Ever see one of those annoying bumper stickers?
“If you’re reading this, you’re too close.”
Do not worry, I am not nearly that obnoxious a driver.
But… if you are reading this, you will probably agree that reading is an essential skill, in both your native tongue and French.
You have probably read French materials before, but did it feel like you were just going through the motions?
Were you able to grasp the meaning or did you feel as though the words were simply washing over you? Or maybe even drowning you?
Reading practice is great. Necessary, even. The challenge is doing it effectively and actually improving your comprehension.
So in this article, we will highlight six powerful resources for French reading comprehension exercises. They come with questions and other tools to help you determine whether you really understood what you read.
They cater to a variety of levels from beginner to advanced, and each one has something worthwhile to offer.
Practical Tips for Reading Exercises
First, here are some things to keep in mind as you practice your French reading skills:
- Choose readings that are appropriate to your level. Choosing a French reading exercise is a bit like Goldilocks trying to find the porridge or bed that is just right.
A reading exercise that is way too difficult for you will only discourage, but an exercise that is way too simple does not help you grow. Many reading exercises will explicitly state what level they are appropriate for, but if you are not sure, look at the text itself first. The ideal passage is one where you will grasp the main ideas but may not know every word.
Beginners should generally gravitate towards readings that are simple in terms of grammar and focus on tangible aspects of daily life, such as describing yourself and your daily routine.
Intermediate and advanced learners should incorporate more complex and abstract subject matter into their reading arsenal, such as social issues and literary excerpts.
Some of the resources featured in this article “rate” their exercises by CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference) level.
- Choose readings that interest you. You will get much more out of a reading if you are focused and engaged. One of the easiest ways to remain focused is to, whenever possible, choose a passage on a topic you think you will enjoy.
If you are a beginner, this may be somewhat more difficult, but you still have options, including dialogues about everyday life, short stories, correspondences, etc. If you are intermediate or advanced, your options are greatly expanded. Feel free to explore French news or even try out a French novel.
- Re-read challenging parts. Do you remember learning to read in kindergarten and elementary school? Some of the skills you were taught to read English can be equally helpful in learning to read French.
Re-reading difficult words or sentences is a helpful skill. Sometimes a second reading will clarify a misunderstanding. Or perhaps using context clues (another essential second-grade reading skill) might help you make an intelligent guess about the meaning of a new word.
- Read out loud. Did you know that reading can also improve your speaking? Simply reading out loud is a powerful way to flex your French accent and pronunciation.
Of course, there is nothing like engaging in conversation in French with someone, but what makes reading so helpful is that you can just focus on the words. You do not need to think about what is coming next or formulate the next sentence you want to say. It is all there, freeing you to focus on how the words sound.
- Use dictionaries strategically. You do not need to conscientiously look up every single word in a passage that you do not know. If you can make an intelligent estimate, a dictionary is not always necessary.
In other words, if there are a dozen words you do not know, researching each one individually may simply be exhausting and zap your time. In such a case, only search for those you really need to grasp in order to understand the passage.
When it is dictionary time, Reverso is a helpful French-English (and English-French) dictionary that offers in-depth definitions and (usually) examples in-context. If you are an intermediate or advanced learner, it is best to use a French dictionary such as Larousse whenever possible. That will help your brain think directly in French and not have to translate every individual word.
Fine Tune Your French Reading: Top 6 Sites for French Reading Comprehension Exercises
Lingua is a good place to start. They only have readings for CEFR levels A1 (beginner), A2 (upper beginner) and B1 (intermediate).
Not only are the readings clearly listed by level of difficulty, but you can also see the word count to the right of each one’s title.
Although their selection may seem small, the passages cover a fair variety of formats from everyday dialogues to descriptions of places. Furthermore, each one is accompanied by a few multiple choice questions in French.
Another helpful feature of Lingua is that you can easily download each passage as a PDF to work with offline.
Or, if you prefer physical paper, print it out! Tangibly circling words to look up or underlining interesting grammatical constructions can be quite the fruitful practice.
Here is a totally unique spin on French reading comprehension exercises. FluentU lets you learn French from real-world content like music videos, commercials, news broadcasts, cartoons and inspiring talks.
Each video comes with a transcript and interactive subtitles so you can get your reading practice in with visual aids… and get quizzed on it afterwards!
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.
Ciel Bretagne is similar to Lingua in that it offers resources for beginner to lower intermediate learners. This one is especially helpful for absolute beginners as it has an exercise on writing postcards—which helps you practice simple tasks such as writing a French address, writing the date in French and reading basic descriptions.
Each passage is also accompanied by questions (in French), including multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank and matching questions.
Another cool thing is that if you click the link and look at the web address, you will see “.fr” in the domain name. This means it is an authentic French site, giving credibility to the exercises.
I know we are focusing on reading comprehension, but this resource just happens to feature a few listening comprehension exercises as well.
I mean, if you are already there…
LanguageGuide divides its reading exercises into three parts: beginning readings, jokes and advanced readings. Each reading is accompanied by an audio recording.
The jokes are quite short, but do offer good practice. This is a nice place to go if you are getting a bit bogged down with reading about someone’s fictional vacation or a French cultural description.
LanguageGuide’s advanced readings feature literary excerpts from Guy de Maupassant, a well-known French author from the 19th century.
LanguageGuide has a few other unique features. Difficult words are underlined so you can hover over for the definition. If you are really stuck, hover over the ending punctuation mark of a sentence for a full translation of that portion.
Do not cheat, though! Only do this if you absolutely cannot figure out the meaning on your own.
For beginning readings and jokes, you have the option of hiding the text while the recording plays. Thus, you can practice listening by seeing how much you understand before reading the passage.
Once again, if you are already there…
This resource, with its variety of dictation, multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank exercises, is highly interactive.
You do have to give your email before you can actually complete an exercise, but they do not ask for money.
Once you have access, each answer is graded individually and if you give the incorrect answer (for fill-in-the-blank questions), you will be provided a helpful hint, such as the first letter of the correct answer.
I love this site, which basically does the hard work of finding quality reading exercises for you!
In fact, your only problem may be too many options!
Le Point du FLE links directly to specific reading exercises spanning dozens of websites. All levels from beginner to upper-advanced are represented, and each link has its CEFR level listed to the right.
Most (if not all) of the passages have some kind of accompanying exercise. The fact that so many different sites and resources are represented makes for great variety in the format and subject matter of each one.
Following the tips and taking advantage of these resources will definitely have you not merely reading French, but reading French effectively.
The exercises help ensure that you are paying attention and really understand the meaning. Dictionaries and other features will help expand your vocabulary and ultimately your reading ability.
With practice, you might even be able to read annoying French bumper stickers.
Rachel Larsen is a lifelong francophile and freelance writer who dreams of living in France one day. She’s currently a student at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. To learn more, visit her LinkedIn page.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.