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Mastering DELF/DALF: In-Depth Strategies for Boosting French Reading Comprehension

Developing a strong foundation in reading comprehension is pivotal for success in the DELF/DALF exams. More often than not, this test section is overlooked by candidates, who end up scoring lower than expected. Indeed, reading comprehension demands specific skills, as any other test section would. Whether you’re taking your first steps or aiming for advanced mastery, these tips are tailored to propel your reading comprehension skills to new heights.

📖 Read, read and read away

Elevate your reading comprehension by immersing yourself in a diverse range of French texts. From short articles to lengthier books, regular reading not only enhances your overall comprehension but also enriches your vocabulary. Establish a consistent routine (e.g. every morning while having breakfast, or during your ride to work), starting with texts that align with your current proficiency and gradually increasing the complexity over time.

🗓️How to create a reading schedule and consistent routine

  • Identify your needs : what do you read for ? Work, study, entertainment? What kind of texts do you need to understand (reports, technical forms, press articles, literary texts?)
  • Have a clear goal : the clearer the more effective. 
  • Source your material beforehand: nothing will demotivate you more than wasting 20 min to browse the internet looking for the perfect text. Select a few articles at a time, pin/bookmark them to find them easily when needed. Buy a DELF/DALF test book and select the texts you want to study in advance
  • Find your perfect location: where are you going to read (in your living room, the local library, a cosy coffeeshop around the corner, on the bus…)? If it’s just reading, the more important is a calm atmosphere so you can focus; if you’re going to practice the actual test, better to do it on a proper table, close to the exam’s actual conditions. 

Tip: if you don’t have much choice when it comes to the location and it happens to be noisy, consider buying noise-canceling headphones or at least earplugs. They come in so handy in plenty of situations! 

Coach Noé
  • Set up a schedule and keep it. Better to do short sessions regularly over long sessions every other month. 

📚Be(come) knowledgeable 

  • Start with texts about topics you know about or you’re curious about. Why ? Because it’s easier for the brain to recognize things it has already encountered or it enjoys. 
  • The more you know about a topic (even just in your native language) the easier it’ll get in French because the brain sort of already knows the connections between things. 
  • Improve your vocabulary regularly (by watching films or TV series in French, through the lyrics of French songs…) will help. It may not be as sexy, but don’t forget to study grammar regularly so you’ll figure out complex sentences more easily.

🌟Choose authenticity

  • When given the choice, choose authentic documents. They are actual texts read by the native French speakers, not made up texts designed by French teachers to teach you French.  
  • You don’t need to be fluent to start reading authentic documents. You can choose kids media, or very short texts on easy topics to get started. By sticking to this habit regularly, you’ll make progress in no time!

🎯One text, one goal

Don’t always read with the same goal : define a new one for every text you study. 

  • Text n°1 :  understand the general idea 
  • Text n°2: identify the key concepts in every paragraph
  • Text n°3: look for the connecting words
  • Text n°4: focus only on the words you don’t know. Etc. 

🎨Reading comes in many shapes and colours

There’s reading and reading. Depending on your goal, you will read the text thoroughly or not. 

Level n°1: 🖼️Contextual Analysis (aka general understanding of the text aka W-questions)

Understanding the overall meaning and discerning the connections between ideas are critical skills.

Before delving into a text, engage in a comprehensive analysis of its structure. This includes scrutinizing the title, subtitles, illustrations, and captions. This proactive approach aids in anticipating the content and primes your mind for a more effective reading experience.

Then ask yourself the general W-questions (in French Qui ? Quoi? Où? Quand ? Pourquoi ?...). 

Level n°2: 🔍Keyword Identification aka selective reading aka look for precise info (dates, data, key arguments)

Develop the habit of identifying keywords during your reading sessions. Whether they are proper nouns, action verbs, or specialized terms related to the text’s topic, highlighting these words facilitates a deeper understanding of the main message and the connections between ideas. Pay meticulous attention to logical connectors that link sentences and paragraphs, fostering a comprehensive comprehension approach.

Level n°3: 🧐 Focus reading

When you focus on the grammar only (look for special structures, specific tenses, pronouns, adverbs…)

Level n°4: 🕵️‍♂️Detailed reading 

Detailed understanding of a paragraph or the whole text. Don’t do it every time; more often than not, it is not necessary!

🌌Give the unknown a chance

Having good reading skills is not understanding all the words in the dictionary ! Even in your native language, you don’t know every word that exists. 

So be gentle on yourself and tolerate your own ignorance: don’t read word by word stopping every time you don’t understand a word to look it up in the dictionary. It will become tedious very quickly. 

🔧The right tools

The dictionary will become an absolute necessity at some point. Before anything else, don’t forget : you must try to understand the word in context. Quite often, you’ll figure out its meaning without the help of a dictionary. If your language -or any other language you might speak fluently – shares some roots with French, try to guess: there’s a fair chance that a similar word conveys a similar idea or meaning( it is not an absolute rule though, beware of the faux-amis /deceptive cognates ! ). 

📚Dictionary Utilization

Embrace the power of dictionaries to tackle unfamiliar words. Make a conscious effort to note down these words and incorporate them into your own sentences. The wealth of information provided by online dictionaries or mobile apps can significantly contribute to your vocabulary expansion. Create your own dictionary and watch your vocabulary expand as time goes by ! 

💻Online translating tools

Try not to resort to Google translate until you’ve reached a confirmed B2 level though. Especially out of context, it might give the wrong translation. It’s better to use a classic dictionary like Larousse or le Robert or online dictionaries, Reverso or Wordreference. DeepL is a good choice whenever a sentence is complex: the translations given by this software are quite accurate ! 

✍️Practicing Written Comprehension Exercises

 Elevate your preparation by integrating targeted written comprehension exercises into your routine. These exercises, specifically designed to mimic exam questions, not only familiarize you with the exam format but also enhance your reading speed. Leverage online resources and specialized preparation books that align with your current proficiency level. Use a timer and try to finish the exercices in time. See how you perform, have a look at the solution sheet, note down the unfamiliar words and repeat. Keep doing it until you feel comfortable and you meet your reading comprehension score goal. 

✍️Text Summarization 

 After completing a reading session, embark on the practice of summarizing the text using your own words. This post-reading exercise serves a dual purposeverifying your comprehension and reinforcing the retention of essential information. Strengthening your summarization skills enhances your capacity to distill the core message of any given text. This is especially true and useful for C1 DALF candidates, as half of the writing test section is a “synthèse” of two texts. 

🌐Diverse Reading Sources

Broaden your reading horizons by exploring a diverse array of sources. From articles and blogs to essays, news, and novels, exposing yourself to various writing styles is instrumental in developing a versatile comprehension skill set. You’ll also be more familiar with a huge range of tones and language registers (formal, informal, technical, humorous…), which can be of great help for B2 and above candidates. Select topics that genuinely captivate your interest, transforming your learning experience into an engaging journey.

Reading comprehension is undeniably a cornerstone skill for navigating the challenges of the DELF/DALF exams successfully. By meticulously integrating these strategies into your learning routine, you not only fortify your understanding of written French but also empower yourself to tackle the nuances of the exams with confidence. Regular and diversified practice, coupled with a strategic approach, positions you to conquer the complexities of the DELF/DALF and showcase your proficiency in reading comprehension. 

Bonne chance et bonne préparation ! 

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