Do you want to learn French outside the classroom? Immerse yourself in the French language and improve your vocabulary, but can’t afford to visit abroad?
One excellent way to improve your command of the French language is to watch French films and French TV – including the French news.
But maybe you have already watched all the francophone films available on Netflix, or the news is simply too abstract or is spoken too fast for you to follow. Maybe you want to focus on your written French and your reading comprehension.
If so, here are some tips on ways to improve your French while reading!
Newspapers are a great way to learn a foreign language. The variety of subjects they cover, from the editorial to the articles to the obituaries and even the ads, are sure to improve your French vocabulary dramatically. You can choose to read a column with your dictionary in hand or only peruse articles with content you have read elsewhere – the International Herald Tribune or the New York Times or other English-language newspapers covering international news.
The first newspaper published in France was the Gazette de France or simply Gazette in 1615, named after the government news pamphlets issued in Italian cities such as Venice, which cost one gazetta (local currency) per issue. It became a weekly periodical in 1631. In the eighteenth century newspapers proliferated, with about 1,300 historical newspapers known from the time between 1789 and 1799 (during the French Revolution and the Terreur) alone. Most did not last very long.
Le Monde is an internationally known French newspaper you should not have trouble buying in the UK. Photo credit: corno.fulgur75 on VisualHunt
Today, you will find a good many French newspapers of international fame ranging from dailies such as Le Monde, to regional newspapers such as La voix du nord (for the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region) to local newspapers such as Nice Matin. Here is a list of some of the better known daily newspaper titles of the French press:
The weekly news from France can be found in the following publications:
And of course, satirical newspapers, for those who want their news from France served with a touch of sarcasm:
Satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo became famous through the solidarity plea “Je suis Charlie” that went viral on social media after a terrorist attack on its offices. Photo credit: CG94 photos on Visual hunt
If you prefer to read your news online, most papers have a digital newspaper as well and offer their headlines for free. Some ask for a voluntary donation, others will let you read the beginning of the articles so you can get to know them, but only unlock the full article if you take out a subscription.
It’s often worth it just for the archives: where previously you had to go to your local library and see if they happened to have microfiche archives of a French newspaper, now many newspaper archives are digitized. News sites also often offer short videos and additional content, offering more ways to learn colloquial French words and expressions.
There are several online-only newspapers as well, such as:
There are online French newspapers that only publish digitally, but a lot of the dailies have an online version as well as a print run. Photo credit: gabriel.jorby on Visual Hunt
If the news is too much to stomach in a foreign language, you could try subscribing to a magazine in French. Learn all about your favourite hobby in articles written by French speaking enthusiasts – it can be as effective as french lessons!
To get an idea of what French magazines are out there about your hobby, take a trip to an international press shop at one of the large train stations or while waiting for your next flight into the lovely Dordogne region.
If you like science, you can try Science&Vie, which has articles on innovations in all branches of science. If the language is too complicated for you, try its version aimed at young adults, Science&Vie Junior . If you are truly a beginner French student, there are science magazines for elementary school children (Astrapi) and pre-teens (Okapi) with comics and games in French.
Photography buffs might enjoy Chasseur d’images, which focuses on aesthetic and artistry; Photo is very technical and for more advanced readers, whereas Compétences photo is also aimed at beginner photographers and reads more easily.
Amateurs of French cuisine might enjoy the culinary offerings in Cuisine & Vins de France or Cuisine et terroirs for regional recipes.
If you are an online sort of person, who watches the French news from her tablet and has never owned a paper Journal in her life, then why not search the net for French blogs about your hobby?
Learn about the telegraph’s 19th century French brother the semaphore and how it was hacked, how to cross-stitch tiny ornaments or do fun crafts.
If non-fiction is not for you or you simply enjoy diversity when learning French, why not read a book? Reading fiction prepares you for more complex narratives and introduces new words and phrases not necessarily used by a reporter or journalist.
You can browse libraries for children’s books written in French, useful as the publisher will often give an age group so you know the level of difficulty. Maybe your librarian will be able to recommend something suitable for beginner French readers.
But in case you are interested in classic French literature and would like to know where to start, here are three titles to get you started.
Written by aviator Antoine de St.-Exupéry, The Little Prince is a bittersweet tale about love and innocence. A young boy leaves the asteroid he lives on (where he tends to his three volcanoes, weeds out baobabs and sees to the needs of a narcissist rose) to find himself a friend, leaving his imperious rose behind. In his travels, he meets a very many peculiar people reflecting the absurdity of adulthood, learns to tame a fox and see with his heart, and realises that, for all her faults, his rose was his and needs him.
Learn French with THe Little Prince, who lives on asteroid with three tiny volcanoes and baobabs that grow like weeds. Photo credit: pcambraf on VisualHunt.com
Sometimes, you can still hear his crystalline laugh among the stars.
The language is simple and charming, the book divided into very short chapters usually not more than three pages long. An ideal book for learning French for the young-at-heart. You can watch the film recently made of it to improve your understanding of French.
As much a social commentary as The Little Prince, but with a good deal more sarcasm, Voltaire’s Candide is a philosophical novel chronicling the adventures of a naive young man seeking to be reunited with his lady love. Over the course of the novel, his optimist upbringing – his tutor Doctor Pangloss is convinced we live in the best of all possible worlds – is confronted with the harsh realities of the world.
Although first published in the eighteenth century, the language is not too complicated and the book is fairly short, making it a good read for someone with a fair command of French but not too much stamina.
For those with stamina, Alexandre Dumas’ nineteenth-century classic tale of swashbuckling adventure is sure to enthuse. We follow young D’Artagnan on his yellow mare into the political intrigues of Paris with his inseparable new friends Athos, Porthos and Aramis. Each of the main characters has his own story, seamlessly woven into D’Artagnan’s love escapades and rash decision that lead him into a race against time to save the honour of the Queen of France herself!
Though certainly more descriptive than many modern novels, The Three Musketeers is not as long-winded as some other nineteenth-century classics, making it a good read for an advanced student of French. Be warned, though: you will encounter new and unusual vocabulary, so have your dictionary at the ready!
No time for reading, or would you rather focus on your listening comprehension? Get the French audio book of your favourite tales!