Learning French: resources to help you master reading in French
One of the best ways to improve your French is by reading. Unlike spoken French, which can sometimes be too fast to understand, reading allows you to go at your own pace. It adds to your vocabulary and can help your pronunciation if you read out loud. No matter what your level of French, reading is a fun and effective way to get better at this beautiful language. This article follows ‘Learning French: how to master reading in French‘, we suggest that you read it before this one.
First, find your level
This article lists useful french learning resources to help you master reading in French. It is compiled with readers from débutant to advanced in mind.
And I’ll begin with one piece of guidance: try to read slightly above your level.
- If something is too easy, you won’t make progress.
- If it’s too complicated, you are likely to get frustrated and give up.
- So, as in the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, try to find something that’s “just right.”
Please note that some of the resources below require subscriptions.
1. Resources for Débutants
For raw beginners, taking their first course in French, the best things to read are usually those provided by the teacher. But for the courageous, check out the resources below.
2. Resources for Advanced Beginners
For French learners just beyond the débutant stage, here are some excellent places to find things to read.
- Lingua.com has short readings grouped by level, from beginner to intermediate. Each is followed by five questions that let you test your comprehension.
- Lawless French has readings by level, from beginner to advanced. Next to each one is a translation into English, which is very helpful when you are struggling to understand a word or phrase. Also on this site, you can assess your level of French.
- Wikipedia is an oft-overlooked resource that can help French learners at the beginner stage and beyond. Reading about a subject on Wikipedia in English, then reading about the same subject in French (at Wikipedia.fr), is a way to give yourself a head start on your French reading.
- For an excellent approach to learning French (including resource tips), for those at the beginner level and beyond through to advanced, don’t miss the comprehensive Finesse Your French series from My French Life.
Text and Video
For more advanced beginners, here are some additional resources.
- Apprendre le Français has short videos with transcripts (click on “Transcription” at the bottom of the screen.) These allow you to read, listen, or both, and are available for all levels, from
beginner to advanced.
- News in Slow French has short news stories spoken in slow and clear French,
along with a transcript. Many of the words and phrases are highlighted and if
you click on them, a translation appears. Stories are available at different
levels, from beginner to advanced, allowing you to read, listen, or both.
Newspapers and Magazines
- Bien Dire is a magazine that follows current events in the francophone world. It covers interesting topics, including excellent interviews, and has a nice layout plus accompanying audio files. The magazine comes in two versions, one for beginners and one for more advanced French learners.
- France-Amerique is a magazine covering current events, with each article written in both French and English.
- Journal de Français Facile covers the news, with short videos and accompanying texts, allowing you to read, listen, or both.
A surprising resource for French learners is publications targeted at children and adolescents. These cover interesting subjects but tend to have shorter articles and simpler language. Here are some that you might find interesting (online
- Mon Quotidien and 1 Jour, 1 Actu are daily newspapers for young people.
- Le Journal des Enfants is a magazine that covers science, sports, culture, and “good news” (which we can all use more of!)
- Wapiti is a magazine that covers nature, science, and ecology.
- Julie Mag is a girl’s magazine but covers subjects of interest to anyone.
3. Resources for Intermediate-Level Readers
Many of the resources listed above are available at several levels, from beginner to
advanced, so be sure to check them out for reading materials at your level.
France has newspapers that come in all flavors.
- Do you want to read a paper that’s conservative-leaning, like the Wall Street Journal or Financial Times? Then take a look at Le Figaro.
- If you have more of a progressive bent, check out Libération.
- And then there’s the centrist Le Monde, one of the world’s great newspapers.
Whatever you are looking for, be it sports or political gossip or whatever, you can probably find a French newspaper to your liking.
One thing I appreciate about French newspapers, which makes them surprisingly easy to read, is that their news articles are very straightforward (opinion pieces are another matter.) They are reporting the facts, which makes their sentences relatively simple. And they largely avoid slang, which can make a magazine like Paris Match hard to follow.
For those of you interested in learning more, here’s a great article that describes 18 different French newspapers.
Here’s where things can get scary. Can I really read an entire French book? Won’t it be too looooooong?
One place to start is with a bande dessinée, or BD, which is known in English as a graphic novel. In France, the BD is a serious and respected art form, and those with adult themes are widely read. They are great for French learners because the text is limited and the illustrations help you understand the story. They cover a wide variety of subjects, including history, autobiography, classic French novels, contemporary social issues, humor, and more. Here’s an article that describes them in more detail.
As for reading regular books, short ones are a good place to start. And for those beginning to read French books, I recommend reading on a Kindle or other electronic reader. This allows you to just touch an unknown word to look up its definition, rather than having to flip through your dictionary.
Here are a few excellent starter books to consider.
- Le Petit Prince is short, sweet, and the most popular French book ever written. You’ve probably read it in English, which will give you a head start.
- Le Petit Nicolas is a series of short, funny books about the adventures of young Nicolas and his friends. Told from a child’s point of view, much of the humor derives from Nicolas’ misunderstanding of adult behavior. The books tend to use slang and run-on sentences, which can occasionally make them challenging.
- Le Gloire de Mon Père is the funny and touching memoir of Marcel Pagnol, who recounts his childhood summers spent in a small, rustic village in Provence. For many French people, this was the first ‘grown-up’ book they read, at about the age of 11.
- The Maigret stories by Georges Simenon are a series of mysteries featuring Inspector Maigret, one of French literature’s great characters. These are not action novels, but rather the uncovering of deceit and compromise. Simenon’s descriptions of Paris are eloquent but brief and the writing is straightforward rather than flowery.
- L’Etranger by Albert Camus is a classic of French literature, but surprisingly easy to read. His writing is spare and direct, making the story easy to follow.
- There are also any number of books available in both French and English, with the two languages on facing pages. This allows you to read in French and reference the English version when needed. One good source for such books is Folio Bilangue.
4. Resources for Advanced Readers
In addition to the resources listed above, the advanced reader has the world of French
literature at their fingertips.
- Some books to consider are the winners of the Prix Goncourt, France’s top literary award.
- Another place to look is this list of the Top 100 books of the 20th century, as chosen by French readers.
- And if you’d like to read the greatest French book of all time, this article will point you in the right direction.
Whatever your level of French and whatever your interests, reading in French can be both:
- a pleasure and
- a great way to improve your French.
Try it today! You won’t be sorry
How is your ‘Reading in French’? Do you have other suggestions to add to these resources?
1. Book reading: via Pixabay
2. Finesse your French series header via MyFrenchLife
3. piles of newspapers IESEG school of management via Pinterest
4. reading in French recommended books via Amazon
5. The greatest French book of all time article via MyFrenchLife
Great article Keith. I worked at reception at an Alliance Française for a while. I recommended Bien Dire to some of the B1-B2 students. Every single student in one class borrowed our copy from our library and then purchased an annual subscription. They found it very engaging and also the articles although sometimes topical they were written in a such a way that they remain timeless. I see on the link in your article that they currently have a “solde” (20% discount sale). It’s great that they it is available in 2 levels. Unfortunately we didn’t stock it as I am sure that it would have appealed to many as well.
We had a large collection of BDs in the library but most members borrowed them once and and then changed to simplified books (NOT children’s books) as they found there was too much slang for their understanding. This was information that they volunteered. It may be because we didn’t have adult specific BDs. The main group that borrowed BDs were in fact native French-speaking children.
Thanks, Kathy. I agree that Bien Dire is a great resource. And yes, slang finds its way into a lot of French writing that can make reading tricky (the book Grand frère even had a glossary!)
I enjoyed your memories of working at an Alliance Française and I find that an AF library is the greatest resource of all! So many great books, newspapers, magazines, language tools, DVDs etc. I like Bien-dire too. I think I subscribed many moons ago and am thinking of doing so again. Thanks for sharing!
Super article, Keith. It has reminded me to keep up my practice a little more and extend my resources. I think one of the hardest things about finding BD in an anglophone country is getting good recommendations and actually knowing what you’re going to get. I think a trip to a FNAC is much more fun to find the BD. 🙂
Like I said to Kathy, I think a local Alliance Française is definitely worth it – the culturethèque library resources are usually excellent.
Thank you for the article and all the links to resources.
Thank you for featuring our magazines 🙂