You have decided to learn French?
You’re motivated, you’re trying your best but when it comes to matching spoken French and written French you feel like you’re heading for disaster? That’s a bit much, don’t you think?
So yes, you’re right, it is one of the main difficulties when learning French. I’ll give you that but let’s try and think of some of the reasons which will help you reflect on your learning and overcome that difficulty. So why is it difficult to match spoken French and written French?
French language is full of homophones. You know these words that are pronounced the same but spelt differently such as sot, seau, sceau, saut or sang, sans, cent, s’en, sens, sent, c’en.
The reason they are pronounced the same is because many words in French contain silent letters which are very often put at the end of words. They are there mainly for etymological reasons or to create words belonging to the same family (cent/centaine) or the feminine if the word is an adjective (marrant/marrante).
Another reason words are pronounced the same is that an identical sound can be spelt differently like in dans and dent. This doesn’t make your learning journey very easy, I know, but at least it makes it challenging and therefore interesting.
You should always look on the bright side of life, shouldn’t you? So now, what can you do to improve that particular skill?
The best exercise for you will be to read, read and read a bit more.
Reading is a great way to escape and disconnect from everything but reading in French will not only take you to an imaginative world where no one but you and your book’s characters can enter, it will also help you ameliorate your reading comprehension in French. Even though reading is fab, I still wouldn’t advise you to jump right into a big classical French novel.
Flaubert can wait for a little while.
Short stories are a much better option to begin your reading journey.
Well, you’re still trying to grasp the French language itself so you don’t want to dive into long complicated stories.
It wouldn’t be beneficial for your learning as you would probably lose track of the tale (as you’ll have to focus on the language as well as on the story) and therefore you, more than likely, would get bored.
It’s hard enough reading massive engineering books in your own language, never mind in a foreign one you’re not mastering yet.
As a beginner, reading a short story (nouvelle in French) or even book samples would be a great place to start. An advice I would give you is to remember why you’re reading these stories. Yes, it’s for your own personal pleasure of course, but prior to that, it is to improve your reading skills.
Therefore what you could do is to write in margins, take notes and underline words you’re not familiar with (whether or not you understand them within context).
That way you can look them up in a dictionary or on WordReference after having read (just so you don’t interrupt yourself too often in the middle of your reading).
In this blog, I will introduce you to a collection of easy French stories for students (beginners and beginners to intermediate). I’ll give you their titles and summaries to hopefully make you want to read more!
Let’s dig in…
Probably not what you had in mind to practice on your reading but I strongly believe cookbooks can help you improve on that particular skill. Indeed, sentences are short and easy enough to understand plus you’ll learn plenty of new and practical vocabulary and you will revise more basic words too (names of vegs, meats or kitchen utensils).
Plus let’s not forget the importance given to cooking in France!
The French cuisine is actually so exceptionally good and refined that it has been added to UNESCO’s world heritage list! Moreover reading loads of recipes (and trying them too of course!) will give you an insight into the French culture. Whether you prefer actual recipe books or websites, I have found some very good resources for you to get better at reading while becoming a real cordon-bleu.
A great book is 2000 recettes de la cuisine française. Like its title indicates, it contains 2000 French recipes, some of which are made into menus, 500 menus to be exact. It’s all in color and has 300 mouthwatering pictures. It was written by chefs but has very easy recipes.
Making some of them will definitely help you impress your guests! Same type of recipes but on the web can be found on www.cuisine-france.com. It offers traditional French recipes sorted by region, type of meal or alphabetical order.
You can switch the site from French to English in case you are struggling with a word or expression which is quite handy! Another website I’d like to share with you is www.marmiton.org. On this site, you’ll find over 67,000 recipes from all around the world. It is extremely famous and used by French people.
2) Basic French stories for beginners
Christine Hendelman, Thomas Blackmon and Stephanie Villard are three authors who worked in collaboration and wrote a few very short stories which are easy enough for a beginner in French to read.
I will introduce you to six of them.
They can be sorted into three categories: easy, medium and hard. However, bear in mind that they are made for beginner readers in French so even though some fall into the hard category, they are still easy enough for you to understand and will help you progress. I would advise you to start with the easiest ones and to make your way up to the hardest ones.
Easy French stories for beginners:
Chère maman, cher papa by Christine Hendelman. This text is mainly written in the present tense. It contains vocabulary about everyday life and countries. It’s the story of an American boy or girl (we don’t know) writing to his/her parents and explaining about his/her life in Montpellier, France (great city by the way!).
Le Bon by Christine Hendelman, Thomas Blackmon and Stephanie Villard. This text is principally written in the past tense, even though there is also a bit of present and future too. It is about a girl who is in love with a boy she’s not allowed to go out with.
Medium French stories for beginners:
Le Cauchemar by Thomas Blackmon and Stephanie Villard. It combines a description and a dialogue. It’s the story of a man who wakes up in the middle of the night because he’s just had a nightmare.
Hard French stories for beginners:
Le Lycée by Thomas Blackmon and Stephanie Villard. This text is slightly longer. It contains some slang French words. It’s the story of two characters who are having a conversation about their exams and their future professional life.
Le Brocant by Thomas Blackmon and Stephanie Villard. Similar length as the previous one, this text is a dialogue between a second-hand goods dealer and his customer. It has an unexpected ending!
La Guillotine by Thomas Blackmon and Stephanie Villard. This one is my favorite of the lot as it has a very wise and indeed true moral at the end. It’s the story of a man who feels depressed and of his friend who tries to cheer him up. It contains words which might be a bit more difficult, well not as common should I say, than the other texts.
3) French children stories
Why, as an adult, am I advising you to read children stories?
First of all, you’re likely to already know the stories which would probably ease your understanding of them. If you have never read them, well, their cuteness will more than likely make you smile and take a step back into your childhood! Secondly, children books syntax, vocabulary and grammar are simpler than adult stories and as a beginner, it will definitely help you enjoy a lot more what you read.
Two fantastic stories stand out in my view: Le Petit Nicolas by René Goscinny (I used to be an absolute fan as a kid. I might actually grab a couple of them myself and read them…again!) and Le Petit Prince by Saint
Le Petit Nicolas:
René Goscinny has written several books in this collection. These short stories are independent from one another. They deal with childhood’s humor and tenderness. Nicolas is the main character of the books. He is a little boy whose adventures mainly take place in an urban environment and in his school in the 1960’s.
That little man exposes his thoughts through a childish language. He principally speaks about his friends, their arguments, his first flings… but Goscinny also attempts to decrypt the complex adults’ world. He speaks about education, family, work… These stories were very popular when they first came out and they still are nowadays. In fact, they were adapted into a film in 2009 followed by another one in 2014. I couldn’t name one French person who doesn’t know about the adventures of Le Petit Nicolas!
Le Petit Prince:
What a beautiful and fabulous story Le Petit Prince is! It is the second most translated book after the Bible! In fact, it has been translated into 300 languages! That says it all! Made to be understood by children, Le Petit Prince has a very refined style.
Even though the syntax is rather simple, its meaning is deep as it carries an important symbolic conception of life. In each chapter, Le Petit Prince meets a character which makes him question adults ways of thinking. Each encounter can be read as an allegory.
4) Bilingual books or dual-language books
Reading a translated book is not always ideal as you lose the essence of some expressions. They kind of lose their meaning. I always have that same feeling when I watch a film which isn’t in its original language: the jokes aren’t really funny, some expressions have no meaning nor impact in the culture of the language in which it’s translated but when you switch it back to its original language then it all makes sense!
For this particular reason, I prefer to read books in their original language (well when I speak and understand it!).
Now, having said that, when you’re in the process of learning a language, bilingual books an be very helpful and handy! Indeed, you don’t have to use a dictionary and interrupt the flow of your reading. I have actually bought some children ones for my eldest son.
Here are a couple of French classics and their English translations.
Flowers of Evil and other works/ Les Fleurs du Mal et oeuvres choisies: Published in 1857, this volume of poetry was written by Charles Baudelaire and was very controversial when it first came out.
Finally, I think reading the news in your own language and then in French is a great way to expand your word knowledge.
Just like dual-language books, reading the same news in both languages will ease your understanding of French as you will already know the event! Plus, you’ll find very practical and relevant vocabulary in newspapers. You’ll then be able to use it in a conversation dealing with what is happening in the world!
My last advice would be for you to read on any topic you like as, first and foremost, you’ll appreciate learning about a subject you like. Reading has to be fun and to be enjoyed.
Reading about something you have no interest in would make your experience dull and boring and wouldn’t help you improve your reading skills in any way, shape or form.