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Why Bother to Read in French ?
Reading is a great tool in language learning. It is both pleasurable and pragmatic. Reading stories that you like is not only a great language builder, it can also be a great motivator to move forward in your language learning.
However, what I find great in reading, even difficult French texts, is the suspense, the discovery I’m making with every word I’m learning, with each comprehension of each sentence that is building up as I progress through each page. That feeling is awesome. It feels like I’m deciphering some coded message.
Choose the Book YOU like.
What some of us may not realize, going through a story in a foreign language is a great vocabulary builder. Of course, you may feel overwhelmed by the number of words you need to look up. It is also advised to write them down for better memorization. Very often language learners do not consider reading a book in French as an option because of this.
The crucial thing is that the book you are reading must be interesting and the story must have something to offer. It may depend of course on the likes of each person, but the literary genres that are considered easier to read, adventures, detective stories, or even newspaper articles, are the best.
Keeping this in mind, the books should be modern, written in everyday French language at best. It is more interesting to read a book which is using the vocabulary and the idiomatic expressions that you will actually across in everyday French.
I’m not going to try to convince anyone that they should read this or that French book. It is up to everyone’s likes and literary tastes. I’m just going to tell about the books that I have read in French (not all of them were originally written in French) and which I enjoyed immensely not only because they were in French but also and sometimes especially because they were well written and captivating for me.
Which books to choose and for what level of French ?
The common sense tells you: you don’t read a book written in a foreign language unless you are quite proficient in that language.
Or this book is too long for me, I will never read it and it is going to be too much for me. In my opinion, you may start with whatever book you like, providing the book is interesting for you.
If it is a longer book, you might however apply some of the learning strategies to make sure you will get the most out of your learning.
A bit of my own experience.
When I arrived to France in summer of 2003. I spoke almost no French whatsoever. Only some basic words: Bonjour and Merci. But I was determined to learn and I was motivated. I wanted to stay in France, study and speak French.
After I acquired some basics of the French language, one of the natural things that came to my mind was to try to read a book in French. In 2003 there was a huge hype around one particular book: Da Vinci Code. Although it was a book originally written in English, I felt I it was a great opportunity to try to read it in French. I thought, the story was taking place in Paris so it surely must have a lot of cultural references and interesting things to learn. Plus, I could always read it in the original later. Not to mention the hype around this book at that time….
Well, now I wouldn’t say that it was an easy book for a beginner and I would not recommend it. However, the thrill of discovery both of the language and the story kept me going. I think it took me two months to read Da Vinci Code.
Since my arrival to France, I have come across many other interesting books, some of them easy, others difficult but which were an immense pleasure to read. Here are three of them that I found particularly absorbing and thought provoking.
Some of My Favourite French Books
- Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Yes, that’s an English language book but it was one of the first, if not the first one, real book books, that is not short stories or newspaper articles, that I read in French. CEFR Reading Comprehension Level: B2-C1
- L’homme qui voulait être heureux by Laurent Gounelle: Gounelle’s books in general are short, simple but not simplistic to read and full of interesting and useful everyday French vocabulary. Plus, his stories are very pragmatic, its subjects relating to personal development and improving one life. The book, L’homme qui voulait être heureux, is story about a man who seems to have got everything he needs in his life however he doesn’t consider himself happy. It’s a story about the personal development in disguise and a way to learn how to become satisfied with your life. A really nice read. I was actually surprised to have discovered that Laurent Gounelle is not known to a wider, English speaking public. Maybe it’s time to give it a try. CEFR Reading Comprehension Level: B1-B2
- Ulysse de Bagdad by Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt: written in a slightly more complicated French but what an emotional and breathtaking story ! Saad, a young man from Iraq sets on a journey to Europe to escape misery, change his life and help his family. It’s a story about hope and struggle for a better life which also gives a better picture of today’s humanity. If your reading comprehension skills in French are good, you will read this book in one go. CEFR Reading Comprehension Level: B2-C1
- Les bienveillantes by Jonathan Littell: Definitely only for advanced readers of French. What a book ! I’m a true fan of WWII stories and this book is a psychological portrait of an idiosyncratic SS officer. The story is harsh and brutal but in accordance with the historic period it describes. The book has been criticized for some unusual sentences structure. Its author, Jonathan Littell, is an American born writer who was also partly raised in France. However I found the syntax and the vocabulary unusually rich and powerful. The book had provoked quite a stir in France back in 2006. Not only because it was controversial, but also because it received Prix Goncourt: the highest prize in French literature attributed each year to “the best and most imaginative prose work of the year“. CEFR Reading Comprehension Level: C1-C2.
- Le Petit Nicolas by René Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempé. This book is a classic of the French literature for kids. I would say it is one of the few books for kids that can be also truly entertaining for any reader: kids and adults alike. It is the equivalent of Roald Dahl’s stories for kids. Each book is composed of many, loosely related stories that can be read separately. They are simple, funny and always a pleasure to read and re-read again and again.. CEFR Reading Comprehension Level: A2-B1
If you have your favourite French books to share, leave a comment below or on my facebook page.