To improve our French, we are often told to read en français. Yet, what if there are other reasons to delve into the world of French novels, that outshine this need to improve our linguistic skills?
Reading en français can be a challenge for a non-native speaker, a true ‘reading rollercoaster’ of ups and downs!
As MyFrenchLife™ Contributor Sue Williams noted when buying a copy of Baudelaire’s ‘Les fleurs du mal’ in Paris: “I had a mental image of myself, looking terribly intellectual, turning its brownish pages, while sitting at a cafe.” Like Sue, by reading en français, we want to look as intellectual as the lecturers we see around Paris, as captured in Reading in Paris by photographer Virginia Jones.
But as we all know, it’s not always this easy.
However, now’s the time to rise to the challenge, and become à l’aise with the universe of French literature and start reading in French.
Overcoming difficulties and challenges
You won’t understand everything! The main drawbacks are frequently needing a dictionary and having a slower reading speed. This leads to many of us feeling demotivated and to think that it will be impossible to get hooked on a book.
A way to overcome this difficulty is to be proud of how much you read and to avoid looking up each and every word.
Concentrate on meaning: the words and expressions that affect your understanding are those that need looking up, writing down and learning!
The site FrenchTogether offers tips on improving your reading level quickly with apps and online sources.
Another tip to adapt yourself to French is to swap your phone for a book.
After living in France with high phone tariffs, I swapped spending my free time texting for reading library books. Reading on trains, in lunch breaks, and at bus stops will help your brain get used to the language you’re reading, little by little, and without the need of a dictionary.
You’ll soon find yourself feeling proud of how much you are able to read en français without a dictionary!
Where to find your French reading material?
Well, if you’re lucky enough to have a library nearby which stocks books in French, they can be a great help to find interesting books that are geared towards your level. Try the list by
You can also try the list by FluentU of ’10 Unbelievably Good Books for French Learners’, it’s a really useful post which will give you a good place to start.
Of course, you can also, take the advice of MyFrenchLife™ who recommends reading whatever you enjoy: from cookbooks to fashion magazines, sports to current affairs; choose the reading matter that reflects your interests and this will make reading in French feel much less of a challenge.
Why should you read en français?
Becoming a lecteur ou lectrice en français will open a world of beautiful French imagery and a language of poésie that cannot be translated word for word.
Poetic elements like the use of sound, sibilance, and personification may all be lost in the English translation. You will also discover books that may not have English translations, as well as books that are translated from other languages into French.
This will give you excellent topics for conversations with other book lovers and bookshop owners, due to your wide reading!
The feeling of accomplishment after finishing an entire novel in another language is wonderful, especially after all the challenges us non-native speakers have. You will be made aware of (maybe without realising) cultural references to France and its history, to French authors and their imagery – giving an insight into la vie française, and a true, authentic voice of French culture.
All books have voices – it’s about listening to a French one. It’s not just about improving your language skills, it’s about culture, it’s about the way books make you feel.
Do you read en français? Let us know what you are reading in French, and share this article with fellow Francophiles!
1. ‘Fashion reading in the park’ by Raphaël Labbé, via Flickr
2. ‘Book page open book reading French’ by Calua, via Pixabay
3. ‘Girl reading’ by Pierre-August Renoir, via Wikimedia Commons
4. ‘Bouquiniste Paris’ by Benh Lieu Song, via Wikimedia Commons
5. ‘Pile of books’ by Raoul Luoar, via Flickr
I'm a final year French student at University of Nottingham. I am passionate about French literature, in particular nineteenth-century French novels and love escaping to Paris for chocolat chaud. Follow me: my year abroad blog, instagram & twitter!
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