No Books Required: 4 Modern Ways to Practice Reading in French
An entire book in French can be intimidating for some.
Especially if you’re a beginner. Or maybe you’re just not a bookworm.
For some, the main goal of French reading comprehension is to be able to pick up “Le Comte de Monte-Cristo” (“The Count of Monte Cristo”) and breeze through it like it was in your native tongue, but that doesn’t mean you have to get there by forcing yourself through French literary texts.
Practice makes perfect (trite, but true). The more French you read, the more your vocabulary set will grow.
There are numerous bookish ways to get reading practice, everything from children’s novels to young adult series to classics. But if you’re in a time pinch and your reading comprehension isn’t quite ready for a big commitment, we’ve compiled four types of text to warm you up.
4 Ways to Get Your French Reading Practice Without Cracking Open a Book
As a precursor to these lengthier reading activities, take advantage of the subtitled content on FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
And now, onto those reading activities.
1. Comic Strips
It’s no secret that comics are a big deal in France and Belgium. You may already be familiar with some of the classics: Astérix, Les Schtroumpfs (The Smurfs) and Tintin, just to name the biggest ones. Outside of reading French graphic novels, bandes dessinées (BD), as we like to call them, are one of the best resources for French reading practice. Not only is there an absolutely daunting amount of material, but the combination of written word and pictures makes them easy to understand.
Comic strips are best for: Beginners who aren’t quite ready to read without pictures.
Where to Find French Comic Strips
If you’re looking to get into comic books and graphic novels, then there are resources aplenty. For online comic strips, try Ouicestca. You can choose your level of French (beginner, intermediate or advanced), and see what you stumble upon!
For beginners with slightly shaky French, try Le Petit Quotidien‘s BD du jour (comic book of the day). The target age on these are 6-10, so the French isn’t too complicated, but you’ll still get the fun of comic strips. For the grown-up version of this site (a shout out to the advanced learners), Le Quotidien has a BD du jour section as well, which often includes political cartoons!
For a large array of online comics for free, check out Delitoon.com, and get lost in comic after comic after comic until you basically come out fluent on the other end.
How to Get the Most out of Comic Strips
Use the “comic book of the day” feature on the sites mentioned above, whether you subscribe or just check out the site on a regular basis. This will keep you reading them regularly, and whaddya know?… don’t make me say it again… practice makes perfect.
Once again, comic strips are fantastic for beginners, and it’s not just because of the pictures. The text comes in short bursts, making it easy to digest. Since most comics use colloquial (everyday) language, you’re exposing yourself to common language that strays from textbook French.
Now that you’re armed with a regular flow of comic strips… drum roll please… get your vocabulary list skills to work! Try making one short list per week of 10 words from the comics you’ve read, choosing the words that gave you the most trouble. With only 10 words a week, you’re likely to remember them. Make a few flashcards, and then reference back to how it was used in the original comic strip.
French cuisine is known for its… snails? Duck? Cream? Well maybe you should find out for yourself what it’s really all about and try some French recipes. It may seem a bit daunting, but you’d be surprised to find that a lot of French cooking is very accessible.
If you’re not that into the gallons (or more appropriately, liters) of cream and (the sometimes raw) meat, then you can certainly find a French take on your home-spun favorites. It makes for good practice, and what comes out of the oven will directly show just how good your French is.
Recipes are best for: Very hungry beginner and intermediate learners.
Where to Find Recipes
Luckily the French are down with technology, making online recipes as much of a craze over there as it is here. Unfortunately it isn’t as easy as switching your favorite English-language recipe websites to French, but once you know where to go, you’ll be ogling recipes for hours on end.
If you want to keep it digital, try Marmiton, which not only hosts over 60,000 recipes, but also has a recipe of the day feature. Plus the site has cooking videos if you want to see first-hand how it’s done.
CuisineAZ is especially good because it has a section for easy recipes, as well as boasting the same video feature as Marmiton. But if you’re more committed and want an old-fashioned French cookbook in front of you to get sauce all over, then here are a few titles to check out:
“La cuisine du marché” is filled with over 200 recipes of traditional French cuisine. It’s presented by a great French chef, Paul Bocuse, who is one of the pioneers of nouvelle cuisine, a style of cooking which concentrates on fresh and delicate dishes and how they’re presented.
“Tout Robuchon” is another great cookbook by a world-renown French chef, Joël Robuchon. The guy has 25 Michelin Guide stars from his restaurants, which is more than any other chef in the world. So basically, the food is going to be good.
How to Get the Most out of Recipes
So what are you in the mood to eat? Odds are whatever it is, there’s a recipe for it in French. Whether you stick to French cuisine to get the cultural aspect or go with macaroni and cheese because you just love macaroni and cheese, the goal is the same: Make something using French directions that comes out yummy.
If you’re doing this for the first time or are new to the French immersion game, make something that you’re familiar with. One word of warning: Unless you are an advanced baker and know your French baking lingo, stay away from baked goods because they’re easier to mess up!
Since French recipes are in the metric system, you’ve got two options: convert to customary or get the supplies to cook using the metric system. If you’re going with the latter, really all you need is a good scale and a measuring cup that has milliliters (which many already do).
For beginners, translate the parts of the recipe that you don’t understand; this way you don’t mess up the meal. Intermediate French readers should try and stay immersed in the French recipe and see how well they fare! You should probably also talk to yourself in French while you do this, and listen to French crooners if you’re really committed.
In the end, if it doesn’t come out right, use it as a learning experience and back track to what tripped you up!
3. Flash Fiction
If you’re not a literature geek, then you may not be familiar with flash fiction. No matter French or English, flash fiction is defined as prose shorter than 1,500 words. Some of these pieces get as itty-bitty as 300 words or less.
It’s truly a test of word-efficiency, and the writers who do it well will surprise you with how much they can get across in so few words. The same goes for French, and these mini-stories give you a chance to dive into what is often more avant-garde writing. And well, it’s super short, so they have that going for them.
Flash fiction is best for: Intermediate and advanced learners who only have time for tiny stories.
Where to Find Flash Fiction
Short-Édition hosts more than just tiny itty bitty stories, but also regular length short stories and poems. You can look through flash fiction by genre or check out winners from their flash fiction contests.
For more user-written flash fiction and perhaps the venue to post your own attempt at flash fiction, check out De Plume en Plume’s flash fiction section, or as they call them, histoires très courtes (very short stories).
If you’re still fuzzy on the whole what and why of flash fiction, check out this great article that links to resources and books of micronouvelles.
Desperate for a book recommendation right now (you eager beaver, you)? Check out this free Kindle download of “50 Micronouvelles” (by 50 different authors).
How to Get the Most out of Flash Fiction
The beauty of flash fiction is that with so little words comes more room for interpretation. Read a piece of flash fiction in French twice, and write down your immediate thoughts—whether those thoughts are that you didn’t understand a single word or that you have an idea of what the writer was trying to get at.
Then if you want more of a challenge outside of just building a vocabulary list, use your interpretation and the French text to write an English translation. Look up words and tenses that get you stumped along the way.
If you’re one of those go-getters out there and like to do some writing every now and again, try your hand at writing your own piece of French flash fiction. This is best achieved if you read a lot of flash fiction beforehand to get into the rhythm.
If you’re at the advanced level, flash fiction may be the perfect way to get your reading practice in on a semi-daily basis. Just commit to four or five a week, and they only take a few minutes a pop. You could at least swing that, so quit making excuses.
4. Movie Reviews
Scathing reviews! High-praise! Whether you love the critics or hate them, their reviews are fun to read. And lucky for all you French learners, the French critique films just as harshly as the Americans.
This is a call to all of those movie buffs lurking in the shadows. Take your French cinema obsession a little further, and see what the professionals think of all the films you love. If you’ve had trouble in the past getting French reading practice because you’re just not that into books, then use this method as an extension to your French film marathons.
Movie reviews are best for: Intermediate and advanced French movie buffs.
Where to Find Movie Reviews in French
If you’re not already familiar with Allocine.fr, then get with it! It’s the French equivalent of our English-language sites like IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, making it one of the best places to get ahold of movie reviews. Simply search the site for whatever movie you want to read critiques for, and scroll to the bottom of the movie’s page for “Critiques Presse,” where it’ll link you to blurbs. If you want to read an entire review, it’ll lead you right to the review from the original website or online magazine.
If you want to mainline it from the source, then try out the cinema section on sites like Première or La Presse.
How to Get the Most out of French Movie Reviews
Watching movies in French is one of the most entertaining ways to learn French (and gives you an excuse to eat popcorn). It works well too: You get the best listening comprehension the immersion game has to offer outside of literally going to France and eavesdropping. If you want to take the French movie watching game to the next level and go further than listening comprehension, check out what the French critics have to say.
Challenge yourself to read one or two movie reviews in French after you watch a movie (hopefully these movies are in French, but this also works after seeing the newest worldwide blockbuster hit in English). You’ll still be in the context of the film, making filling in the comprehension gaps all the easier. The key to this is remembering to be disciplined. After you finish watching a movie, take to the internet and read away! It’s as simple as that.
For another writing practice bonus, if you’re feeling particularly opinionated about a film, write your own opinions and post them on sites like AlloCiné. Who knows? You may even get into your very own online French argument over a film! That’s when you know you’ve made it.
Are you ready to read an entire novel in French after all that? Even if you aren’t, the amount of French reading content out there is unfathomable. If your English personality is a magazine reader, then go for French magazines. If you’re more of a website peruser, then switch them to French.
Whether it’s short form or long form French reading, it’s one of the best possible ways to pick up new vocabulary and get a better grasp on written grammar!