Best Books For Learning French

Bonjour! I am the real deal. I’m a bonafide French-learning geek! I have been teaching French online since 2013. I have a massive collection of books for learning French. If you see a picture of the book on this page, I own it and actually use it for my online lessons.

Best books for learning French

What are the best books for learning French for beginners?

The top-5 best books for learning French are: 1) Practice Makes Perfect Complete French All-In-One, 2) The Ultimate French Review and Practice, 3) Grammaire en Dialogues – Niveau Grand Débutant, 4) Vocabulaire en Dialogues A1-A2 and 5) Exercises in French Phonics. This article will discuss why I’ve selected these titles and recommend them to my students.

Books for learning French recommended by a French teacher

I have been teaching French online since the end 2013. Over the years beginner students have repeatedly asked me which books I recommend.

While I’ve bought and tried many textbooks, I seem to always recommend the same books. The books I’m suggesting on this list are the actual books I use for my online classes. You can buy all of these books on Amazon.

Collection of books for learning French
This is a picture of my entire collection of books for learning French!

Best books for learning French for beginner students

I put these two books at the top of my list is because I believe they offer the best introduction for building a rock-solid foundation in French verbs and grammar. These are the necessary elements for speaking fluently.

1) Practice Makes Perfect: Complete French All-in-One

Complete French All-In-One
This is my copy of the Complete French-All-In-One Book. You can see it’s a bit tattered as I’ve used it to teach hundreds of students over the years.

I consider Practice Makes Perfect: Complete French All-in-One by Annie Heminway to be the Bible for all beginner and intermediate French students. The reason I like this book is that it lays out French grammar in a very methodical and logical way. My private lessons follow the outline of the book.

I like this book because you can use it for the very initial stages of learning French and continue to use it when you become more advanced.

The book is called All-in-One because it’s actually seven books. In addition to grammar, the book covers verb conjugations, vocabulary and conversation and written French. It really is a Bible of sorts for the French learner!

The publisher, McGraw Hill, is a world leader in educational material and their books are solid. This book is also excellent for self-study as it provides lots of exercises in each chapter.

2) Ultimate French Review and Practice

Ultimate French Review & Practice
This my copy of Ultimate French. Tried and tested, it’s a great resource for any serious student.

This second title, The Ultimate French Review and Practice by David Stillman and Ronni Gordon, is an excellent companion to the Complete French All-in-One. Ultimate French is also a publication of McGraw Hill.

While both of these books cover the same areas (grammar, verb conjugations, etc.), Ultimate French’s explanations are slightly more nuanced. In addition, the book offers many exercises for each chapter which are excellent for self-study between lessons.

While the previously mentioned Complete French All-in-One does not offer audio support, Ultimate French comes with an interactive CD-ROM with audio.

Interestingly, the No. 1 book on Amazon for learning French is Easy French Step-by-Step by Myrna Bell Rochester. This is also a McGraw Hill publication and is more of an entry-level book the Ultimate French.

I’ve tried to use Easy French Step-by-Step with a few students and don’t like it. I didn’t feel that the layout of the book was logical and lacked comprehensiveness.

While the Complete French All-in-One and Ultimate French books are more advanced, while used with a teacher they are surely better purchases than the Step-by-Step book.

That said, the Step-by-Step could be a good quick introduction to French for a pure beginner who doesn’t want to work with a teacher.

3) Grammaire en Dialogues – Niveau Grand Débutant

Grammaire En Dialogues A1
Grammaire en Dialogues is an excellent option for those willing to put in the effort!

The third title on my list is: Grammaire en Dialogues – Niveau Grand Débutant by Odile Grand-Clément. I like this book because it does a great job matching pertinent, real-life dialogues to basic French grammar. Each dialogue is followed by brief explanations as well as exercises.

I feel that this is not a good self-study book and is best used with a teacher. This is because the explanations are very brief and are not in French. While the book does come with a CD for listening to the dialogues, the speed of the speech tends to be quite fast.

I feel that a solid dialogue book very important for any online lesson. It allows the student to practice speaking and repeating after the teacher.

Actually, this title is published by CLE International, which is a leading publisher in books for helping students to prepare for the French DELF & DALF exams. These are the French government’s French competency exams.

CLE International has a very extensive line of French dialogue books. The books cover areas including verb conjugations, grammar and vocabulary.

Two other books which I recommend along with the previously mentioned dialogue books are: Grammaire en Dialogues A1-B2 and Communication Progressive du Français A2-B1, both by Claire Miquel.

Claire Miquel is a leading writer for CLE International and her dialogue books are excellent. I suggest the A1-B2 dialogue book for a beginner student who might already have some French under their belt.

Of all the books I’ve used over the years, I’ve used Communication Progressive A2-B1 with the most students and it’s a great book to use after the initial Debut or A1-B2 Grammaire en Dialogues books.

4) Vocabulaire en Dialogues A1-A2

Vocabular En Dialogues A1-A2
Vocabulaire en Dialogues A1-A2 is a great option for any serious beginner who’s looking to build knowledge of essential vocabulary.

The next book on the list is: Vocabulaire en Dialogues by Évelyn Siréjols. This is another dialogue book published by CLE International.

I like the book because it lays out chapter-by-chapter a very useful resource for leaning the most essential and basic French vocabulary.

The chapters are broken down into categories such as food, clothing, sports, shopping, weather, etc. A beginners French course would not be complete without going over these lists of words.

Again, I feel that this book is best used with a teacher because the explanations are in French. It does provide lots of exercises and comes with an CD for audio.

5) Exercises in French Phonics

Exercises In French Phonics
Exercises in French Phonics: A true gem for only $8.00! Used with a teacher who knows what they’re doing, this book can catapult your pronunciation into the 4th dimension of existence.

The last book on my list is called Exercises in French Phonics by Francis W. Nachtmann of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champlaign.

This is a thin 80-page, $8 book that’s truly a hidden gem! One of the single hardest aspects to learning French is mastering the pronunciation and reading rules.

Dr. Nachtmann meticulously breaks down all the French phonetic rules into concise chapters. Each chapter covers a single spelling pattern, such as confusing nasal sound, and provides a long list of the corresponding words along with exercises.

The book puts a heavy emphasis on the French phonetic symbols. While these may seem daunting at first, Dr. Nachmann’s book is so methodical, by the end you’ll be an expert in French pronunciation.

This book was first suggested to me by a student in 2020. While I was skeptical at first, I have since used it with many students who’d been struggling with French pronunciation.

All that that said, Exercises in French Phonics is NOT a self-study book and is best used with teacher. Furthermore, the book does not come with a CD.

Best Books For Practicing Reading French

Many of my students are constantly asking me for reading options. I find that practicing reading aloud is a wonderful way to master the pronunciation and rhythm of the French language. I recommend the following two books for reading practice.

Read & Think French (McGraw-Hill)

Read & Think In French
Read & Think French is a treasure trove of article covering French culture. This book will push your vocabulary WAY up to the next level. I messed up and bought the 2nd edition. There’s a new 3rd addition which has a few more stories.

Read & Think French is by far my favorite resource for practicing reading French. The book is definitely aimed at mid-intermediate or higher students.

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The book consists of more than 100 articles which help students to better understand live in France and in the French-speaking world. The articles were provided by the editors of Think French magazine.

The books sections include culture, travel, traditions, celebrations, biographies, customs, art, history, geography and cuisine.

The publisher does a wonderful job providing translations to vocabulary in the margin. In addition, the translations are perfectly done to fit into context of the text.

All of the stories are available in audio format on McGraw-Hill’s website, mhlanguagelab.com.

Easy French Reader (McGraw-Hill)

Easy French Reader
Easy French Reader: Buy the book and one of the first things you’ll discover is that it isn’t so easy! The book’s selling point is that it offers excellent readings covering French history and historical figures.

The Easy French Reader by R. De Roussy de Sales is a wonderful resource for upper-beginner students who are looking for a reading option.

The book is divided into three sections. The first section consists of dialogues between Marc and Julie, two fictional characters. The second section offers articles on French historical figures (King and Queens). The final section offers samples of writing from France’s biggest authors including Emile Zola and Guy de Maupassant.

Similar to the previous book, McGraw-Hill offers audio recordings of all the text in the book on its website, mhlanguagelab.com. Students can listen and review the stories before an after lessons.

My main criticism of this book is that what some of the material is perfect for a beginner, a lot of the material is much too difficult. In addition, the publisher could have done a better job providing translations of more vocabulary words in the margin.

Best book for learning French verbs

Generally, I am not a big fan of books solely focused on learning verbs. This is because they offer lists of hundreds (too many!) of verbs and this can cause the student to feel overwhelmed and want to give up.

Barron’s 501 French Verbs

Barron's 501 French Verbs
Barron’s 501 French Verbs is the “Bible” for French verb conjugations. Look no further!

That said, I do suggest owning Barron’s 501 French Verbs by Christopher Kendris, Ph. D, and Theordore Kendris, Ph. D. Off all the French verb books, Barron’s is by far the most comprehensive.

The book does offer an “Essential 55 verb list”. These are the top-55 most commonly used French verbs. The advantage here is that the student can focus on the most useful verbs and not waste time on useless and rarely used verbs.

For each verb you can find the conjugations in all the major French verb tenses. In addition, for each verb the book provides several example sentences, related verbs (verb conjugated using the same patterns) as related words and expressions.

Best books for learning French slang and expressions

Learning a language and only learning formal grammar and standard vocabulary can be extremely boring. In reality, language is full of cultural idioms and slang words and expressions. I’ve kept the following two books in my arsenal of French learning materials for many years.

Collins Easy Learning French Idioms

Collin's Easy Learning French Idioms

The Collins Easy Learning French Idioms is by far the most comprehensive book for French expressions and idioms on the market today.

The book teaches hundreds of idiomatic expressions covered in categories including love and romance, money, health, craziness, and much more.

Each page consists of one idiom with both a literal translation and real meaning translation. The expressions are followed by example sentences in French with English translations.

If you want to impress the French with your knowledge of idioms used in daily life, this is surely the book for you.

Dictionary of French Slang and Colloquial Expressions

Dictionary Of French Slang (Barron's)

The Dictionary of French Slang and Colloquial Expressions is an excellent resource for learning French slang. In addition to terms and expressions that are slightly informal, this book provides slang words that border on being outright vulgar and impolite.

The book is in alphabetical order with the words listed in French. Next to each French word you’ll find the English translation as well as one or two example sentences in French with an English translation.

I feel strongly that this book is best used for personal entertainment and learning and is not very useful for a class or classroom setting. Furthermore, its content is definitely targeted at an adult audience.

Best French phrase books for travel

If you’re planning a trip to France and just want to learn some useful phrase for the trip, it would be a good idea to get a French phrase book. I have the following two books in my collection and would recommend both of them.

Berlitz Phrase Book & Dictionary French

Berlitz French For Travellers
I own an older version of the Berlitz French Phrasebook.

Believe it or not, I actually like Berlitz Phrase Book & Dictionary French better than the Lonely Planet phrase book (see below). This is simply because the Berlitz book offers much more extensive vocabulary lists.

Personally, I’d suggest the Berlitz book for somebody who already has some French under their belt. The sheer quantity words in the book could be a bit overwhelming for a pure beginner.

The book is broken down into all the usual sections you’d expect in a phrase book: Arrival at the airport, hotel check-in, restaurant, eating, shopping, sightseeing, etc.

Within the eating out section, for example, you can find very extensive vocabulary lists for every word you could ever need in a restaurant. For example, in addition to phrases for ordering a meal, the book lists out specific kinds of meats, vegetables, etc.

The back of the book has a useful reference section (covering the numbers) as well as an English-to-French dictionary.

Lonely Planet French Phrasebook & Dictionary

Lonely Planet French Phrasebook & Dictionary
Tried and tested, you can’t go wrong with a Lonely Planet phrasebook!

As suggested, if you don’t have any French under your belt, the Lonely Planet French Phrasebook & Dictionary would probably be a very good option. The key difference between the Berlitz phrase book is that it doesn’t offer the extensive vocabulary lists while still offering all the essentials.

The Lonely Planet phrase book is divided into all the usual sections you’d expect to find in a phrase books: Finding a hotel room and checking in, restaurant phrases for ordering a meal, phrases for socializing, etc.

One feature of the Lonely Planet phrase book which I find to be extremely useful is the Menu Decoder. In a nutshell, it’s a glossary of French food terms from French to English. This is probably the most comprehensive and informative list of French food terms I’ve ever come across.

One last note – the overall layout and font of the Lonely Planet phrase book is a but more user-friendly than the Berlitz book. In the event of having to pull the book out to look something up quickly, the Lonely Planet phrase book might be your better option.

Best books for learning French vocabulary

One of secrets to language mastery is the constant accumulation of new vocabulary words. In the initial stages of learning it’s a good idea to have a book on hand to learning the categories of major words (family members, colors, numbers, telling time, weather, clothing, sports, etc.).

Practice Make Perfect French Vocabulary

For my private lessons, I am a big fan of the publisher McGraw-Hill. For vocabulary, I suggest their book, Practice Make Perfect French Vocabulary by Eliane Kurbegov. Please note that the French All-In-One book (mentioned at the very top of this post) has a vocabulary chapter covering almost all the material included in this vocabulary-specific book.

Sections of this book include categories of common nouns (people, animals and nature, shopping, leisure, etc.), common adjectives, verb and adverbs.

For each section you’ll find a vocabulary list as well as useful related verbs and phrases. The vocabulary lists are also followed by exercises including translations, finding the missing word and matching columns.

McGraw-Hill’s online resource page has a free to use flashcards page which corresponds with the chapters of this book.

The Vocabulary Builder Workbook

Another French vocabulary book worth mentioning is: The Vocabulary Builder Workbook: Simple Lessons and Activities to Teach Yourself Over 1,400 Must-Know by Chris Lele.

While I haven’t used this book for my private online lessons, I’m including it on this page as it has over 4,000 reviews on Amazon.

Lele’s book offers over 200 lessons on French vocabulary. The lessons or chapters are based on traditional word categories (animals, food, etc.). In addition, Lele’s book offers many chapters covering group of words based on prefixes and word roots. I believe these chapters would be very fun and useful for upper-intermediate to advanced learners.

If you've found this post useful you might want to considering looking at our post covering the best apps for learning French. We've looked a total 33 apps and have written comprehensive reviews of Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur and FrenchPod101.

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About David Issokson

David Issokson is a lifelong language enthusiast. His head is swimming with words and sounds as he speaks over six languages. Of all the languages he speaks, he's the most passionate about French! David has helped hundreds of students to improve their French in his private online lessons. When procrastinating working on his site, FrenchLearner.com, David enjoys his time skiing and hiking in Teton Valley, Idaho.

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