What to Read if You’re Learning French

You don’t have to be fluent to enjoy these

Claire Handscombe
Jul 14, 2020 · 2 min read
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Photo by Phix Nguyen on Unsplash

Are you learning French? Ready for the challenge of reading a whole book?

Stop! Don’t pick just any book. You may be feeling it now, but three pages into the latest translated Sophie Kinsella, your dictionary will be soaked with tears of frustration.

And let’s take chick lit as an example. It feels easy to read in our language. But it’s full of slang, in-fashion vocabulary, and the kind of words you probably aren’t learning at your intensive EU course. It’s hard. So you will feel stupid, even though you are not, and you feel doubly stupid because you will (wrongly) think that the thing you are finding difficult is in fact really easy.

Here are a few you can start with instead.

I grew up reading Le Petit Nicolas, and he is ace. His adventures in a classic old-fashioned French primary school will raise a smile.

Not only that, but it’s written in the passé composé — ie, not in that odd tense we inexplicably call the passé simple, which makes it much easier to understand — and will painlessly reinforce all those past participles your French teacher has been trying to get you to learn.

Also, it’s not a novel, but rather a series of stand-alone adventures: much more manageable to tell yourself you will read one story this week than, say, one novel in three months.

Another childhood classic is the adventure of this little boy who finds headlice in his hair, and befriends them. It’s short, and funny, and full of word play (nothing too complicated, though), and the illustrations alone make it a worthwhile purchase.

Another oldie but goodie (okay, so I grew up in the 80s, and I’m not going to apologise for that) is Astérix. There is, of course, plenty of word play in this too, which makes it not the easiest of reads — though it also makes it fun once you work out what all the names are supposed to mean.

If you’re more advanced, you might — might — want to try Bonjour Tristesse, by Francoise Sagan. It is as French as French gets — deeply philosophical musings on the inner life of a French teenager during her stifling hot summer in the South of France. It’s also beautifully written and — again — short. Honestly, you cannot underestimate the feeling of achievement that comes with finishing a novel — and those feelings fuel further learning.

Have you discovered any good French reads?

Originally published at http://conqueringbabel.wordpress.com on September 21, 2011. Some links may be affiliate links, which enable the author to earn commission.

Language Lab

Learn a foreign language with tips, curiosities, and…

Claire Handscombe

Written by

Editor of WALK WITH US: How the West Wing Changed Our Lives; author of the novel UNSCRIPTED and of CONQUERING BABEL: a Practical Guide to Learning a Language.

Language Lab

Learn a foreign language with tips, curiosities, and science

Claire Handscombe

Written by

Editor of WALK WITH US: How the West Wing Changed Our Lives; author of the novel UNSCRIPTED and of CONQUERING BABEL: a Practical Guide to Learning a Language.

Language Lab

Learn a foreign language with tips, curiosities, and science

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