In our private French lessons, we primarily focus on learning to speak like a native, and most of our lessons are spent in conversation.
But reading in French is fundamental to improving your speaking ability. One of its biggest benefits, of course, is that reading can substantially (and quickly) widen your vocabulary. It can help you more easily absorb grammar and sentence structure. And depending on what you read, it can help foster your understanding of French culture, politics, and humor – all of which will certainly help you adjust to your life in France.
If you want to read more fluidly in French, try these 3 tips before settling down with your next roman (novel) or journal (newspaper).
1. Choose what you read carefully.
When deciding on what to read, it’s key to choose a subject that’s interesting to you and that it’s at an appropriate level.
You might be thinking: “Well, duh!” but it’s not unusual for students to read certain subjects or mediums that they think they should be reading rather than what truly interests them. But that path just leads to glazed eyes, a wandering mind, and the unfair assessment that reading French is so hard and sooo boring.
So, don’t bother stoically plodding through Le Monde, if you think you’d enjoy reading Glamour or Top Santé more. Think outside the box. In addition to novels, magazines, and newspapers, there are countless blogs written in French on a wide range of topics, from travel to cooking to finance.
If you’re longing to read a classic like Balzac, but just aren’t up to that level yet, look to classic French children’s books like Le Petit Prince or Le Petit Nicolas series. If you like comics (bande déssinees), you’ll have so much fun with the ancient Gaul, Asterix, or sharing in the adventures of the Tintin.
Bottom line: it doesn’t matter much what you read, as long you enjoy it.
2. Ditch the dictionary (initially).
Too often students of French read with a book in one hand, and a dictionary in the other. Forget that. Interrupting your reading flow to look up new words also breaks up your broader understanding of the language and how it is used.
Approach reading in French similar to how you would watch a French film or listen to a French song. Let the language flow through your mind, allowing it to effortlessly call up certain images and whatever understanding you can grasp.
Your brain will fill in many of the blanks by interpreting an unfamiliar word’s meaning through context.
(Note: be sure that you’re reading at an appropriate level or slightly above your level – if you’re baffled by every other sentence, you’d be better off finding something slightly easier.)
Of course, we’re not saying you should never use a dictionary. While you’re reading, underline new words in pencil so that you can remember to look them up later. And when you do look them, try researching them in French dictionary, which will keep you thinking in French. But keep a good French-English dictionary on hand for times you’re truly stuck or exhausted.
3. Read aloud.
Reading aloud (haute voix) is a great way to improve your French on multiple levels. You can strengthen your vocabulary, pronunciation and accent, and boost your ability to speak fluidly all in one fell swoop. Reading aloud also forces you to pay attention to words that you might skip over as you read silently.
When you read aloud, do so slowly and consciously, and read each page or passage twice. During the first reading, just let the words and understanding flow without great effort. In the second reading, pay attention to how your tongue and mouth move as you read. Do this for 10-15 minutes every day – or even every other day – and we think you’ll be pleased with the results!
What do you enjoy reading in French? Share your favorite books, magazines and blogs below!