I read “The Little Prince” in Spanish when I was six.
Then I read it in English when I was nine, and a couple of years later, in French.
I didn’t know at that time, but this book started a revolution inside me that made me, 30 years later, have a collection of the book in 37 different languages (and counting!).
But “The Little Prince” did something else for me: it woke up a passion for reading I didn’t even know I had.
You mightn’t be so passionate about the written word as I am, but I bet you know how important reading is, especially when you’re learning a foreign language like French.
Reading in French is challenging at the beginning, no doubt about it.
You might know how to pronounce the word monsieur (mister), but when you see it written for the first time, you’ll probably not recognize it.
This is when reading comes into action.
It creates a bridge between the pronunciation and the spelling of a word, allowing us to understand it and make it ours.
So if you’re ready to learn how to read in French, this post is for you.
Why French Reading Is Important
You may have heard many times that reading is crucial to improve your French language skills.
Indeed, reading plays an important part on the road to fluency, but how exactly, and why?
Here you have seven reasons to get you started:
- It’ll help you learn new vocabulary. You’ll find lots of new words when you’re reading. Write them down, create flashcards with them, write sample sentences. Take every word you think is useful and add it to your vocabulary bank.
- It’ll improve your spelling. French pronunciation is very different from its written form. Thanks to reading, you’ll learn how to spell words correctly. Once you master spoken and written French, you’ll be unstoppable.
- It’ll boost your grammar. Learning French reading will also help you recognize grammar patterns and see grammar rules in use. This’ll improve your understanding of French grammar, which will translate into a better command of it when writing and speaking in French.
- It’ll get you ready for proficiency exams. If you’re planning on sitting the DILF, DELF or DALF (or any other official French exam), you know you’ll have to prove your reading comprehension skills. Reading in French will be the perfect practice exercise to pass the exam with flying colors.
- It’ll improve your pronunciation. If you read out loud, you’ll gradually get your mouth, tongue and throat used to French pronunciation. Reading out loud also turns reading into an active exercise, so your brain will get more engaged and remember more new words and structures.
- It’ll allow you to get immersed in the language and culture. This may be hard when you’re a beginner, but as you get better at reading in French, you’ll notice you can “get inside” the story of a book and be surrounded by it. By getting immersed in a language and its culture, you’ll get a deeper understanding of it, which will motivate you to keep on learning it.
- It’ll take you to fluency. As you progress and read more and more challenging texts, all your French language skills will improve. Reading French books may seem an impossible task today, but keep on reading and you’ll reach fluency faster than you think.
10 Steps to Improve Your French Reading Skills
Even though virtually any kind of reading can have a positive impact on your French, knowing and applying some specific techniques can let you use your reading time more efficiently and allow you to improve your French reading skills faster.
The following list of techniques is by no means comprehensive, but it includes 11 of the most effective ways to use reading as a powerful tool to learn French.
1. Start small and build your way up
They say that Paris ne s’est pas fait en un jour (Paris wasn’t built in a day), and this is a premise you should always bear in mind when reading.
- At the beginning of your reading adventure, try to pick easy-to-read French books that don’t pose a challenge for you yet.
If you’re a beginner, go for classic short stories, children’s books, fairy tales in French and French comic books (if you’re interested in them). This type of reading is accessible, short and full of pictures, which will help you connect images to words.
You can also use French readers and books for learning French, because they include grammar explanations and vocabulary info that’ll help you understand the reading passages better.
If you’re an intermediate learner, continue reading easy French short stories and start reading intermediate French novels. You can slowly add French magazines (again, lots of pictures to help you), some French blogs that cover topics you’re interested in, and even intermediate graded readers.
Intermediate French reading, together with intermediate grammar and vocabulary, is super important to survive the so-called intermediate plateau. Don’t ignore it!
- Once you reach the advanced stages of the language, you’ll be ready for the real deal. By now, you’ll be perfectly comfortable reading books that have been written for native speakers, i.e. classic French books and modern French novels you can immerse yourself in.
A lot of language learners think that reaching the C1 and C2 levels means they can stop learning the language and just go on with their lives, but this is a huge mistake you should avoid. Keep on reading even when you’ve reached perfect fluency, and your level of French will remain awesome.
2. Use FluentU
While FluentU isn’t a program created specifically to teach you how to improve your French reading skills, it’ll certainly do so.
FluentU has hundreds of videos you can use to improve your grammar, vocabulary and (you’ve guessed it) reading comprehension skills.
Each video includes a set of contextual subtitles that’s been carefully created to match its audio. You’ll be reading and listening to the same words simultaneously, so you can treat every short clip as a short book!
But these subtitles are no ordinary subtitles. Just hover your mouse over any word you don’t understand and you’ll get its translation in the context in which it appears!
You’ll not only be reading and listening, but also learning the meaning of words in the specific situations they appear in.
If you want to read more about this cute little animal in French, click on the word écureuil and an interactive flashcard will pop up.
The flashcard will give you the correct pronunciation of the word, grammar info, a translation, whole sample sentences with pronunciation and a list of videos where your word appears.
Use the sample sentences as further short reading if you’re interested in a word, and click on any of the related videos to listen to (and read!) your word in other contexts.
After this, you can keep on practicing your reading comprehension skills by doing quizzes and exercises.
You’ll get lots of additional French sentences to read while you’re at it, and the best part is that you’ll only get exercises related to the videos you’ve already watched, so everything you read should already sound familiar.
And if you get tired of squirrels and want to read about any other topic, just use the video dictionary feature.
This amazing dictionary will give you all the flashcards and videos related to the word or topic you search for. Use them to keep on practicing your reading while you improve your grammar and vocabulary along the way.
Here’s an example of the results you get when you search for the irregular verb sortir (to go out, to leave):
Start improving your French reading skills with FluentU today. Give it a free try now and you’ll be sold.
3. Pick material appropriate for your level
This tip might be obvious for some learners, but the truth is that many of us tend to ignore our real language level very often.
When you choose any reading material, make sure you go for options that are only a bit above your level of French.
If you start with some easy French reading or French books for beginners and you understand everything, the book you’ve picked is too easy for your level.
If you understand only half the words and grammar constructions, it’s too difficult for you, even if you’ve chosen it from an intermediate French books list.
I’ll tell you what I always tell my students: find the “Goldilocks Reading Zone,” which means you should go for a reading in which you can understand around 75% of what you read without having to use a French dictionary.
4. Change the language settings on your devices
A very easy way to have constant contact with French is to change the language settings of all the electronic devices you use.
Smartphones, computers, tablets, laptops… They all let you set the language to French with just a couple of clicks.
You can even go the extra mile and change the language in which you download software and apps, and change the language on all your social media.
Even Google lets you change your language and region settings, so pretending to live in a French-speaking country is easier than ever.
Unless you’re brave enough to use a real French search engine. Now, that’s what I call true immersion!
5. Keep it varied
I’ve heard many learners complain about reading in French because they think all reading is boring, but it’s not!
- For starters, you need to make sure you use as many different resources as you can so you keep the capacity of amazement alive. If you always read thick novels or only read French newspapers, you’ll probably get bored at the speed of light.
Remember that there are very interesting options available for learners of all levels, from French comics for beginners and short stories in French to modern French books and even metaphysical poetry for the most advanced students, so take advantage of that!
- Secondly, you have to choose topics that really interest you, even if they seem bland to other people. For instance, I love reading about grammar and linguistics, which aren’t exactly very exotic and interesting topics for most people, yet I enjoy them thoroughly.
- Finally, try changing your reading place whenever possible. This’ll prevent you from feeling that sense of routine and boredom many people feel when they read to learn a new language.
6. Read out loud
Reading out loud is one of the best reading exercises you can do because the act of reading becomes much more active.
When you read out loud, you think more about things like pronunciation, intonation and rhythm, and you actually try to pronounce words correctly.
How many times have you caught yourself “read-cheating”?
Yeah, don’t look the other way. I’m sure all of us have been in a situation when we were reading in silence and, instead of pronouncing words appropriately in our mind, we started just reading them “our way.”
This is avoided by reading out loud, at least for the most part, because you try to sound like a native, and if you don’t know how to pronounce a word, you’re more likely to check its pronunciation.
The fact that reading becomes more active when you do it out loud also means that you’ll learn more new vocabulary and will recognize more grammar structures.
Your brain will be more open to absorbing knowledge, and as a result, your reading sessions will become more efficient.
But in order to make the most out of reading out loud, you need to get some kind of input and/or feedback (ideally, both).
If you know any native French speakers, you could ask them to record themselves reading the passage you want to practice on. If you don’t, try to read an excerpt for which you have the native audio.
Record yourself while reading the fragment, and compare your pronunciation against the native audio.
Rereading is a fantastic technique you can use in two different scenarios.
On the one hand, rereading is obviously recommended when you practice reading out loud. The more you repeat a fragment, the better it’ll sound!
On the other hand, rereading (in the broader sense of the word) is a great tool for you to see how your level of French has improved over the months or years you’ve been learning.
Revisiting reading material will give you a sense of accomplishment you won’t get anywhere else, especially when you see how much easier it’s become the second time around.
8. Take notes and make flashcards
Another superb way to make reading an active task is to add some writing to it, and this can easily be done by taking notes and making flashcards as you go or when you finish reading.
The best piece of advice I can give you to really take advantage of this technique is to create flashcards that include more than just a French word and its translation.
Instead, use your flashcards to write down full sentences that catch your attention, grammar constructions you didn’t know or words that are especially challenging for you.
Working the text with this technique creates what I call a “learning loop:” the more you read, the more new vocabulary and grammar you can learn, and the more vocabulary and grammar you learn, the better you’ll be able to read and the more you’ll understand while reading.
9. Do reading comprehension exercises
Many language learners, especially the ones that learn by themselves, avoid or ignore reading comprehension exercises because they think they’re repetitive and unuseful.
The truth, however, is that doing a couple of French reading comprehension exercises from time to time is an awesome way to improve your overall reading comprehension skills and boost your vocabulary and grammar at the same time.
There are several ways in which reading comprehension exercises can help us improve our reading skills:
- Doing this kind of activity gives us the opportunity to learn about topics we wouldn’t normally read about. This allows us to learn vocabulary we wouldn’t normally learn, which means we’ll recognize these new words the next time we see them.
- This type of exercise exposes us to situations where we need to infer the meaning of unknown words from context. This is useful not only if you’re studying to pass an exam, but also for real life because it’ll teach you how to get better at “guessing” the meanings of words when reading French books or having a conversation in French.
- Reading comprehension exercises give us the chance to check our progress and get immediate feedback. These exercises normally come with a key and some explanations, so they’re perfect for self-assessment. If you analyze your results closely, you’ll know if you can bump it up a notch or need to review something.
10. Read every day
You’ve probably heard the expression practice makes perfect a million times in your life, but when it comes to reading, it’s as true as it can be.
Reading every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes, will allow you to be exposed to native French on a daily basis.
You’ll boost your vocabulary and grammar naturally while you learn about the topics you like, and before you realize it, you’ll have become a fast reader with a great command of French.
Reading is indeed the ultimate tool to improve your French language skills as a whole, so use it smartly, and read often.
22 Types of Resources to Practice French Reading
Now that we know about the importance of French reading practice and what we can do to get better at it, let’s have a look at some types of resources we can use to improve this useful skill.
Books for learning French
One of the first places where we have direct contact with easy French readings is books created to teach the language.
This kind of resource is very commonly used in classrooms because it teaches about the four main language skills.
Readings in books for learning French are normally short and include a list of key vocabulary with its translation or explanation.
This kind of readings also tends to include examples of the grammar topic the lesson’s about.
For these reasons, books to learn French are also a good option for students who’re learning by themselves, since they can get additional information from the explanations included.
Bilingual and interlinear books
French-English bilingual books (also known as parallel texts) are an interesting resource for reading lovers.
This kind of book allows them to start reading in the language they’re learning from the very beginning, so they can immerse themselves in the language early on.
French parallel texts include both the French and the translated versions side by side, i.e., you have the original version on the left page and its translation on the right page (or the other way around).
Interlinear books are similar to bilingual books in that they offer the original version together with the translation, but an interlinear book will give you the translation right under the original text.
Both kinds of books are a great solution for French learners who don’t want to wait to start reading, although interlinear books tend to be translated in a more word-for-word fashion, so if you want your reading to “flow,” you’ll probably prefer bilingual books.
Graded readers and short stories
Although these two types of resources are quite different in nature, I’ve decided to put them together for two main reasons: first, they’re shorter than novels, and second, they’re easier to read and are often more accessible to learners at the beginner and intermediate stages.
French graded readers are usually short versions of known classic French books that’ve been adapted for a specific level of fluency. There are graded readers for each language level (from A1 to C2), with each level including a certain number of words the learner has to know to be able to read them.
On the other hand, short stories are simply that, short stories. They’re normally available in their originally intended form and length, and even though they’re easier to read than long books, the level of difficulty will depend on the author and/or the topic of the story.
Both French readers and French short stories are good resources for French learners who don’t have a lot of time in their hands or don’t really enjoy reading.
Graphic novels, comic books and webcomics
I know these three resources are different from each other, but I’ve put them together because they share two features:
- They include a lot of images, which makes them accessible to beginner readers. The visual help they provide allows beginners to have a context for the words they’re reading, which means they can understand more.
- French graphic novels, comic books and webcomics are very popular among French native speakers. This gives learners of French a bigger pool of resources to choose from.
Graphic novels, comic books and webcomics in French are a good option for learners who’re just starting their adventure with French. However, any learner can enjoy this type of book, regardless of their level.
As long as you’re reading in French, it doesn’t even matter if you’re an advanced student but you choose to read French comic books for beginners (however, always remember the “Goldilocks Reading Zone” I mentioned earlier).
French fairy tales and children’s books
Fairy tales in French, children’s books and other French short stories for kids are created with children in mind, but this doesn’t mean only children can read them.
These two types of resources are great for students who want to learn French with books but are just starting to learn the language.
The drawings and pictures are an important visual aid that’ll allow learners to understand words in context, and the simple vocabulary chosen to write these books makes them manageable and easy to digest.
As I mentioned earlier, FluentU isn’t a typical reading resource. It’s much more than that!
Think of the FluentU program as an interactive book that never ends.
You can choose the pages you want to “read” depending on the topics you like, and learn the vocabulary you really need.
FluentU’s “book” has videos instead of drawings and images, so understanding words in context is also included in the bargain.
Additionally, you can use FluentU to do reading (watching) comprehension exercises in the form of quizzes.
What else can you ask from a single resource?
Give FluentU a try for free and reach fluency one page (video) at a time!
Word search games
French word search games will normally only allow you to practice reading individual words, but there are a couple of other benefits you can get from using them:
- Firstly, they’re awesome to practice spelling. You should know by now that French spelling is quite challenging. If you learn how to spell words with word search games and take a moment to also learn their pronunciation, your reading skills will improve tremendously.
- Secondly, they’re easy and entertaining, so you won’t feel you’re learning. Try playing this and other word games with friends and family and turn your French learning into a healthy competition!
Newspapers and magazines
If you’re an intermediate or advanced student who wants to get immersed not only in the French language but also in its culture, there’s no better reading resource than a French newspaper or a magazine in French.
Just as TV is a visual window to a language’s culture and people, newspapers and magazines are its written counterpart.
The main advantage of reading French newspapers and French magazines is that you’ll be up-to-date on topics that go from business, economy and social affairs to culture, fashion and travel, just to name a few.
Blogs, forums and newsletters
If reading French online is your thing, then you’ll love forums and blogs in French.
French blogs and forums are superb for learning the French that’s really used by native speakers on a daily basis, which means you’ll learn tons of informal words and slang they really include in their convos!
There are even French language forums and blogs where French learners like you can ask questions and get help from other users.
French newsletters are normally more formal (although it all depends on the kind of newsletter you subscribe to). They allow you to get the latest updates directly into your email, so they’re a good option for learners who don’t want to miss anything about a specific topic, person or place.
French reading apps and e-book readers
If you’re a reading lover who’s too busy to sit down to read, or you just prefer reading French on the go, you can always download a French reading app and take your favorite activity with you everywhere.
French reading apps normally allow you to have hundreds of e-books on your phone. You’ll never get bored while commuting, waiting for your friend or having a break from work. Just launch the app and read away!
A similar option is learning French with a Kindle or a similar e-book reader.
If you have one of these devices, I really recommend you download a few free French e-books to your library. The number of options is huge, and you’ll love learning French with e-books because you’ll be able to read them wherever you go.
French prose, poetry and plays
You’ve officially arrived at your final destination: unabridged French books written for French speakers.
When you reach the advanced level (or maybe earlier if you’re brave enough), you’ll be ready to fully enjoy French books and get immersed in their stories like a native.
Your book pool has now transformed into an ocean, and you can literally read any type of book you like.
You’re ready to read classic French books and modern French literature on your own.
If you want to read something unique, you need to try French poetry. Reading French poems might be a little hard at the beginning, but their beauty is totally worth it. Besides, you can always start with short French poems and leave the longer ones for later.
There are countless French plays for theater lovers. Plays are basically long dialogues with a twist, so if you want to practice advanced conversation on paper, this kind of resource is for you.
Finally, if you’re up for a challenge, try reading the Bible in French. However, if you attempt this feat, you might want to read the Bible in your native language first (or at least the passages you’re going to read in French).
Reading in French is fun, useful and a great way to improve your language skills.
It allows you to get immersed in the language and travel to distant places without having to leave your house.
Best of all, it helps you boost your other language skills so you can reach fluency faster.
So don’t forget to read, and do it often.
Francisco J. Vare loves teaching and writing about grammar. He’s a proud language nerd, and you’ll normally find him learning languages, teaching students or reading. He’s been writing for FluentU for many years and is one of their staff writers.
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