The ten best books for learning French
Learning French usually involves attending classes in person or remotely, practising pronunciation, doing grammar exercises, listening to audio programmes on the radio, watching films, etc.
Depending on their level and goals, learners also need to choose their key learning tools: books. There’s a very wide range on offer from publishers, though, so which are the best books to read if you want to learn French? Which books are popular with both students and teachers thanks to their interesting content and educational approach?
The best French grammar books
A veritable French institution since 1913, the Bescherelle series includes the collective work La conjugaison pour Tous (Conjugation for Everyone), published by Hatier, as well as shorter publications devoted to spelling, vocabulary and so on. Easily identified by any French schoolchild thanks to its red covers, the series was created by the nineteenth century by two famous grammarians, Louis-Nicolas and Henri Bescherelle. Bescherelle is renowned for its verb conjugation tables, mind maps and lists of reference verbs that can be used to conjugate other verbs. With more than 8,000 verbs included, it’s clear to see why Bescherelle is so successful!
Written by Maïa Grégoire and Odile Thievenaz, La Grammaire progressive du français (A Progressive Grammar of the French Language), published by Clé International, is one of the best books for learning French grammar and is aimed at those who want to improve their skills. The book benefits from vibrant presentation: the lesson, on the left-hand page, is followed by exercises that put it into practice on the next page. The most recent edition includes nearly 150 self-marked tests and almost 300 interactive exercises online. The book’s strength is its clear, structured approach, which explains why many teachers use it in their lessons. It is also well-suited to self-taught learners and is available for all levels.
Good books for adults and children to read
The Berlitz Self-Teacher: French (Berlitz Editors). This short book devoted to French from the famous American publisher includes lots of activities to help learners communicate in everyday situations. It is based on a learning method that prioritises an intuitive approach to grammar. Through everyday conversations, students gradually develop a knowledge of grammar and improve their pronunciation.
Do you know the difference between notable and notoire, or between se rappeler de and se souvenir? Le Français correct pour les Nuls (Correct French for Dummies) by Jean-Joseph Julaud (published by First) was written by a former French teacher and covers the major rules of grammar and vocabulary. Thanks to its compact format, it can be slipped into a bag – very practical should you want to consult it at a moment’s notice! The fun style will help to stop you from falling into any French-language traps, while the assessment tests can be used to measure your progress on agreement, conjugations, etc. In short, it’s a really practical book for everyday use.
Don’t forget that young children can also learn the language of Molière! Les Petits Loustics (Little Scamps) by Hugues Denisot, Marianne Capouet and Brigitte Eubelen (Hachette FLE) is a method for learning French designed for young children. It covers familiar themes such as “My body”, “Toys”, “Animals” and so on. Through these, children become used to following short stories, recognising and naming objects, and engaging in simple acts of conversation (expressing preferences, choosing clothes, answering common questions, etc.).
Learning French for beginners
What is the best book to learn French for beginners? Easy French Step-by-Step by Myrna Bell Rochester (McGraw-Hill Contemporary) is a very comprehensive book which focuses largely on grammar skills and can be used by beginners. Each chapter offers clear explanations on points of grammar, consolidation activities, short texts to improve written comprehension and lists of key words. It is a clear, accessible book that enables learners to make step-by-step progress and to evaluate what they have learned.
Edited by Farideh Touchard, Lire et écrire en français, Méthode d'alphabétisation progressive (Reading and Writing in French. A Progressive Literacy Course), published by Belin Éducation, offers a literacy course in the form of 70 worksheets. It is suitable for adults who are complete beginners in the language and would like to learn the basics of French (writing, reading, pronunciation, etc.). It covers everyday needs (using public transport, visiting the doctor, etc.), making it a great choice as a supplement to cheap French courses in france!
Learning French through literature
Finally, don’t forget that novels can also help you to improve your French with books. But which novels should you pick first? The choice is so vast that it’s tricky to give a short answer, not to mention the fact that much depends on the tastes, requirements and language level of the reader. La Gloire de mon père (My Father’s Glory) by Marcel Pagnol is the autobiography of the renowned writer and filmmaker. The author, who was born in Aubagne, recounts key episodes from his childhood. More than just a tribute to the father figure, this book is first and foremost one for those who have a fondness for Provence.
What other books can you use to improve your French?
Pronunciation is an important part of learning French or improving your skills, and so it’s essential to get hold of some reference books in this area! Les 500 exercices de phonétique (500 Phonetics Exercises), by Dominique Abry and Marie-Laure Chalaron, published by Didier, is a good book for learning French and offers activities for pronunciation practice. Students will also find exercises to improve their intonation, activities that focus on the link between sounds and written letters, dictation exercises and so on. It is available for students at A1/A2 and B1/B2 level and comes with a CD of MP3 audio files. What more could you ask for?
Books for learning French also include volumes aimed at those preparing for exams. Which book is recommended for students planning to take the DELF? Le DELF 100 % Réussite (DELF: 100% Pass), published by Didier, is a collection featuring worksheets with recommendations, corrections with explanations and an audio CD. It helps students to effectively prepare for the four written and oral tests through valuable tips and mock papers. An indispensable book that will give you everything you need to succeed!
Jean-Luc PICHON - 26/04/2021