Do you find it hard to match up spoken French with written French?
If you do, that’s because written French is very different to spoken French.
In particular, French has many silent letters that can go at the end of words. As a result, there are multiple ways to write a single French sound. For example, cent, s’en, sang, and sans all sound exactly the same. The same is true for tout, tous and toux.
Because of this, it can be difficult to reconcile what you read with what you hear in French. You’ll need to put a bit more effort into your reading comprehension in French than you would with some other languages that have a more regular written form, such as Spanish.
I’ve searched the web for a variety of French reading resources and exercises, most for beginners but some for more advanced learners, to help you improve your French reading ability.
Let’s dig in…
Absolute Beginner: Apprendre à Lire
This site is incredibly useful for absolute beginners in French. It’s meant to teach French children how to read, but there’s no reason why you can’t use it too! It covers virtually every French sound, including those not found in English, and teaches you not only how to read them and use them in real words, but also how to pronounce them.
This is handy for beginners, because although the French alphabet is identical to the English alphabet, many of the letters sound very different. There are several exercises for each French letter, so you can choose the ones that you find most helpful.
The site is all in French, including the instructions for each exercise, but the instructions are relatively simple. If you struggle with them, plug them into Google Translate to get the gist with an OK English translation.
Beginner to Intermediate: French Readings – languageguide.org
This is one of the better sources I’ve found for beginner to intermediate French reading comprehension. Languageguide.org is a superb website that provides a simple, condensed way to learn the basics of vocabulary and grammar for many languages.
The French section features several reading samples, each accompanied by a spoken recording. The more difficult words are highlighted, letting you hover your mouse over them to see the English translation.
You can also see the English translation of entire sentences by hovering your mouse over the punctuation mark at the end of each sentence. If you want pure reading practice without the audio, just click the pause button any time to pause the recording and focus on reading.
Children’s Stories: International Children’s Library
I absolutely love the presentation of this free online library filled with children’s books in dozens of languages, including 60 in French! Some of the stories are well-known to the English-speaking world, so if your French is limited, I recommend you start with the stories you’re familiar with, so you’ll have some help with vocabulary due to your prior knowledge. Many of them also have an English translation you can use if you need some help.
Short Fiction: The Works of Guy de Maupassant
Guy de Maupassant was a famous French writer who wrote more than 300 works of fiction during the late 19th century, and is often considered one of the fathers of the modern short story. And for good reason! Each story is only about 3000 words long, but is remarkably captivating. I haven’t yet read one that I didn’t like.
If you want to expand your knowledge of classic French literature, this is one of the best places to start. The website contains nearly all of de Maupassant’s short stories, most of which come with an English translation.
This is definitely one of the more advanced resources in this list, but don’t let that scare you. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself! You’ll learn more quickly if you don’t just stick to books where you know all of the words. The English translations are always there to help you if you get stuck.
Free Ebooks: Ebooks Libres & Gratuits
This is an absolute goldmine of free e-books, available in almost every file format you could hope for, from Kindle, Kobo and Sony e-reader formats, to PDF and HTML for reading on your computer. There are hundreds upon hundreds of free, complete books to choose from.
If you’re a beginner, go to the search box at the top of the page, and select “Jeunesse” from the dropdown menu next to “Genre”. This will show you all of the books for children and young adults. It has dozens of masterpieces such as Le Petit Prince and Alice au Pays des Merveilles. Some even have full-colour illustrations.
Graphic Novels: Amilova
Comic books and graphic novels aren’t just for kids and geeks anymore. You wouldn’t believe the variety of genres that are available today, for every taste imaginable: horror, romance, drama, parody…you name it! Amilova is a huge online community for graphic novel enthusiasts, containing almost a thousand high-quality stories in their entirety, available to read free online.
The big advantage of using graphic novels to help improve your French is that many of them are strongly dialogue-orientated. This means you get to read a lot of everyday spoken vocabulary that people use in real life. Instead of reading the purely classical literary form, you’re improving your spoken colloquial French skills and reading an engaging story at the same time.
Be sure to click the flag in the upper right corner to change the language to French. That way you’ll only see the stories available in French.
Classic Fairy Tales: The French Experiment – French Children’s Stories
Four of the most popular children’s fairy tales – The Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood and The Ugly Duckling – are translated into French on this website and accompanied by an optional audio recording. Since you’re probably already familiar with these stories, you’ll pick up the vocabulary more quickly than you would reading a brand new story.
Cookbook: Cuisine à la Française
I don’t normally recommend cookbooks to help improve your target language, but I’ll make an exception for French. After all, French cuisine is one of the most popular and influential in the world, having recently been added to UNESCO’s intangible world heritage list due to its global reputation. If you ever visit France, you’ll notice immediately how big a role the cuisine plays in everyday life.
It’s a good idea, then, to read as much as you can about French cuisine while you’re studying the language. That way, you’ll learn practical vocabulary to use when visiting France or eating at French restaurants (or even when just talking about France with native speakers). You’ll also get valuable insight into an essential aspect of French history and culture, and learn to cook a variety of mouthwatering recipes.
The website Cuisine à la Française is the perfect place to start. You can search their database of nearly 2,000 classic recipes alphabetically or by category. Be sure to click on the “Histoire de la Cuisine” tab to learn all about the long and fascinating history of food in France, from 12,000 years ago up to modern day. Also check out “Recettes Anciennes” at the bottom of the page for authentic French recipes from hundreds of years ago.
My only bœuf with French cuisine is the relatively small number of vegetarian meals available in most French restaurants, but that’s why I love cooking at home. Home cooking lets me adapt any recipe to suit my dietary preferences. Give it a try yourself, and improve your French reading comprehension in the process.
Test Yourself: French Reading Comprehension Quizzes
Instead of just reading in French, why not test yourself to see how well you understand what you’re reading? This page on About.com provides you with several excerpts in French that you can read and then do a quiz to check your comprehension.
For each excerpt, first click “Lire” to read the text, then click “Étudier” to see a list of key vocabulary from the excerpt along with the English translations. Finally, click “Passer l’examen” to do the quiz related to the excerpt. It’s useful to open “Passer l’examen” in a separate window so you can see the test questions and the text at the same time. Bonne chance !
Do you have a favourite resource for improving your French reading comprehension? Please share it in the comments.
Bonne lecture !