I have a confession.
I’ve never read a French book cover-to-cover.
Whew, it feels good to get that off my chest!
Reading a full French book has always felt like too much work. Any book I’d find interesting would have me diverting to a French dictionary every five minutes to look up unfamiliar words. It would take me forever to toil through just one chapter.
But recently, I heard about a certain type of book that would make the whole thing much easier: parallel texts in French and English.
These are bilingual books that tell you the same story in both languages.
No need to worry about losing the plot—it’s right there in English if you need it.
They might just be game changers for me. Read on to discover 10 parallel texts across many levels and genres, and find out if they open up a world of French reading for you, too.
What Is a Parallel Text?
“Parallel” means side-by-side continuously. Remember back in geometry class when you learned about parallel lines? They’re lines that are on the same plane but never touch.
“Parallel text” refers to a body of text that includes translations of two different languages right next to each other. In this case, part of the book is in French, immediately translated into English. Depending on the book, you can read the English translation by page, by paragraph or even by sentence.
Now you won’t have to constantly look up meanings of French words online—which is fantastic because, if you’re like me, jumping online only leads to scrolling through Facebook and Reddit.
If this language learning method sounds interesting, you can even get the same benefits from video with FluentU.
FluentU lets you learn French from real-world content like music videos, commercials, news broadcasts, cartoons and inspiring talks.
Since this content is material that native French speakers actually watch regularly, 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 guide you along the way, so you 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 to actively practice all the vocabulary in any video through word 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.
Who Should Read Parallel Texts?
French is a tricky language for us visual learners. Being one myself, the silent letters freak me out. Seven years into my French studies, I still have to stop and think before typing the word beaucoup (a lot).
If someone tries to teach me a new French word simply by speaking it, I’m completely lost! The sounds themselves mean nothing to me.
Additionally, let’s say I know how a French word is spelled but don’t know the definition. If someone tells me the English translation, I easily forget the meaning if I don’t see the English word written down.
If someone says the word and shows me the text in both languages, then I’m on board!
Children Being Raised Bilingual
It’s no secret that reading to your kids daily is beneficial. Storytime builds children’s vocabulary, helps them develop speech and squeezes in some quality time with you every day.
If you’re raising a child to be bilingual and they’re learning to read, work through a children’s book with them that has parallel text.
Note: if you’re raising your child bilingual from a very young age, I recommend sticking to just one language while reading so they can have an immersive experience. If you’re starting to teach them French after they’ve already learned some English, though, having the parallel text handy can be very helpful.
Beginner and Intermediate Learners
If you’re a beginner French learner, the idea of reading an entire book in French may seem beyond your reach.
Thanks to parallel texts, you can venture outside your comfort zone and grab a French book off the shelf. If you start to feel lost, just glance at the English translation. This will help you learn countless new words.
If you’re an intermediate student, aim to read some of the more difficult books in parallel text form. You’re bound to find some new words and ideas that’ll challenge you.
Advanced Learners Trying to Stretch Themselves
Is your French vocabulary on point? Does reading a French children’s book sound way too easy?
Don’t worry, books with parallel text can still benefit you.
Maybe you’ve been shying away from long, difficult texts because they seem a little out of your wheelhouse. Sure, you can discuss current-day politics in French. But reading about 18th-century French politics? That’s a little intimidating!
That’s where parallel text comes in. As you’ll see below, you can find even complex, literary works in parallel text form. Now you can become even more fluent! There’s always room for growth.
Side-by-side: 10 Fun Books with Parallel Text in French and English
Working your way through a collection of short stories is a stimulating way to build your French vocabulary. When you read multiple stories, you diversify the information you take in.
Short story collections may also hold your attention longer than a book. If one story is too difficult or too easy, just move on to the next one!
You have the added bonus of exposing yourself to many new foreign authors you never would’ve read otherwise—a major bonus for all my fellow bibliophiles!
This compilation is made up of 12 short stories by both French and Québécois authors. The vocabulary and storytelling techniques differ depending on the narrative.
The book opens with the story “Apprendre à Vivre” (“Learning How to Live”) by Frédéric Fajardie. This is a tale of a young boy and a man whose lives briefly intersect before one of them dies.
At the time the story takes place, both characters’ lives revolve around love. You’ll learn terms related to romance and heartbreak, such as un amant (lover) and la femme (wife).
After reading this first story, I guarantee you’ll be hooked on this book.
These tales will teach about how to use French past tenses including l’imparfait and le passé simple when telling a story. You’ll also pick up on humor and tone as you read various examples of great French writing.
These 10 stories are targeted towards kids from eight to 12 years of age. It’s the perfect book for children growing up bilingual, as well as adults in the early stages of studying French.
After reading a paragraph printed in French, followed by the English version, you can move on to the next paragraph. This paragraph-by-paragraph breakdown makes reading the material achievable for early learners.
When you buy this book online, you also receive an audio recording of all the stories. This perk is great for students who want to hear the correct pronunciation of French words!
Story topics range from vacation, to school, to animals, to birthdays. Readers are sure to learn a wide range of basic, useful vocabulary!
The “Learn French Parallel Text” Series
That’s right, there’s an entire series based on the parallel text teaching philosophy!
You can start at the beginning and work your way through each volume. Or maybe you’d rather choose one book that best fits your level and goals.
“Learn French I Parallel Text: Easy Stories” is a solid place for beginner students to start to learn through parallel text. “Learn French II Parallel Text: Short Stories” is the next step for intermediate learners.
“Learn French III Parallel Text: Easy to Moderately Hard Short Stories” is good for a variety of learners. If you find parallel text to be a helpful learning tool, get this book and work your way through the stories as your French improves.
“Business French Parallel Text” is a wonderful option for advanced students and/or learners who know they want to use French in their professional lives. This book still contains short stories, but the tales involve business information and vocabulary.
You may already be familiar with some of these classic books. Read them with a fresh perspective as you take in the story in both French and English.
“Le Comte de Monte-Cristo” (“The Count of Monte Cristo”)
“The Count of Monte Cristo” is a classic novel by French author Alexandre Dumas. It’s only fitting that you read this tale in French, because the story takes place in Paris.
For readers who thought Monte Cristo was just the name of a delicious sandwich, here’s a brief synopsis of the work:
Edmond Dantès is an innocent man who was unjustly imprisoned for 14 years. He was convicted of committing treason. “The Count of Monte Cristo” is the story of his revenge on the men who imprisoned him.
Imagine if Jean Valjean from “Les Misérables” plotted to carry out vengeance against inspector Javert rather than going on to lead a productive life, and you pretty much have the plot of “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
Reading this book, you’ll learn vocabulary related to law and class. For example, you’ll come across words such as l’émigré (emigrant) and l’interrogatoire (interrogation).
You’ll also familiarize yourself with numerous occupations, from l’armateur (shipowner) to le procureur (prosecuting attorney).
“Candide” is a famous book by one of the most well-known French authors of all time, Voltaire. It was published in the 18th century, so this piece should appeal to major book lovers who can stand to read text in the “old language,” both in French and in English.
Candide is a young man who’s been raised to be an optimist by his mentor, Professor Pangloss. Throughout the story, Candide faces many hardships and starts to slip away from optimism. This summary sounds tragic, but keep in mind as you read that this book is satire!
“Candide” introduces readers to vocabulary related to philosophy. You’ll notice terms such as l’optimisme (optimism), la philosophie (philosophy) and croire (to believe).
“La Belle et la bête” (“Beauty and the Beast”)
While you’ve probably seen the Disney movie “Beauty and the Beast,” you may have never read the book by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any magical singing candlesticks or feather dusters in the book. I know, I was disappointed, too.
Reading “Beauty and the Beast” gives learners insights into vocabulary used in fairy tales. For example, you’ll see words such as le château (castle), le prince (prince), la fée (fairy) and la malédiction (curse). All good fairy tales have curses!
For all you visual learners out there, this book is especially great. The copy sold on Amazon has illustrations and these pictures could help you remember the new French terms.
“Les Aventures d’Alice au pays des merveilles” (“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”)
When you read “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” you kill two birds with one stone. Although it was originally written in English, you still get to experience a classic tale in French and reconnect with your inner child!
This is the story of a little girl who falls down a rabbit hole and finds herself in Wonderland, an alternate universe where she meets several colorful characters and gets herself into some sticky situations.
“Alice in Wonderland” is one of the classics that should not be reserved for advanced students alone. Beginner and intermediate students can follow along easily. The vocabulary isn’t too difficult and with the parallel text to assist you, reading this literary staple is quite manageable.
Beginners benefit from learning names of animals in French, such as le lapin (rabbit) and la souris (mouse).
Intermediate learners can familiarize themselves with French translations for classic fairy tale characters. Read about le chapelier fou (The Mad Hatter), La Reine de Cœur (Queen of Hearts) and le chat du Cheshire (Cheshire Cat).
“Le tour du monde en 80 jours” (“Around the World in 80 Days”)
“Around the World in 80 Days” is more than just a Jackie Chan movie! Years before the film was released, it was a famous book by Jules Verne.
This book tells the story of Phileas Fogg, a rich man who bets his friends 20,000 pounds that it’s possible to travel around the entire world in only 80 days. He takes his French servant, Passepartout, to help him make good on his bet.
As you can imagine, this tale includes a lot of vocabulary related to travel. Readers will learn the French names for numerous countries, including l’Inde (India), la Mongolie (Mongolia) and l’Angleterre (England).
You’ll also pick up on common travel terms, such as la gare (train station) and le bateau à vapeur (steamer).
Kids’ books are great learning resources for children who are being raised bilingual.
However, as I mentioned above with “10 Bed-Time Stories,” remember that these books aren’t exclusively for children! Kids’ literature is a valuable resource for beginners of all ages. If “Alice in Wonderland” seems a bit too hefty for you, grab one of these shorter, fun stories.
“Les trois boucs bourrus” (“The Three Billy Goats Gruff”)
“The Three Billy Goats Gruff” is one of my favorite fables from childhood. This bilingual, interactive version of the story takes it to a whole new level.
If your memory needs refreshing, here’s the gist of the tale: three billy goats live on a hillside with very little food. They decide to cross a bridge to a hill with lots of green grass. A mean troll lives under the bridge.
Each billy goat takes a turn trying to cross the bridge. The troll wants to eat them, but they all outsmart the troll to get to the green hill.
You can read the story in French and English paragraph-by-paragraph, clicking “Translate” under each block of text to reveal the English version. You can even choose between the literary and literal translation.
The French version of this story teaches many simple, useful words. You might never use le troll (troll) in your day-to-day life, but you’re sure to find an opportunity to use words such as le pont (bridge).
This story is also good for learning words related to size, including superlatives. For example, the three billy goats are described as le plus petit (the smallest), le moyen (the medium-sized one) and le plus grand (the biggest).
“Ali Baba et les quarante voleurs” (“Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”)
“Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” is a folktale most of us have heard of but probably never read. In fact, when I hear the title of this story, my mind automatically jumps to the lyrics of “Never Had a Friend Like Me” from Aladdin.
In this story, Ali Baba is a poor woodworker who discovers a den of treasures that belongs to evil thieves. When they find out that he knows about their secret, they set out to kill him. I won’t spoil the ending, but don’t worry, nothing too terrible happens to poor Ali Baba!
A lot happens in this short story, so there are plenty of useful French verbs. You’ll find conjugated forms of the words entendre (to hear), habiter (to live), pouvoir (to be able) and acheter (to buy), among others.
As an added bonus, this is the main story that popularized the saying “Open, Sesame!” In French, this translates to Sésame, ouvre-toi! Have fun using that one on automatic doors.
These books with parallel text in French and English will save you a lot of time and effort. Now you won’t struggle to make it through a page of French text. And you won’t have to run to a dictionary for help with every third word!
In fact, maybe I’ll finally be brave enough to read my first French book. Doing so doesn’t seem scary anymore.
Laura Grace Tarpley is a writer based in Athens, Georgia. She has spent the past four years living in and exploring France, New Zealand and China. She runs the blog Let’s Go Tarpley!, where she writes city guides and budget travel tips.
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