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French reading - Where to start?

French reading

When we learn a language, we sometimes feel that reading is difficult and tedious.

However, French reading will make you progress much faster than most other activities.

And there are many ways to start reading in French, right now!

Table of content

Which method is the best? - Extensive or intensive reading?

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Intensive French reading

When you read intensively in French, you study a text in detail, and try to memorize new vocabulary and grammatical patterns.

You read the text several times, and you eventually make exercises afterwards.

Intensive French reading is often seen as tedious and difficult.

However, this is one of the best ways to make fast progress in French.

Extensive French reading

On the other hand, when you read extensively, you mainly focus on the meaning of the text.

You still get exposed to your target language but you read faster. You merely try to get information from the text.

Extensive French reading is more suitable for intermediate or advanced learners.

What is the best way to read in French?

When you start reading in French, you will mostly read intensively.

At an early stage, reading in your target language must be a conscious process. Indeed, as you discover most of the words, you must have a dictionary at hand, and focus on the language itself.

After a while, however, you will start mixing intensive and extensive reading: you will start using your target language to get information, or read for pleasure (extensive part), but you still have to learn the language itself (intensive part).

The right method for you certainly depends on your personality and your goals. However, I strongly recommend that you start with intensive learning. Here's how...

Intensive French reading

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First let's define some rules to read intensively in French.

Rule #1 - Read the same text many times

If you follow this simple rule, I guarantee that you will soon make tremendous progress in French.

Intensive French reading means picking a text (from a book, from the web...) and read it several times until everything is clear.

Ideally, you will read it 2-3 times on Day 1, with the help of a dictionary. Then, you will read it again on Day 2 and Day 3, so that you can better memorize the grammatical patterns and acquire new vocabulary.

Fluency tip

I insist on this first rule, as most people tend to use a large quantity of content, when they learn new language.

I believe this is the main reason why most people never achieve fluency in any foreign language, even if they work consistently.

Instead, try to focus on one text, one video or one audio recording at a time, and everything will become clear!

Rule #2 - Work on your French pronunciation!

One of the main difficulty in French is to match written and spoken French.

Therefore, when you start reading in French, it is important to focus not only on the text, but also on the pronunciation.

Indeed, the pronunciation in French is not intuitive, and it would be a waste of time to read in French without focusing on the pronunciation.

A good way to learn French pronunciation is to repeat a few sentences from the text out loud, until the sounds become natural for you.

You may also visit the section French pronunciation, where you can learn all the pronunciation rules and listen to many examples.

Rule #3 - Read in small chunks

Don't be too demanding with yourself!

As explained above, intensive French reading relies on quality rather than quantity.

According to the difficulty of the text, you could start reading one or two sentences each day. I would say that 20-30 minutes is the perfect time to stay 100% focused.

Furthermore, working with shorter texts will permit you to mix intensive French reading with other learning activities, and stay motivated on the long run.

Intensive French reading: some useful exercices

Exercice 1:

Pick up 3 to 5 essential words (or even better: short sentences) from the text you've read.

Write them down in a dedicated notebook. On the frontside, write the word in a language you speak fluently, and on the back of the page, write the word in French.

Then, take a random quiz regularly.

Exercice 2:

Pick up a whole sentence, or an excerpt from the text you’ve just read and translate it into English.

A few days later, translate the sentence back into French, and compare your translation with the original text.

This is a very effective way to acquire new grammatical patterns in French.

Exercice 3:

Summarize the text orally, without looking at it.

Try to build simple sentences using exclusively words you know. Don't use a dictionary at this stage, and speak as if you were explaining the text to a friend.

Extensive French reading

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Extensive French reading: what to read?

Once you’ve reached a certain level in French, you'll start reading for pleasure.

With extensive reading, you will continue acquiring new vocabulary and discovering grammatical patterns, but in a smoother way, and on a longer term.

At this stage, you should select a topic you like, and not only pick a text by its length or alledged level of difficulty.

You will more likely commit to reading in French on a regular basis, if you are curious about the story or the topic, behind the words.

Let French reading be part of your learning routine

Becoming fluent in French is a long term process, where reading plays an important part.

I would say that an English speaker has to study about 1.000 hours to speak French fluently. It represents 1 hour each day during approximately 3 years.

As you can imagine, you will need motivation to stay focused on your goal during these 3 years.

Also, it is important to change the content of your daily lessons. For example, you may spend 20-30 minutes reading in French, then listen to a podcast, watch a video in French...

And when you achieve an intermediate level, try to use both intensive and extensive French reading.

Indeed, intensive reading remains a very effective method for intermediate learners.

Simple texts to start reading in French

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Here are some online resources for you to start reading in French...

Elysian French

Start reading in French on this website. Visit the page French reading for beginners and get access to simple texts in French, with English translation and line-by-line audio.

Le Petit Nicolas

Le Petit Nicolas (The Little Nicolas) is a series of books by Gosciny (who also co-created Astérix) and Sempé.

These books are ideal to start reading in French.

The stories are simple to read, as the narrator is supposed to be a child.

Furthermore, they contain a lot of French humor.

Visit the official website. There, you can browse the different books and read some excerpts.

Le Petit Prince

Who doesn’t know le Petit Prince (the Little Prince), by French aviator Antoine de Saint Exupéry?

There even exists an amusement park in Alsace (East of France)!

For beginners in French, it is a good idea to read the original version. It contains simple dialogs and basic vocabulary.

There also exist audio versions on the editor website.


This may also be of some interest...

To find inspiration and learn French efficiently, visit the French blog!


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