Reading in French: How to Become a French Bookworm

Learning French with movies, TV, and songs is great.

But if you have a little more time on your hands, why not pick up a French novel?


Why Learn French Through Reading?

It might seem daunting, but reading is one of the best ways to improve your French. It’s a great way to pick up new vocabulary, especially for your written French.

You might not understand everything 100%, but the process of looking up words and digesting sentence structures will push your French to the next level.

And if you’re already an intermediate learner, it’s a great way to teach yourself French.

Of course. reading French writing—whether it’s books, news, or something else—is going to give you tremendous insight into French culture.

And of course, the French have made tremendous contributions to world literature. There are so many amazing French texts just waiting to inspire you!

Is It Too Early to Start Reading French?

It’s never too soon in your odyssey to learn French to pick up a book or magazine. Reading will boost your capacity in all language areas by enriching your vocabulary and your understanding of grammatical structure.

Never think that you are too much of a novice to start working on reading skills. There is a vast selection of materials available for all levels. From the simple, elegant poems of Victor Hugo, the funny adventures of Sempé’s Le Petit Nicolas series, one of the fantastic daily newspapers, fashion or sports or art magazines—there is something for every taste and level.

There are also many different learning tools, such as books specially designed for French students that have French on one side of the page and the same text in English on the other; or books created for learners that include extensive vocabulary aids.

Another interesting way to improve vocabulary is to check out illustrated dictionaries. These are frequently divided into sections based on themes, such as Foods, Clothes, Tools, Animals or other categories.

10 Tips on Reading in French for French Learners

Here are a few tips to help you become a lecteur or lecteuse confirmé(e) in no time:

Make sure you choose material suitable for your level.

Le Petit Nicolas (French Edition) (Folio)

If you start out too ambitious, you may end up frustrated and be tempted to quit. Don’t be afraid to try children’s books. The “Petit Nicolas” books by Sempé engage the kind of humor that appeals both to children and adults and is charmingly illustrated with Sempé’s famous signature cartoons.

Speaking of cartoons, there are also lots of comics for grownups available. The French are huge Manga fans, and there are literally thousands of French-language comic strip books available for adults online or in bookshops. There are also several classic works of fiction written in clear, straightforward language such as “L’Etranger” by Albert Camus.

The poems of Jacques Prévert, studied by French school children from a young age, are another excellent choice for exploring the beauty of the French language at its simplest, most playful best. For more advanced learners, the poems, plays and novels of Victor Hugo provide an overview of French history in classic, elegant language that makes him one of France’s most beloved authors.

Build your vocabulary.

You don’t have to understand every single word when you read in a foreign language. Sometimes, the context of the sentence can help you to decipher the meaning of a particular word. However, reading presents an opportunity to identify, learn and retain new vocabulary and it is important to understand those words that are key to the overall content.

Keep a notebook and pencil or your favorite note-taking app ready next to you while you read. When you come across new words, try to work them out from the context. If you can’t, write them down to look them up later. Take an extra moment to write down the sentence that the word appeared in—many words have multiple meanings and the context will help you figure out later which meaning was being used.

When the time comes to look up the words, you can do so with even more context on FluentU. Search for a word in this language learning program and you’ll see all the different possible definitions as well as common phrases that use the word, each as its own flashcard.

Click on a flashcard to see that specific definition, grammar information, example sentences with audio readings and clips from other videos that show the word in use with that meaning. You can save these flashcards to personalized decks—for instance, you could make a separate deck for each book or short story you read.

When you search for a word, you’ll also see every video on FluentU where it appears. Give your vocabulary words more meaning by seeing them in use naturally in authentic French videos like music videos, commercials, movie and TV show clips, news segments and more.

Both flashcards and videos have review quizzes designed to optimize your memorization of the word. This means you’ll get a personalized experience with exercises that adapt to your learning progress. You can use FluentU in a browser, but if you download the iOS or Android app, you’ll also get opportunities during these quizzes to practice your pronunciation by speaking your answers.

Choose books specially designed for French learners.

There is a wealth of books available from publishers on both sides of the Atlantic that are specifically created for language learners. They provide extensive glossaries, pre-reading exercises and comprehension checklists. Some books have the text in French on one page and in English on the other, so you can compare words and sentences, or glance over at the English language when you get stuck.

To find a book like this, just search for French Readers on Amazon or your bookstore of choice.

Read about subjects that interest you.

Many people who choose to learn French are interested in French culture in general. It is, therefore, no coincidence that a huge selection of books in simplified French language is available for learners to explore French history, literature, art or philosophy. However, reading in French doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to read about France!

If the reign of Louis XIV doesn’t float your boat, be honest with yourself and admit it. Reading something in a foreign language that doesn’t truly grip your interest is going to be hard going. Choose a text about something close to your heart. Are you are a gardening aficionado? Pick up an illustrated book on gardening. Fancy yourself a talented chef? Choose a nice cookbook and start with an easy recipe.

You can support your reading with the dual-language subtitles on FluentU, which also conveniently lets you choose the topics and videos you’re most interested in. Plus, you can read the full transcripts for any video, which are supported by audio and instant translations whenever you need them.

Surf the internet in French.

Believe it or not, a large amount of reading happens every day without us even realizing it. Whether you’re scrolling your favorite social media website, using Google or checking your email inbox, these are golden opportunities to practice reading in French.

The easiest way to surf the internet in French is to change your language settings. This can be done by changing the interface language of your internet browser or your email inbox to French in the “Preferences” tab. You can also change social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even YouTube to use French as the interface language as well.

Want to look up information on the internet? Simply use for French search results or access the world’s favorite open encyclopedia, Wikipedia, in French.

Get recordings of texts and follow along.

Find recorded versions (available for the French classics and popular texts) of your book and listen as you follow the words in the book. Listen to the CD as you drive to work, then read the same passage later.

Audiobook services like Audible and offer pretty expansive selections of French audiobooks—or, if you’re on a budget, you can check out your local library’s offerings for free with an app like Overdrive.

Read out loud.

Combine honing your reading skills with improving pronunciation by reading out loud. Find someone who can listen to you and give helpful feedback. You could even record yourself and play it back while reading along.

Read every day.

As with acquiring any new skill or talent, learning French takes discipline. And practice. Set aside 15 minutes every day—in the morning when you first wake up, in bed before you go to sleep at night or, yes, during your daily commute (unless you are driving!) to read in French. Just make sure that you keep going! A little each day, and before long you’ll be a true mordure de lecture (bookworm).

Read the French news.

Go online and read the news in French. There are many news websites available. The advantage of reading online is that you can copy and paste words you are struggling with into an online French-English dictionary.

Choose a news story you’re already familiar with. Scan the text quickly before reading and look up any words you don’t know. Then, go back and read the entire article.

Read books you already know.

Finally, choose a favorite story that you know inside and out and read it in French. Already knowing the storyline will allow you to sit back and enjoy the French language used.


These suggestions should allow you to jumpstart your French language reading. Bonne lecture!

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