How to Read French: Unlocking the Power of Reading for Language Learning
In Newsdle’s ongoing series looking at the essentials of learning French, we first explored the fundamentals of speaking French in our previous blog post on French phonetics. In this article, we will look at another key skill: how to read French. The benefits of lots of reading in French range from expanding your vocabulary, to improving your grammar, to elevating your French comprehension to another level. So grab your favourite French book or magazine as we explore the best way to learn to read French!
Why Reading is Essential for Learning French
The great advantage of reading in French is that it helps build your vocabulary. After all, vocabulary forms the very foundation of language, and the more words you know the better you can communicate. The beauty of reading is that, unlike flashcards and vocabulary lists, reading offers an immersive experience and words come alive in context. This means that not only is vocabulary easier to remember, you are more likely to use the words correctly when communicating in French, and in the process become more confident and fluent.
Another advantage of reading is that it exposes you to different sentence structures and expressions which in turn enhances your grammar skills. For example, through reading you will come across the different ways French verbs are conjugated, how the verb endings indicate the verb’s subject and tense. You will also begin to grasp which prepositions are paired with certain verbs, and with constant reading in time knowing the gender of nouns will become second nature.
Extensive Reading: The Best Way to Learn French
Firstly, what is “extensive reading”? I think the best definition is simply: "Read, read, and read some more"! The theory behind extensive reading is that the more you immerse yourself in reading, the better you become at it. This holds true for both your native tongue and a new language you're tackling. Of course, the key in how to read French is finding material that matches your level, otherwise it becomes a waste of time. Experts suggest that you aim to read texts where at least 70 percent of the vocabulary is already familiar to you.
Reading should become a key part of your daily French learning routine. This is not just because of the benefits reading brings to learning a language. It is also because incorporating reading into your daily life is relatively easy. With speaking you are not always going to find a conversation partner ready to hand. But thanks to the internet suitable French reading material is always readily available.
Furthermore, reading is an active learning process, setting it apart from passive activities like listening. When you listen to something, it can sometimes turn into background noise, lessening its effectiveness as a learning tool. But with reading, you have to stay focused, especially with a language that's still new to you. This constant concentration on the reading material greatly boosts the benefits you gain from your French study, making it one of the best ways to learn French.
Another advantage of reading is that you can learn at your own pace. Unlike listening to a French TV show or movie, where if you miss something, it's gone, reading gives you the luxury of pausing and re-reading a sentence or looking up words in the dictionary.
Newsdle and Reading Apps: Your Language Learning Companions
There are a variety of French reading apps and online resources that provide reading practice.
Newsdle is an online news-based graded reader that provides short French articles to read, based on contemporary news and current affairs. What makes it particularly useful is that articles are tailored to all levels of learners, ensuring that everyone can benefit from its content. Two useful features of Newsdle are the live dictionary to quickly look up words and the handy grammar notes. The articles are presented as a lesson, and there are optional exercises to test your comprehension. All articles are accompanied by an audio track so you can improve your listening skills while you read.
Newsdle - news to learn French and Spanish
Newsdle’s advantage is that it provides access to current and relevant content. You should always try to read material that you find interesting and engaging, so if you’re a news and current affairs addict who likes to stay informed then Newsdle is an especially good choice.
1jour1actu is another news-based reading resource, although designed primarily for children and without the features that Newsdle provides
LingQ provides a collection of reading materials in a variety of languages including French. As you learn words through reading you add them to your list of known words, while unknown vocabulary can also be added to a review list of words. You can import reading material from anywhere online, including YouTube and Netflix subtitles, and read it through LingQ.
Duolingo is one of the most popular language apps. It used to have reading material in its Duolingo Stories section, but the Stories section seems to have disappeared. The stories are still there though, but now incorporated into the regular Duolingo learning tree.
This app gets its material from audiobooks and so combines both reading and listening. The reading material is provided with a parallel text in one’s native language, presented as a split screen.
Other French Reading Resources for Language Learners
Reading of course has a much, much longer history than mobile phone apps, and many readers still enjoy the traditional ways of reading. For French learners at the beginner and intermediate levels, while the selection of physical reading materials may be limited, there are still numerous options to choose from.
If you are a beginner, textbooks, perhaps surprisingly, are amongst the best and most effective reading resources. Old-school textbooks like French Made Simple or Colloquial French present short texts in very simple language, accompanied by vocabulary lists. While the reading material may not be the most exciting, it’s a great way to introduce a beginner learner to French, gradually increasing the exposure to new vocabulary and grammatical concepts.
Once you've moved past the absolute beginner stage, graded readers are an excellent next step. Black Cat has a range of readers at different levels based on French classics such as Candide, Madame Bovary, and Cyrano de Bergerac.
Hatchette is another publisher with an excellent catalogue of French books in the LFF (Lire en français facile) series. Nowadays most graded readers come with access to audio such as downloadable mp3 so that you can practise listening as well.
Comics and bandes dessinées
Another recommended resource for French learners, especially those at the intermediate and higher levels, is bandes dessinées (ie comics). Some of the best-known comics were written in French originally, for example, Asterix, Tintin, Lucky Luke, and Spirou et Fantasio.
The advantage of comics is that the artwork helps give additional context making them easier to understand. And as there is usually a lot more dialogue than narration or descriptive passages, the material you learn from comics can then be used in your conversation practice.
Physical textbooks, graded readers, and comic books usually cost money, and if you are going to do extensive reading then these costs add up. However, there are plenty of budget-friendly options on the internet. Several websites offer free or relatively cheap reading materials in French. The most obvious examples are websites with articles in French on subjects you find interesting. Though many of these sites cater to native speakers, you can still benefit as an intermediate learner with translation extensions for browsers. Some useful translator extensions include Quick Translator, Rememberry, TransOver, and ReadLang Web Reader.
Lingua.com has a reasonable range of French texts for beginners through to intermediate level, complete with audio tracks and comprehension questions. For intermediate learners French Today has over 150 free stories and French articles to read, many of them introducing French regions and French culture.
Overcoming Disinterest in Reading
If you live in a house full of books, and your favourite way to spend your free time is curled up with a good book, then you will already understand the importance of reading in French. However, there are those who haven’t picked up a book since their school days, and consider reading more of a chore than a pleasure.
If that sounds like you, don’t worry! That doesn’t mean you should miss out on the learning benefits that reading can bring. You can start with shorter, fun texts – there are plenty of options available for beginners – and gradually work your way up to longer texts. Many reading resources now come with audio, allowing you to listen while you read, making it seem less of a chore while helping improve your listening skills.
Reading Tips for Beginners on How to Read French
If you're just starting with French, here are some helpful tips on how to read French and incorporate reading into your language-learning routine:
Invest in a reading app like Newsdle
Using phone apps is possibly the best way to learn to read French simply because of their convenience. You can squeeze in some French reading during your "dead" time, whether you're on public transport, waiting at the doctor's office, or on your lunch break. Even just ten or fifteen minutes each day can make a difference.
Don’t try to understand every word and sentence.
“Analysis paralysis” is a thing in language learning too. Spending too much trying to understand every grammatical structure or verb conjugation can end up being demotivating. Instead, focus on grasping the overall meaning of the sentences you're reading. Understanding the gist is what counts at this stage.
Read what interests you.
Whether it's sports, gardening, films, or TV, you'll find French reading material out there in your areas of passion. Enjoying what you read will make the learning process more enjoyable and motivating.
Choose reading material suited to your level.
For beginners up until the lower intermediate level, opt for reading material specifically tailored for French learners. But once you reach an intermediate level, challenge yourself with authentic materials and engage with real-world texts. Note that an app like Newsdle gives you the best of both worlds: French articles to read that are tailored to all levels based on real-world content.
Extensive reading is the key to improving your French and attaining proficiency in the language. By immersing yourself in reading, you build your vocabulary, improve your grammar, and, ultimately, your overall French language proficiency.
The best way to learn to read French is by using a mix of traditional texts like books and magazines and digital resources such as phone apps and internet resources. Reading authentic materials, like newspapers, comics, or French literature, further enriches the learning experience. This Newsdle blog post gives some recommendations on the best French newspapers to read.
Consistency is one of the keys to how to read French; whether through reading apps like Newsdle or other engaging resources, regular practice will bring steady improvements to your French. Each page turned, every sentence absorbed, contributes towards fluency.
Nick is an English teacher who has taught English as a Foreign Language in China, Italy and France. He has a Bachelor of Arts (Modern Languages), majoring in French, from the University of New South Wales. He loves travel, reading and football and, of course, learning languages. Four years ago, Nick and his wife co-founded an online English language school targeted at the Chinese market (since sold to Chinese investors). He has also ghost-written the autobiography of a well-known Australian horse trainer.
Extensive reading in French will not only unlock the beauty of the French language but also gain insights into its culture and heritage. Happy reading, and enjoy exploring new worlds through the pages of French texts!