Top French books for beginners to improve your language skills

No matter how long you’ve been learning French, reading skills are important for advancing your language level.

While it may not always be the easiest area to develop, there are countless books available which will help you learn French. 

You may have read about learning to count or learning basic colors, but reading short stories in French is the next step for mastering and expanding your vocabulary.

Look no further than this short list of French books for beginners to kickstart your French reading journey.

1. Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The ultimate French book for beginners, Le Petit Prince follows the story of a young prince on a journey throughout space. It covers themes of friendship, love and loss, and is a worldwide bestseller. 

Although aimed at children, it’s a wonderful read for adults; an alternative option is the audiobook for beginner learners of French.

2. Le Petit Nicolas by René Goscinny

Francophiles across the world will know the collection of Petit Nicolas children’s books. Starting off as a comic strip in a newspaper, the illustrations in these easy French books are fantastic. 

We see the world through the eyes of Nicolas, with lots of informal language and slang words.

Easy-to-read stories with simple sentences and vocabulary, the books are an entertaining recommendation for beginner French learners.

3. Astérix et Obélix by René Goscinny

It’s no secret that the French comic book (bande dessinée) franchise Astérix et Obélix is much-adored by Francophones. 

Full of fun stories, colloquialisms and commentary on society, these easy-to-understand comics are a great way for beginners to get acquainted with basic French, as well as the not-so-subtle pro-France message the books promote.

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4. Les Aventures de Tintin by Hergé

Keeping with the comic book theme, this Franco-Belgian series is known the world over, and was even adapted for TV and film.

Written by Georges Remi under the pen name Hergé, teen reporter Tintin sets off on many adventures across the world with his dog Snowy. You will discover that the stories provide fuss-free reading and are full of French words for beginners. We can dig into the somewhat problematic colonial implications of the series at a later date!

5. Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers by Jules Verne

Known as “Twenty-thousand Leagues Under the Sea” in English, this nautical novel set in the 19th century is full of interesting (though archaic) vocabulary. It is one of the most translated books ever.

Simply put, if you are a beginner-intermediate in French, you will enjoy this adventurous voyage.

6. L’Étranger by Albert Camus

Albert Camus is one of the best-known writers in the French-speaking world, and one of the youngest winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature. L’Étranger is his most famous work, telling the story of a young man navigating life following his mother’s death. 

It is a short read for a novel, but more suited to beginner-intermediate French readers, as some of the language and concepts can be challenging. If you’re ready for your beginner French to open doors into the world of existential philosophy, this is the book for you.

7. Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan

Winner of the Prix des Critiques in 1954, Bonjour Tristesse is a coming-of-age story, written by the author at just eighteen years old. 

It follows teenager Cécile on a family trip to the South of France, experiencing her first love and a rollercoaster of emotions. Written in a simple style, it is a suitable French book for beginners.

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If you are looking to further your French reading, check out our other French book recommendations.

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A few tips for learning French with books

Reading books is an effective way to improve your overall language level. By seeing words on the page, you’ll retain them for future reading and spoken conversations.

You can even practice your pronunciation by reading out loud and getting used to the new words you are learning. 

So, how can you efficiently read a book in French?

Choose reading material for your level

First, make sure that the reading material is appropriate to your level. It can be disruptive to the exercise to constantly look up words and try to make sense of them. 

As long as you can understand the gist of the story, a good solution is to highlight words or make notes as you go. Then look up the words at the end of each chapter or reading session.

From your notes, you can also make flashcards – digital or on paper – to review and test yourself on newly discovered vocabulary and translations.

Start with a book you have already read

Many language learners start with a book they have already read in their native tongue for a variety of reasons.

You’ll have a general understanding of the story even if you do not know the meaning of every single word. For example, you could choose Harry Potter or fairy tales from your childhood. 

Ultimately, the familiarity of the story makes the process more fun and less of a challenge. It’s important to read in French for pleasure, rather than making it a task.

Getting used to the Passé simple

One thing to note in written French, is that a particular tense is often used for novels; the passé simple. 

The passé simple is specifically used in writing, to describe actions which happened in the past and have ended (like the passé composé in spoken French).

What does this mean for you? 

The main thing to know about the passé simple is that even though you’ll need to recognize the different verb conjugations, you’ll less likely need to remember them for your own usage. The only way to identify – and get used to – the different verb endings is to consistently read French books. This tense is very rarely used in spoken French!

Through this exposure, you’ll gain confidence in reading in French and in turn, reduce time looking up words!

How to learn French by reading

Many people believe that French is hard to learn but reading is an excellent tool for making learning easier. 

By reading French books, you will familiarize yourself with French word order, as well as vocabulary that you may not have come across whilst learning the basics. It’s not easy to determine how long it takes to learn French, as there are many contributing factors to reaching French fluency.

The journey to fluency can depend on your age, your reason for learning, your mother tongue and other foreign languages you may already speak. 

One thing is for sure: regularly reading French books will accelerate your learning and grow your confidence, and practice really does make an impact.

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