Learning French: How to master reading in French!

French is a beautiful language, but like any foreign tongue, it can be intimidating. I remember the first time I was in Paris and a local spoke to me. I froze because I had no idea what she’d just said! It was so embarrassing. Let me tell you how reading in French can help you, as it helped me, no matter what your level.

I didn’t begin studying French in earnest until I was in my late 40s.

I improved little by little and today, a dozen years later, I can speak the language comfortably.

I subscribe to a French newspaper and watch French news. And one of the things that has helped me learn French is reading.

When I first started, I could only read the short handouts I got from my French teacher. Eventually, I tried newspapers and magazines, and finally made it to simple books—my first one is very popular with 12-year-olds!

Now I’ve enjoyed a number of French novels, including some of the classics.

How reading in French can help you breakthrough…

Spoken French can sometimes be too fast to understand, but reading allows you to go at your own pace.

Reading helps you improve your vocabulary as you learn the new words you come across. And it can help your pronunciation if you read out loud. I find that when speaking French, I’m so focused on what I’m saying that I can’t also focus on pronunciation. But when I read out loud, I’m able to pay attention to how each word sounds.

Learning French: find your level

Reading in French can help you no matter how accomplished you are, whether you are a débutant or an expert. The important thing is to find reading material that matches your level.

A beginner might start with classroom materials or newspaper articles of just a few paragraphs, while an expert might enjoy the challenge of a French novel. For every level in between, there are plenty of interesting things to read, from magazines to bandes dessinées (graphic novels).
I refer you to an article that provides you with an extensive list of resources to support your reading in French effort.

If you have a friend who is also learning French, consider working together. You can read separately and then get together to discuss what you’ve read. Buddying up with someone always helps you stay motivated. And reading out loud can improve your pronunciation, as you each correct and encourage the other.

Reading in French: follow your interests

With reading as with most things, if you are interested in something you will spend more time on it. So be sure to read about things you enjoy, be that cooking, history, politics, sports, or whatever. Not only will enjoy it more, but you will also bring to it your existing knowledge about the subject. That, in turn, will make it easier to understand what you are reading.

For example, I like to follow international news.

When I read an article in French, it is often on a subject I already know something about, which makes the article easier to follow. For example, when I first started reading Le Monde and saw an interesting-looking article, I would look for an English-language article on the same subject and read that first. Having “pre-read” the article made it easier to understand.

Using your dictionary: when to look it up and when to put it away

When you read in French, you will surely come across unknown words.

  • Should you look them up in your dictionary? This is a bit of an art and it depends on what your goal is.
  • If you are trying to improve your vocabulary, you’ll want to look up most of these unknown words.
  • But if you are reading for pleasure, cracking open the dictionary interrupts the flow of your reading. In that case, you may choose to look up fewer words.

I mostly read for pleasure, so I only look up the words necessary to understand what I’m reading. I can often guess the meaning of a new word from the context (adjectives meaning “good” or “bad,” for example, are usually easy to guess.)  If I can understand a sentence without looking up new words, I’ll continue reading. But if an unknown word shows up repeatedly, that probably means it’s a common word that I should know, so I look it up and add it to my vocabulary.

Reading in French: let’s get started…

Reading in French is something that anyone with even a modest knowledge of the language can do.

And it’s motivating!

Whether it’s a short article or a long novel when you finish you have a great sense of accomplishment.

So, get started today! You’ll be glad you did.

How is your reading in French going? Do you have suggestions to make that may help other French language learners? Don’t forget to comment below to be alerted to the publication of the list of resources to support your Reading in French. Don’t miss the resources list which has been prepared for you.

Image credits
1. Couple on a park bench: via Path.money
2. French reading partners: via Pixabay
3. Magazines: via Pixabay
4. Book reading: via Pixabay


NOTE: I refer you to an article that provides you with an extensive list of resources to support your reading in French effort.

About the Contributor

Keith Van Sickle

I am a lifelong traveler who lives part of the year in Provence. I am the author of Are We French Yet and One Sip at a Time, as well as the upcoming An Insider’s Guide to Provence, all available at Amazon. You can follow me on Facebook,  Twitter and keithvansickle.com.

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  1. Gail Deel Jan 24, 2020 at 1:07 PM - Reply

    Love this learning by reading, at my own pace…
    makes conversation, listening and speaking easier

  2. Ann Jan 24, 2020 at 1:58 PM - Reply

    I am very interested in that list!

  3. Nina Jan 24, 2020 at 6:38 PM - Reply

    Would appreciate this thank you

  4. Kirsten Trengove Jan 24, 2020 at 7:41 PM - Reply

    A great article, thanks Keith. The advice that resounded most is to match your level. Johan Tekfak from Français Authentique recommends the same when listening to french content. I think he suggests that understanding at least 80% is important to making progress.

  5. Cerkia Barnard Jan 24, 2020 at 10:00 PM - Reply

    Great article reading has definitely improved my French!

  6. Laurie-Annya Linfoot Jan 25, 2020 at 8:27 PM - Reply

    Please include me when you publish your list. Merci beaucoup.

  7. Dianne Jan 26, 2020 at 11:53 PM - Reply

    Very helpful article. I would be very interested in the list of reading resources.

  8. Judy MacMahon Jan 30, 2020 at 1:13 PM - Reply

    LEARNING FRENCH: Reading in French Resources list has been published and I recommend it to you. Keith has really put together a comprehensive list, no matter what your level of French. Here it is: Learning French: resources to help you master reading in French – https://www.myfrenchlife.org/2020/01/30/learning-french-resources-to-help-you-master-reading-in-french/

  9. Kathryn Occhipinti Mar 20, 2020 at 12:04 PM - Reply

    Great advice over-all. Although I have to say that since French is not phonetic, I’ve had difficulty reading. So I started again by just listening and learning phrases. And trying to speak, which uses so many different facial muscles than the other two languages I know, English and Italian. Now the reading makes more sense.

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