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Comics, a great context for learning French

Pour une version française de cet article, cliquez ici / Para una versión en español, haga clic aquí.

We saw, in a previous article, what could be the power of easy French readings in learning this language (click here if you want to read (again) this article). In this article we have seen the importance of illustrations to help the comprehension of the text. If, as a learner, these illustrations help you a lot, then read comics.Adèle et la Bête - Tardi

The advantages of comics in learning French.

Comics have many advantages in learning a foreign language.
– Comics is an authentic document that is not made for learners, but for native speakers.
– Comics is a great way to get reading people who don’t like to read.
– Comics is adapted to those who have a very visual way of approaching learning.
– Comics mainly contains dialogues (the speech bubbles). These dialogues are mostly similar to spoken French.
– Finally, comics give the learner a great pictorial context to better understand the text.

As a child, even before you know how to read, you probably read, at last looked, flipped through comics from the first to the last page. Such a child does not read the story textually, yet it seems that he understands it, at least partially thanks to the pictures. This is where the great strength of the comics for foreign language learning lies in part.

The context, a great way to learn French

Let’s take as an example a series …

…of four drawings from an album « Adèle et la bête » by Jacques Tardi (my favorite comic book author). Here are these four drawings without the text.

ardi - Adèle et la bête - 4 dessins sans texte


What information can you draw from these drawings that will allow you to finally understand what the two characters in action are saying?
A man reading a newspaper shows a lady an illustration. He makes a comment on this drawing. The lady reacts.

Let’s take a more detailed look at the first drawing.

Tardi - Adèle et la bête - dessin 1 - sans texte
His face seems to betray a fun. He smiles (even if his moustache hides this smile a little). He reads a magazine with the word ‘le rire’ (the laugh).
What is the text that seems possible?
-Ah, it’s funny!
-How fun!

Let’s move on to the second drawing.

Tardi - Adèle et la bête - dessin 2 - sans texte

In this second drawing, the man shows the magazine to the Lady. He’s always smiling. He asks the lady about the content of the page shown. The lady reacts quite indifferently. Her face remains impassive. What could the man have said?
– Did you see this drawing? It’s funny, isn’t it?
– What do you think of this caricature?
What could be the reaction of the lady?
– Yes.
– If you say it!

The third drawing does not contain spoken text, only the caption of the illustration shown. « Heaven My husband! » It is a popular folk line (theater) that is said when the husband goes home and surprises his wife and her lover. The apparently comic side is that the husband is represented here by a pterodactyl (the beast present in the title of the comic book). But let’s move on, this third drawing is not excessively important for this demonstration of the importance of context.Tardi - Adèle et la bête - dessin 3


Now let’s take the fourth drawing. What does he tell us?

Tardi - Adèle et la bête - dessin 4 - sans texte

The man always smiles, but his forehead is a little pleated. A sign that the lady’s reaction may upset the man. The lady also says something. She reacts to what the man has just said. One can imagine that the man is trying to confirm what he said just before.
Based on that, what did the man say?
– Don’t you like?
– Don’t you think it’s funny?
– It’s funny, isn’t it?
And the lady, always indifferent:

Let’s continue now by comparing the text inferred from the context with the original text of Tardi.

Tardi - Adèle et la bête - dessin 1
Text deduced from context: Ah, that’s funny! / How fun!
Original text: Ah ah ah
Tardi is much direct, but our deduction is fair enough.

Drawing number two with his text:

Tardi - Adèle et la bête - dessin 2

Text inferred from context:

– Man: Did you see this drawing? He’s funny, is not he? / What do you think of this caricature?
– The lady: Yes. / If you say it!

Original text:

– Man: Miss, look at this cartoon …
-The lady: Uh…
Once again, Tardi is more thrifty for the lady’s text. As for us, we may have gone a little far in imagining that the man asks the lady’s opinion on the drawing. However, the first interpretation (did you have seen this drawing) is not wrong.

Finally, let’s compare our interpretation of the fourth drawing with Tardi’s text:

Tardi - Adèle et la bête - dessin 4

Text deduced from the context:

– Man: Do you not like? / Don’t you think it’s funny? /It’s funny, isn’t it?
-The lady: Yes! Indeed!

Original text:

-Man: Hilarious, isn’t it?
-The lady: Indeed.
The man does not finally ask for an opinion, but for a confirmation. It is what we had proposed among the possibilities. The lady confirms, without much enthusiasm.

Here, two things are interesting to note:

1. The interpretation of the image corresponds quite well with the text;
2. The word ‘ désopilant’ which is difficult for a beginner and intermediate level learner can be understood, thanks to the work of interpretation of the pictures (désopilant = hilarious = funny).

Of course, this system of using the context to help the understanding of a text is not always so easily applicable. Sometimes the text does not have a lot of links to the scenery in which the characters are located. But very often it can help. It offers what Stephen Krashen calls “comprehensible input ». A good dose of known words, a small dose of unknown words encompassed in a textual context and a pictorial context that promote the comprehension of these unknown words and thus participate in their learning.

Where to find French comics?

If you are in a French speaking country, then it is not difficult to get comics. Bookstores or libraries are there to feed you.
If you do not live in a French-speaking country, you can still see in your library, there is sometimes a foreign book section with sometimes comics. Perhaps there is not far from you a French Alliance or a French Institute with a library provided in comics. If this is not the case, then there is always internet. More and more sites offer free comics. Do your internet research. If you have the means, you can of course order comics online …

Tintin - On a marché sur la lune - Hergé

Astérix aux jeux olympiques

Lucky Luke







What titles?

It is difficult to advise comics. There are for all tastes, for all ages. But if you insist, I can name my comics. Those of my childhood with Tintin, Asterix and Lucky Luke. The ones I read after: the comics of Tardi, Boucq and Moebius.

Tardi - Le Savant Fou

Boucq - Les pionniers de l'aventure humaine

Moebius - L'homme du Ciguri



Bonne lecture,
Jérôme Paul



Pour une version française de cet article, cliquez ici.

Logo + Jérôme le créateur du français illustréà bientôt, Jérôme

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