After 5 months of learning French with Michel Thomas and a teacher, (see here), my husband knew the basics (easy vocabulary, grammar notions). He decided it was time he took charge of his learning and started reading French books. Just as a child would have done, he started with comic strips, moved onto kids novels and finally proper novels. Soon, he could understand most words I said to our bilingual children. Now, he can read any French novel, any newspaper. His vocabulary is brilliant. Not only does he know a large amount of words but he also knows French expressions (from the most formal to the most casual). But it’s not all: reading French improved his understanding skills and speaking skills too! Yes, because by having a larger vocabulary, he could understand what people said and could join in conversations. When French people realise he understands, they happily continue at the same native rhythm of speech. If, when he speaks, he doesn’t pronounce correctly, they quickly correct him but continue the conversation. Now, he can join in any French conversation and all the French people we meet (friends, relatives, even strangers) always comment on how good his French is. And … it all started with these books …
Why you shouldn’t be afraid to read French books
Reading French books written by French people for French people can be daunting and the thought of not being able to read a page without a dictionnary is less than appealing BUT it doesn’t have to be this way if you follow our recommendations:
1- Start with very easy children’s books (see our recommendations below) even if they don’t seem interesting to you. Their vocabulary is easy. They use fewer words and repeat them often. Their plots are also easy to follow.
2- Use the French-English dictionnary at the bottom right hand corner of this page. You will soon think that you know the most important French words and you will! Although the French language has more than 150,000 words, the average French speaking person uses 3,000 to 3,500 words and some French people get by with 400 words only! Now… that seems achievable, doesn’it?
3- Once and only once you’re happy you understand easy children’s books, move onto the next category (follow our suggestions below). Etc…
4- Also use the free resources in this website to check your progress. Soon and without even noticing it, you’ll have improved your French by leaps and bounds.
5- Use this small grammar book as a reference to check the main French grammar points when you need to.
64 pages of grammar lessons (for each 2 page lesson: comics, short summary of the key points, exercises to practice) + irregular verbs + key vocabulary. A4 format but less than 1cm thick. INDISPENSABLE!
Our French books suggestions
So, here is our selection of novels from easy to hard. I’ve used Amazon.co.uk whenever possible as shipping costs are very high when using Amazon.fr
To start with: Asterix
You’ll notice I recommend only Asterix comics. That’s because:
– they’re available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk (pick the right one to see the prices in your currency)
– they’re really funny especially when the story takes place in a foreign country and can be enjoyed by children and adults alike
– other French comics classics (such as Tintin) tend to be more children oriented
1st Step Up: Le petit Nicolas
When you feel you’re ready to move up, try these little books. It’s a series of small stories about much-loved Petit Nicolas. He’s not your Horrid Henry. He means well but he still ends up in trouble. It’s funny and very readable by both children and adults.
2nd Step Up
Now it’s time to try out short novels. I’ve selected 2 authors (Anna Gavalda and Eric Emmanuel Schmitt) for their range of short, easy to read and very interesting novels. Both authors have won numerous prizes. They make for a perfect step up in this natural reading progression.
Finally, expand in all directions!
You’re now ready to read any French novels, from the classics (free legal download here) to the latest French blockbusters.
Let us know how you get on with your French and if you’re happy with our recommendations (we’re sure you will be), please recommend this site to others. Thank you!