Books to Read When You’re Learning a Language

This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Claire Handscombe


Claire Handscombe moved from Europe to DC in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but actually – let’s be honest – because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan, and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives. She also hosts the Brit Lit Podcast, a fortnightly show of news and views from British books and publishing. Blog: the Brit Lit Blog. Twitter: @BookishClaire

If your New Year’s resolution is to improve your foreign language skills, reading can help! This should come as no surprise. I’ve yet to find anything that reading can’t help.

But choosing the right book for your level is essential. It’s easy to get discouraged otherwise, and motivation is maybe the single most important factor in success at language learning and at keeping resolutions in general. In previous life, I was a language tutor – I even wrote a short book about it – and I loved watching my students progress to the point where they were able to read whole narratives.

Les Miserables easy reader

Easy Readers

Abridged and simplified but retaining something of the feel of the original book, these are a great resource for learning a language for anything from advanced beginner to intermediate levels. There’s often a glossary of terms and extra cultural notes to help you follow the story.





Le Petit Nicolas Sempé Gosciny

Children’s books

These tend to be short and not overly complex in their plot, which is essential for not getting bogged down. They’re also often funny, and I’m a big believer in laughter improving our ability to learn. I used the Mr Men and Little Miss series, which I could usually get through in one hour-long lesson. For French, I love Le Petit Nicolas – a series about the amusing adventures of a primary school-age boy which helpfully avoids the tricky passé simple tense.




Penguin Parallel Text - FrenchParallel texts

For upper intermediate to advanced learners, I highly recommend parallel texts. On one side, you have the original – often by a classic and well-regarded literary author – and on the facing page, its translation. Also, they are often short stories, which feels like less of a mountain to climb.





Astérix chez les BretonsGraphic novels

Graphic novels are also helpful for visual clues as to what is happening. For French, I loved the Astérix series. The word play in these makes them ideal for intermediate to advanced learners. Astérix Chez les Bretons is a particular favourite of mine on the word play front, but exercise caution on this one, since the fun is in the incorrect translations of British expressions. You don’t want to speak like that in France, unless you enjoy being ridiculed.



Harry Potter in FrenchBooks you already know and love

Maybe you grew up reading The Little Prince. Or maybe you can’t get enough of Harry Potter. Why not mix it up a little by reading them in another language? Without having to focus so much on what happens, your brain will be free to take in the nuances of language. And it might give you a fresh take on something that feels familiar.




Bonjour TristesseShort novels

It’s always best to set manageable goals, so that you can meet them, be proud of yourself, and enjoy a boost in your motivation. I highly recommend you start with short novels. For advanced learners of French, good ones might be Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan or Stupeur et Tremblements by Amélie Nothomb.





Et Si C'etait Vrai by Marc LevyPage-tuners

When you’re ready for a full-length, new-to-you, adult novel, it’s best to go with something plot-based. For French, I recommend Marc Levy and Guillaume Musso, who both write mostly thrillers with elements of fantasy. (Marc Levy’s Et Si C’était Vrai is particularly good.) You’ll get so engrossed in the story that you’ll forget to stop every few seconds to look up a word.




Have you found a book useful for broadening your understanding of another language? Let us know in the comments. I’d also love to help you choose the right French book for you – feel free to tweet me or post your level and interests below if that would be helpful.