How to Learn French Reading Without Getting Lost
Some people claim to read a book a day.
Others insist anyone who says they read that much is lying.
And some of us just wish everyone would stop arguing and shut up so we can get back to our reading.
But no matter how fast or how much we read, we all started from the same place.
Sure, you may have preferred “Where the Wild Things Are” to “Jumanji” or vice versa.
But we all had to learn the alphabet. We all had to struggle with bizarre spelling rules. And we all had to take that initial leap into reading actual texts.
If you want to learn to read in French, you need to start from the beginning in that language, too. And you can do it right now.
In fact, there are tons of resources designed to help you learn French reading and boost your comprehension—without getting overwhelmed or lost in a difficult text.
We’ll show you 21 of the best, from reading references to easy French books to fun reading comprehension exercises. All of these tools will help you learn French reading for beginners and most of them also cater to intermediate and advanced learners.
Learn French Reading from the 21 Best Beginner-friendly Resources
Learning to read in French can feel like climbing a mountain. It can feel like a journey that won’t be complete until you’ve attained the magical status of “reader.” But that’s not a very helpful way to look at the process. Instead, consider this: you can always become a better reader in any language.
Furthermore, simply getting started with French reading really isn’t a big deal.
If you’re starting from the very, very beginning with French, you’ll probably want to go over the alphabet. You’ll also want to study up on French accents and basic pronunciation before you get too far. But assuming that you already read in English, you can start learning to read actual French words and sentences pretty much immediately. These first three resources below can help you with the initial steps of French reading.
Starter Fuel: French Reading Resources for Complete Beginners
“French Reading Practice for Absolute Beginners” Playlist from Innovative Language
This short YouTube playlist from Innovative Language drops you right into the world of practical French reading skills. In the included videos, you’re given the chance to work out the details of buying a train ticket, reading your train ticket and so on.
These videos are more about learning French reading in an immersive setting than about learning whole language concepts. This means they contain some grammar that you might not run across until further into a beginner textbook, like the future tense.
So while this playlist is meant for “absolute beginners,” it could also be useful for anyone hovering around the beginner level.
If you enjoy this practical learning, you can get a lot more from the same Innovative Language team at FrenchPod101. They have hundreds of audio and video lessons that are designed to be interesting and culturally-relevant. Every lesson also comes with supplementary reading material and exercises.
“100 Most Common French Words in Context” from Lingo Mastery French
This video delivers just what it claims—some of the most common words in French. The words are written in French along with a pronunciation and English translation. Then you get an example sentence that uses the word, also written out and spoken.
By building up a core of common French knowledge, you’ll be equipped to understand a large portion of written language you come across.
As with the last resource, you’ll be exposed to some grammar without explanation, this time in the form of the example sentences. But the idea here is simply getting the vocabulary down. Learning it now will help you start reading more French texts sooner.
“Super Easy French” Playlist from Easy Languages
This is a longer playlist that you can start using right away, then dip back into periodically to strengthen your vocabulary and reading skills. The host, Tony, takes viewers through a variety of different situations—from eating breakfast, to walking the streets of different cities, to making a quiche.
There’s even a video specifically focused on reading, which goes over some French-language books that may spark your interest.
But fortunately, bilingual subtitles make all the videos relevant to reading in French.
This is another playlist for “absolute beginners.” The speech is clear, slow and accompanied by helpful visuals. Be warned, though, if you really are an absolute beginner, these videos will begin to strain your comprehension abilities quickly. Therefore, it’s probably best to work your way through the list slowly.
Bookworms’ Best Friends: French Reference Tools for Deciphering Your French Reading Material
We’ll get to some more extensive reading material in just a moment. But first, let’s look over some tools for tackling the larger world of French reading.
Kindle Vocabulary Builder
If you have a Kindle Paperwhite, you can use the Vocabulary Builder feature to create flashcards from words you don’t know.
Once you’ve set up a French dictionary on your Kindle, you’ll be able to place your finger on any word for a quick definition.
You can then use the Vocabulary Builder to review the words you’ve looked up later. If you already do a lot of reading on your Kindle, this is a really easy way to incorporate French reading into your routine.
But what should you read?
Later in this post, we’ll mainly be looking at French reading resources you can use online or as apps, as these are more accessible for everyone. And of course, you can use physical books as well. But since Kindle books have the advantage of the Vocabulary Builder feature, I thought it would be helpful to cover good e-books for beginners (and beyond) in this section.
Here are some ideas for what to download on your Kindle:
- If you’re tight on cash, there are plenty of low-cost e-books for French learners. Keep your wallet happy with these free and cheap Kindle books in French.
- There are additionally some good public domain texts you can download completely for free. Admittedly, most of these are beyond beginner level, but they’re free, so there’s no reason to not just go ahead and add them to your library now. Did I mention that they’re free?
Also, you don’t actually need a Kindle for these books. You can find them on the Project Gutenberg site in a variety of downloadable formats.
- “Hier” (“Yesterday”) by Ágota Kristóf is a strange, short novel about a man nursing an obsessive love for a woman and a desire to be a writer. And it’s fantastic for learners. Kristóf, who was Hungarian, wrote in a very simple variety of French, as it was a language she was still learning.
Her “Le Grand Cahier” (“The Notebook”), the first in a trilogy, is often recommended for French learners for that reason. However, “Le Grand Cahier” contains subject matter that may be extremely disturbing for some readers.
Also, it’s not currently available in a French Kindle edition for Amazon.com users. “Hier” is, and while plenty weird, it’s not nearly as stark and violent as “The Notebook.” (And if you’re somehow imagining that I’m talking about the “Notebook” that was turned into a movie with Ryan Gosling, I’m really, really not.) So all I’m saying is that for around eight bucks, you can land an original, easy-to-read French text that’s different from the usual recommended classics.
Linguee is a resource you can use when your French dictionary lets you down, regardless of what you’re reading. Sometimes there are certain words, phrases and usages that just don’t appear in reference material.
What Linguee does is allow you to see how certain vocabulary is actually being used by real people. When you enter a word or a phrase and select your desired languages, you’re able to see side-by-side usages from written online material.
In the case of French-English translations, you’ll often be presented with snippets from matching French and English versions of Canadian websites. You have to take context into consideration, of course, but seeing multiple usages will help you do exactly that.
WordReference (Including the French Language Forums)
Linguee is an awesome reference, but it’s still limited compared to a whole team of language geeks. The WordReference forums are where you go when all your reference materials let you down. There, you can connect with other learners and native speakers who’ll probably not only answer all your complicated, time-consuming questions, but actually enjoy doing it.
As a beginner, you’ll want to make use of the French/English vocabulary or grammar forum, depending on your question. Be sure to read all the forum guidelines before posting.
The French-English dictionary on WordReference (which can be accessed on the app) is also a great default place to look things up, whether you’re reading a physical book or online content.
Textual Treasures: Learner-friendly Sources of French Reading Practice
You may already be using or planning on using the popular language app Duolingo. But make sure to check out the Stories part of the website, which uses interactive “mini-stories” to teach you reading and listening. It works sort of like the regular Duolingo “tree,” as you can unlock higher levels the more you practice.
The first stories are pretty basic, so you can start using Duolingo Stories early on. You’ll begin with a story called “Good Morning!” and join characters Marion and Jean for a sleepy-headed cup of coffee. (Hilarity ensues.)
FluentU Videos and Dialogue Tabs
FluentU is an all-around resource that can be used to learn French.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
FluentU teaches reading, listening, grammar and vocabulary. However, there are a few advantages to using it specifically for reading.
For one thing, you learn to pair native speech with written language through the authentic videos and interactive captions.
When learning with a video, you have access to optional bilingual subtitles. If you have the French subtitles turned on, you can learn to read French with real voices and context. You can also read through the text by itself using the dialogue tab, and access additional audio clips as needed.
There are lots of French reading resources on the web that pair text with audio in a helpful way. We’ve already looked at some and will go over a lot more below. What sets FluentU apart is the sheer amount of text it gives you in multiple formats. Multimedia quizzes are another tool that help you apply your reading skills.
Plus, FluentU isn’t just a compilation of texts that are meant for everyone. It’s personalized. You’ll be recommended videos based on your history and given customized quizzes, so you’ll never waste time studying what you already know.
Best of all, you can use the FluentU iOS or Android app to take this fun reading practice anywhere, just like a novel (well—maybe not a Proust, but you get the idea).
Beelinguapp allows you to practice reading through texts with audio and translations. The texts come in a variety of levels, ranging from translations of classics to material created for learners.
Beelinguapp highlights the text for you as the recording plays, so you can easily follow along. This is a solid, reliable resource for general reading practice and working on reading speed.
The French Experiment
The French Experiment is like a carefully curated multimedia library for early French learners.
The children’s stories on this website are a pleasure to experience. You can read them with or without audio. You can read them with continuous translations, translations you reveal when you’re ready or no translations at all.
Illustrations are interspersed throughout the text and the creators have begun to add video as well (check out the one for “Petit Poulet,” or “Chicken Little”).
The Fable Cottage
This site is from the same crew behind The French Experiment, with the same idea and a bit of overlap. The Fable Cottage brings more of a classic fairy tale focus your way.
Here, you’ll find stories such as “Cendrillon” (“Cinderella”), “Jack et les Haricots Magiques” (“Jack and the Magic Beanstalk”) and “Hansel et Gretel” (you can probably figure that one out).
Bonjour de France Comprehension FLE Exercises
Bonjour de France offers realistic reading comprehension exercises likely to be a bit more interesting than what you’ll find in your average textbook.
Under the first beginner level (A1), you’ll find exercises based on a diary entry, a concert poster and a tourism ad. The texts are followed by questions you can use to assess your understanding.
Don’t have time to focus on a whole article, or even a whole paragraph? Clozemaster will let you practice your reading through single sentences. This app is appropriate for anyone who already has a little French under their belt.
Clozemaster is basically a flashcard app that works with full sentences through fill-in-the-blank quizzes. It’ll help build your vocabulary and strengthen your reading comprehension at the same time.
Bilingual Reader Articles on Kwiziq
Kwiziq gives you a collection of texts with accompanying audio recordings, including a French version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Like with Bonjour de France, the texts are divided into levels. These will probably work best if you start with the A1 level once you already have a bit of French knowledge down.
The texts have a pretty intuitive “hover and click” feature that gives you phrase-by-phrase translations as you read.
This site includes a handful of readings for French beginners that are fully equipped with interactive translations, definitions and audio that can be stopped and started from any point. The readings are mercifully short, and a little more entertaining and edgy than you might expect.
To pique your curiosity, I’ll just say this: clowns and art fraud.
French Texts for Beginners and Intermediates on Lingua.com
Sometimes you just want to practice your reading without any extra noise. That’s exactly what you can do here.
Lingua.com gives you texts created by professional French teachers for early beginners, upper-beginners and intermediates. It has a more basic approach than other sites, in that all you get is the text and a few questions. However, it’s well organized and easy to use.
FrenchToday Easy French Practice
“Easy” here doesn’t mean beginner, but these texts are a treat for beginners to enjoy and aspire to. They cover a variety of pleasant travel- and culture-based topics like baking bread, talking about wine and the gorgeous Montagne Sainte-Victoire.
Each text comes with English translations that you can hit a button to hide or reveal. This makes them accessible to all learners. Even if you can’t follow the French immediately, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using these texts—and their accompanying beautiful pictures—to develop a taste for French landscapes and culture.
Once you get a handle on your French reading and are ready to try flying without a parachute (i.e., translations), this is a good place to start. 1jour1actu is a French news publication for kids. Actu is short for actualité, or “news,” and you may already know that jour means “day.”
1jour1actu deals with regular news subjects—everything from sports to climate change and other political news—but in simple language. You’ll even find some entertaining videos under the “1jour1question” (1day1question) tab.
This good old standby is a staple for French learners. Like some of the other resources on this list, it can get more advanced pretty quickly, but it’s still accessible to beginners. French subtitles are included in the videos, and you have the option to add English subtitles if you need them.
BookBox is a useful resource for getting used to typical story formats in French—for example, seeing how different past tenses are used together.
“Déjà Vu” (a bilingual play) from the BBC
Originally a BBC Radio 4/ARTE co-production, this bilingual series exploring a relationship between a British woman and a French Algerian man is available in text format on the BBC Languages website. The podcast link is no longer accessible, but hey, who cares? You still get 24 scenes with color-coded French and English text, which is perfect for beginning reading practice.
Claire is a French learner, so she and Ahmed communicate in a mixture of the two languages, creating both a realistic and practical scenario for actual learners.
Children’s Books Forever
We’ve already covered a few resources that offer their own children’s stories with translations. This is a place where you can test out your reading skills on children’s books without any translations.
Okay, so technically, some of the same stories exist in the “English” section. But it might be fun and advantageous to forget that for a while.
Don’t worry about when you’re finally going to be able to read French. Just start reading it. Right now. Instead of thinking of the obstacles ahead of you when you learn French reading, imagine the moments you’ll sigh with joy at your ability to decipher a French text, no matter how simple.
Elisabeth Cook is a freelance writer and literature enthusiast who blogs about books at Lit All Over.