
Most readers will mention who they’re appropriate for, and in any case it’s usually pretty easy to tell. They can also be pretty flexible, though. Because of their guided format, the sweet spot for optimum learning is wider with French readers than with regular books.
A heavily annotated text, for example, can be useful for a French learner who only knows a few of the defined words, a learner who knows all but a few of those words and anyone in-between. Still, part of the whole point is to not have to struggle so much, so if a reader seems like it’s going to be a real pain, reconsider!
What you like to read
Being easy to please is a plus when you’re learning to read in French but, if you’re picky, defer to your tastes! If you don’t have an interest in French classics, for example, don’t force yourself to read an entire book of them. If you can’t find anything from major online retailers that looks intriguing, don’t stop there. Poke around elsewhere on the internet and check out used bookstores.
You might be surprised at what you find! There are quite a few French readers put together by university presses that are officially out of print but still floating around. These tend to be thoughtfully put together and often geared toward specific preferences, ranging anywhere in scope from the nouveau roman to suspense to 19th century French literature. Even so, they’re published in limited print runs so you’ll have to look a little harder for these guys.
That said, here are some French readers you can check out that are widely available and affordable on almost any budget.
French Reader Recommendations
For Absolute Beginners: “The Berlitz Self-Teacher: French”
It’s hard to find books these days that’ll have you jump from zero French knowledge right into reading and, to be fair, “The Berlitz Self-Teacher” is rather dated. But it offers a simple French immersion experience right off the bat in an easy, non-intimidating format. The book is divided into lessons that begin with short lists of vocab (along with pictures, translations and pronunciation notes) followed by simple sentences that make use of the vocab. It gradually feeds you more and more complicated sentences, integrating new words as you go along and making use of previously learned vocabulary. As you read on, the sentences begin to form little stories. There are questions at the end of each lesson to test your understanding of what you’ve read, and by the end of the book you’re reading full dialogues.
For Beginning-to-Intermediate Learners: Sylvie Lainé’s “Easy French Reader Series”
Sylvie Lainé is a native French speaker who writes annotated books for French learners. The stories are broken up into short blocks of text followed by glossaries. The glossaries are quite extensive but unobtrusive, set entirely apart from the text. So, you can use them however much you need or ignore them completely. The books are ranked by level and can be previewed on Amazon and purchased in e-book format for a very reasonable price.
For Intermediate-to-Advanced Learners: “New Penguin Parallel Text: Short Stories in French”
As a French learner, you’ll probably come across a lot of compilations of classic French literature. This one will offer you a taste of the modern as well. A dual text collection of more recent French-language stories, “Short Stories in French,” offers a variety of voices and styles that will help you familiarize yourself with written French. The stories aren’t all literary masterpieces, but they all have something to teach you about the language. Many of them are only a few pages long, and this reader is available as an e-book, too.
Benefits of Reading in French
In an age that values new technology so much, reading as a skill is vastly under-appreciated. It tends to be under-appreciated as an important skill in learning languages, as well. For this reason, even very good French readers are criticized due to not being offered with audio or being blown up into full French immersion programs. However, there’s no such thing as a complete, perfect immersion program out there, and no one resource can be expected to teach you everything.
Hearing French being spoken is an important part of the learning the language, and there are many resources suitable for this purpose, including French language radio and videos. In the meantime, reading continues to be one of the fastest methods of growing your vocabulary and internalizing grammar, and getting a firm grasp on it will help you with listening and speaking French as well.
No matter what your goals in learning French might be, reading will help you achieve them. And if you need a helping hand, French readers are your best bet!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.