Literature and learning French

Reading is essential for learning French. It improves comprehension and encourages the search for the meaning of unknown words.


Students who learn French in France or in their country of origin often wonder which books they can read to improve their language level and gain a better understanding of the country’s culture. But why is literature important for learning French, and what books might we recommend?

Read to improve your French

Naturally, reading improves your comprehension of written documents by prompting you to look up the meaning of words you don’t know or to re-read passages which aren’t clear to you. In addition, since novels have a plot and twists and turns, they encourage reading because we all want to know how the story ends! And there are now websites which allow you to listen to extracts from significant works of French literature. This is really useful for discovering books or for improving oral comprehension. Finally, by reading the major authors, you will gradually learn a style and a vocabulary which will be of use to you in your own future writing.

Reading books should be enjoyable

Learning French should be fun and it is important to choose a book that you enjoy. So don’t hesitate to switch if you find that the book you’ve selected is not to your taste! While we’re on the subject, which books might you consider? It’s difficult to say as there is such a wide choice... Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) and Le Petit Nicolas (Little Nicolas) by Jean-Jacques Sempé and René Goscinny are classics suitable for younger children.

Raymond Queneau’s Zazie dans le métro (Zazie in the Metro) is worth a mention, and you might also try Antibes author Guillaume Musso, who is hugely popular in France. Michel Tournier’s Vendredi ou la vie sauvage (Friday or the Wild Life, a retelling of Robinson Crusoe) and Camus’ L’Etranger (published in English as The Stranger or The Outsider) are both books which you are sure to appreciate. Those who love Provence will derive enormous pleasure from Jean de Florette, and indeed all of Marcel Pagnol’s works, while Maupassant is a fascinating narrator. Finally, coming back closer to the present day, novels by Amélie Nothomb and Anna Gavalda offer other possible options. So get down to your nearest bookshop or favourite library and happy reading!

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