How to Improve Your French Reading Skills [Best Methods]

If you’ve been following along with our “Improve Your French” series you’ll know that we’ve written about “How to Improve Your French Speaking Skills”, How to Improve Your French Listening Skills and “How to Improve Your French Writing Skills”. Well there is only one component left to discuss and that’s how to improve your French reading skills.

Fortunately, I think most of us would agree that out of the four components of language learning (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) that reading is definitely the easiest. Why is this so? Well, let’s first explore some of the reasons why improving your French reading skills is easier than the other three main components.

To start off, you aren’t bound by any sort of time restrictions or social norms. What I mean by this is that when you are listening to someone, for the most part you have to adapt to how fast they speak. If your listening ability isn’t very good then too bad, you’ll just be lost.

When you pick up a book (or any other reading material) you literally have as much time as you need to comprehend your material. When speaking to others you have a little more time, as you can speak at a slower pace, but people are going to get sick of talking to you if you talk too slow.

L’Etranger by Albert Camus

The next reason why improving your French reading abilities is easy is because it doesn’t require much active vocabulary and relies heavily on having a large passive vocabulary. This means that when reading you don’t have to recall words that you already know, but rather just recognize them. And because you have as much time as you need, if it takes a while to remember certain words it doesn’t become a problem.

The final reason is perhaps a little obvious, but it’s at least worth mentioning. Improving your French reading skills is easy due to the sheer number of resources out there to use. It’s incredibly easy to find something in French to read because all it takes is a simple Google search to find a French website or a quick visit to Amazon to buy/download a book.

Finding someone to speak to can be difficult and unreliable and finding something to listen to, although easier, can be expensive if you’re trying to find something that isn’t meant for native-French speakers, not to mention audiobooks can be sometimes a lot more expensive than regular books. Every normal-sized French book that you buy comes with thousands of words and phrases for you to read so even with just a few books you can get quite far.

Now that we’ve discussed a bit about why reading skills are easier to develop let’s take a look at some easy-to-perform techniques that can really take your French reading skills to the next level. Although there are likely an infinite number of methods and techniques, these three are some that I’ve personally used and have had a good amount of success with.

Method #1Listening to audiobooks first, then following along with the book – This is a little different than simply reading a book while listening to an audio book (although that’s not a bad idea). Here’s how and why it works. Start off by picking a book that you think you’ll enjoy AND has an audiobook version. Start by listening to the audiobook version as much as possible. Don’t listen to too much at a time however.

Start with the first chapter (or if the first chapter is too long just pick the first few pages) and listen to it as much as possible. This isn’t really the time for passive listening so make sure you’re listening as actively as possible and really trying to understand what’s going on. Listen to it as many times as it takes for you to be very familiar with it. Then turn the audiobook off and pick up the paper version. Read through the exact chapter (or pages) that you listened to and try your best to remember what you listened to.

Because you should already familiar with the text and story it will become much easier to follow along as you should expect words and phrases to come up before they actually do. By doing this you aren’t going into a story blind because you have at least some familiarity with it. Another benefit to doing this is that you can hear words before you see them. If you have any experience with the French language (which you likely do if you’re reading this) you’ll know that French is not a phonetic language.

There are plenty of words that aren’t pronounced at all like they are written. If you can hear words and then see them after you’ve already heard them pronounced, then you will be much better off.  If you feel that this approach is a little too ambitious for you then try picking a book that has both a French and English version and just listen to the English audiobook instead. If you prefer to take this approach, switch over to the French audiobook afterwards and then read the French book.

Method #2Read Out Loud – If you’ve read the article, “How to Improve Your French Speaking Abilities” you’ll know that this is a technique that can help you speak French better. The reason for this is that you get to practice speaking without a partner and start building up the muscles in your face to where speaking is no longer a strenuous process. However, we’re talking about how to improve your reading ability here.

One big issue that most people have with reading is that they do it too quickly. People have a tendency to want to skim through things without really taking the time to absorb what they are reading. When you are reading in French however you’ll really need to take the time to comprehend what you’re reading otherwise you’ll find yourself not improving as much as you’d like.

When you read out loud not only are you getting speaking practice, but you are stopping yourself from reading too fast. You can only read as fast as you can speak and seeing as you likely still have some work to do when it comes to your speaking you’ll likely read a lot slower than you would have had you just read quietly. Also, by both reading and speaking your chosen text you give yourself two chances to understand everything.

Sometimes when reading we get distracted and have a hard time absorbing our content. Speaking can help you give yourself that extra opportunity that you may need. 

I have had great success in using Lingq when I need to find good content to read aloud. This is a resource that I highly recommend to serious French learners.

Method #3Write Out What You’re Reading – This one is extremely tedious and probably isn’t for the casual French learner. However, if you’re a French fanatic or just want to give a try, here’s how it works. Take a page from a piece of content that is about your level and also not too long. A page from a book is long enough, but feel free to just take a paragraph from a magazine or newspaper (it really is up to you).

Read through the text as many takes as it takes until you feel comfortable with it. Then simply and slowly write out what you read and say it out loud while you write it (yes this will help improve your writing skills, but that’s not the point here). By writing out your content it’s as if it’s being created by you and thus it becomes much more familiar and easy-to-read.

Also, similar to in the previous method you give yourself more opportunities to understand the content by speaking and writing it. In addition, the time it takes to write out everything will slow yourself down even more than speaking will so you’ll really have time to comprehend everything. This is perhaps not for every person, but if you don’t feel it’s too tedious for you then try it out.

Alright let’s take a minute to recap everything we’ve gone over. In the first method we spoke about listening to French (or English if you’re having difficulty) audiobooks multiple times until we feel comfortable, and then switching to just the book and reading what you listened to looking out for words and phrases that we already heard.

Method #2 has us slowing our reading down by reading out loud, which allows us not only to take the time necessary to really comprehend what we are reading (because we have a tendency to rush through reading), but also to have two opportunities to understand our content.

Finally, in our last method, we simply write out a page or section of some reading material slowly and read out loud what we’re writing. We then reread our text in full after having written it.

There are so many ways to help read better that we couldn’t possibly list them all here. What other great ways do you know of that can help others improve your French reading skills? Comment below and let us know exactly how they work.  We’re dedicated to writing about all the possible ways one can employ that will help them improve their French so stay tuned for more coming in the near future.