Contrary to a popular myth, you don’t need to live in France to successfully learn French.
The key is to expose yourself as much as possible to French, and to try to find ways to be totally immersed in it.
In addition to honing your listening skills by doing things like watching French TV and listening to everyday conversations, one of the best ways to get your daily dose of French immersion is to read French books, newspapers, and other texts.
What should you read to improve your French?
Read something you enjoy
When it comes to improving your French, the most important thing is to be interested in what you’re reading.
You shouldn’t fall asleep while reading in French. Otherwise, you’ll do everything to avoid reading in French and quickly give up.
So, think about what you like to read in your native language and look for similar texts in French.
Remember that these don’t have to be “intellectual” books or articles, if that’s not what you like. Read a French celebrity gossip magazine, a French romance novel, or French comic books if those are what you like. Whatever you choose, you’ll be practicing and learning French.
Read something that’s slightly above your level
In addition to reading something you enjoy, you need to find the sweet spot between content that’s too easy and content that’s too complicated.
Choose something too easy and you won’t make any progress, but choose something too complicated and you’ll quickly give up.
By reading a text you mostly understand, you get to expand your vocabulary and grammar knowledge, while enjoying the subject or story.
You’re also more likely to enjoy reading because you’ll feel a sense of progress.
Unfortunately, this means your reading choices are restricted by your level.
That’s why I highly recommend you to use tools like Readlang that make reading French much more enjoyable.
4 Tools that make reading in French easier
Depending on how you like to figure out new vocabulary, there are different tools that can make reading in French easier. Here are three that I like.
Have you ever been frustrated by the enormous amount of time it takes you to read in French?
I used to have this problem when I read in other languages. My reading was so slow that I would give up, tired of always having to open the dictionary. Luckily, there are extensions for a few browsers, including Chrome and Firefox, that can make reading faster and ultimately more effective.
Google Dictionary is my favorite language learning extension. Thanks to it, I’m able to read so many more articles in foreign languages than before.
Every time you click on an unknown word, Google Dictionary automatically looks up the definition in different dictionaries and provides you with a translation in your native language. If the word refers to a place or a person, the extension will often show you the Wikipedia page.
The advantage? You don’t have to open the dictionary any more; one click is enough to translate unknown words. However, the translations aren’t always perfectly accurate since the plugin uses Google Translate most of the time.
French print dictionaries and dictionary apps
Having a dictionary that will translate words from French into your language of choice, and vice versa, is extremely helpful for your French reading.
There are several good print French-English dictionaries if you like the feel of pages beneath your fingers, and otherwise, in addition to extensions like Google Dictionary, there are lots of helpful dictionary apps you can download to help you quickly look up words.
You can even synchronise some French dictionaries and apps to your e-reader, allowing you to define a word as you go, simply by highlighting it.
You can use our list to find the perfect French print dictionary or dictionary app for you, or do an online search to explore even more options.
The core idea of the Fluent Chrome browser extension is that you shouldn’t have to set aside time to study French. To help you accomplish this goal, this nifty extension shows you the translation of some French words on the pages you’re browsing.
This free extension also lets you listen to the pronunciation of each word and allows you to review the vocabulary you’ve learned, with mini tests that are available for select words.
An ebook reader
Ebook readers are a convenient way to read in French because they have an integrated dictionary. This means you can highlight any word and see its translation. Another advantage is that you can buy thousands of French books and receive them directly on your e-reader.
There are several great models available but I generally recommend the Amazon Kindle since it has a better French dictionary than alternatives like Kobo.
French reading practice for all levels
Before showing you my favorite French reading resources for your level, here are a few resources you can use no matter what your level is.
These sites and apps offer authentic French texts on various subjects and in various genres, and also have helpful features like translations, audio, and more that allow learners of any level to enjoy them and learn from them.
Readlang is both a browser extension and language learning site.
The Readlang website features transcripts of many videos and songs, as well as lots of texts you can read.
The Readlang extension allows you to easily see the definition and translation of words, as well as review them with a flashcard system.
Readlang also seems to use Google Translate for its translations, so be aware that they may not always be completely accurate. That said, Readlang is a great resource even simply for the texts it provides on its site.
Readlang is available for free or in a premium version for $5 a month. The premium version offers unlimited phrase translations, while the free version only allows ten per day. Otherwise, both plans are the same.
You can find many different French texts on Laura K. Lawless‘ website. These include classic French books as well as texts from modern-day French websites and news items. A great feature is the side-by-side English translation by paragraph, which can be hidden if you prefer.
LingQ is a language learning app that was created by the polyglot Steve Kaufman.
It’s a sort of one-stop-shop feel, with lots of different resources, as well as tests, flashcards, and more. One of the most helpful for our purposes is the large collection of French reading resources that are available and connected with these other tools.
You’ll find lots of texts with audio and easily see the translation of any word by clicking on it.
And you can review the words and sentences you learned with a flashcard system similar to the one I describe in the ultimate guide to learning vocabulary.
Unfortunately, unlike most of the other French reading resources on this list, Lingq isn’t free – the app offers several membership plans.
French learning site The French Experiment offers a selection of fairy tales in French with audio and paragraph-by-paragraph English translation, for free. Some of the stories include slow audio, which is especially helpful for beginner and intermediate learners.
Run by the creators of The French Experiment, The Fable Cottage features French fairy tales as well as other French short stories, which include both paragraph-by-paragraph translation and audio.
Some of the stories and resources are accessible for free, while others require you to purchase a membership.
French comic books, graphic novels, and mangas
Comics (bandes desinées), graphic novels (sometimes also called bandes desinées or romans graphiques), and mangas are immensely popular in France, and, in the case of the first two, have been for more than a century!
One of the advantages of reading French this way is that you get images with the words, often giving you context and helping you learn vocabulary, including some specific and fun vocabulary, like French onomatopoeias.
Because of their importance in French and European Francophone culture throughout the 20th century and up to now, bandes dessinées also give an excellent insight into things like French humor and pop culture references. And of course, they’re often a lot of fun to read!
One of the most popular bande dessinées in France right now is Mortelle Adele, a series about a cynical, morbid little girl and the mayhem she wreaks on those around her (think Wednesday Addams in a normal French family, with a more colorful palette).
You can find lots of other popular French bandes dessinées – many of them iconic – in our article on French comics. When it comes to reading level, some of these are a bit more difficult than others, so before you buy an album (comic compilation/book), be sure to look at a few preview pages or strips by doing an online search.
Mangas, translated into French but often kept in the traditional Japanese orientation for reading, are also incredibly popular in France today, especially among teenagers. While these won’t give you as much cultural insight into France or other Francophone European cultures, they can still be a good way to practice French, if you’re a fan of the medium.
You can find French comics, graphic novels, and mangas, at online bookstores like Amazon, BookShop, and even possibly at your local bookstore or library.
If you’re a poetry fan, French Today’s site has more than 40 French poems accompanied by explanations, translations, and audio, accessible for free.
Easy French reading practice for beginners
As a beginner, you need easy French reads, which immediately excludes most books written for native speakers.
But you also want authentic French, because you want to learn French you’ll actually use.
You may think a solution would be to start by reading French children’s stories, books, and magazines. To a certain extent, that may be true, but be aware that just because a French text is meant for children, it might still contain a lot of vocabulary or obscure cultural references that could be confusing for beginner French learners.
Considering this, your best bet is to read material created for French learners.
Here are my favorite French reading resources for beginners.
The French Together app features easy,high-quality dialogues you can use to learn everyday French. They make for easy reading practice and cone with audio recorded at slow and normal speed.
Language Guide contains several French texts and jokes for beginners that you can read and listen to at the same time.
You can also see the definition of complicated words, although it’s easier to just install a plugin for this.
French learning site French Today offers a large selection of French articles and stories with paragraph-by-paragraph English translations. Although some of these texts might be closer to intermediate level, in general they are easy and short reads and the translations will help you discover new vocabulary.
French reading practice for intermediate and advanced French learners
Intermediate French learners will find a lot of resources that at times might be a little too easy and at times might be slightly difficult. It’s usually best to opt for the latter – remember what I wrote previously about how this will allow you to learn more vocabulary and grammar while also being able to basically understand what you’re reading.
Some sources, though, are well adapted for intermediate learners, and I’ve included some of them on this list.
If you’re an advanced learner, Félicitations ! You should be able to read most texts in French. But remember that there will always be challenges – maybe some vocabulary words you don’t know or an author’s writing style that you find particularly difficult. This is completely normal and remember that it could even happen to native French speakers!
I’ve grouped French reading resources for intermediate and advanced learners together because some of these might have both advanced texts and texts that are a bit easier.
Children’s Library contains 59 French children’s books you can read online or find in your local library.
Many of these books also exist in English, so you can open both the French and English version and compare the translations.
Children’s books and stories in French
As I wrote before, children’s stories and books in French aren’t necessarily the easiest things to read, since they sometimes have very specific vocabulary and turns of phrase. But they’re a great idea for intermediate learners (and of course advanced learners, too).
You can find some good French children’s books for learners on our list.
You can also check out BookShop if you’re looking for other French children’s books.
Always remember to read a preview of the book, if you can, to make sure you like it and that it’s the right level for you.
Johan regularly publishes podcasts that come with a transcript so you can read and listen at the same time. His Facebook page is also an awesome resource to get your daily dose of French.
Check out our list of the best French podcasts to find other podcasts that include transcripts.
French news websites
If you’re interested in current events, you can start reading news websites. Some feature articles only, while others include video and/or audio with transcripts that will be helpful for your reading practice.
Here are a few French news websites:
- Voxeurop (translated in most European languages)
- Cafebabel (European news in Polish, English, Italian, Spanish, German and French)
- Le Monde
- Le Figaro
- L’équipe (sport)
- Le Gorafi (French equivalent of The Onion)
- Journal en français facile (with audio)
- Google News
Looking for more ways to read the news in French? Click here to discover 18 French newspapers!
And here is our list of French magazines, including news magazines.
French short stories and fairy tales
Some French short stories and fairy tales are easier than others, but the sheer variety of them means that you should be able to find some that are perfect for both your level and your interests.
You can find some French short stories and fairy tales – many of them available for free – on our list.
It’s hard to recommend a particular French book for all French learners, since the best French book for you is one you’ll enjoy reading.
To find that book, you could start by looking at our list of French novels.
And here are a few websites where you can find French books.
Pro tip: Most books published before the 1920’s are often in the public domain, which means you should be able to find a copy of them for free online.
You can find free works by other classic French writers on sites like Wikisource and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France’s portal, Gallica, or by doing an internet search for their name and seeing what comes up.
Your local library may also have some French books you can check out, so be sure to look for those the next time you’re there.
If you choose to read books from an older author like Maupassant, don’t forget that these books were written more than 100 years ago, so many words are no longer used. That said, French has changed a lot less than a language like English, so a lot of how things are expressed, turns of phrase, etc., are still in common use today.
That’s right! Wikipedia is an excellent (and free!) French reading resource. You can look up just about anything that interests you and read about it in French. Because many articles also have an English version, you may be able to use those to check the definitions of certain terminology or test your comprehension in general.
Wikipedia is is particularly useful if you’d like to learn the vocabulary of a specific field or subject area.
Where to find more free resources to practice reading in French
Thanks to the internet, including the availability of public domain works, blogs, and other free reading material, the world is your oyster when it comes to finding reading material in French!
For a start, you can find more ways to practice reading in French on our list of free French resources. Or do an online search for whatever you’d like to read or read about in French and see what comes up as a result!
Bonne lecture ! (Happy reading!)