Tips for French Translation

Category: Languages


French translation is a core element of our business, as we assist in the translation of documents from French to English and vice versa to allow easier access for UK and international audiences. In this post, we’re going to share some simple tips for managing French translation.

Understanding French Translation

To understand the language, it is first necessary to understand the roots of the language. A simple glance back at the development of French can offer some insights into where difficulties might arise in the translation process.

The (shared) root of the problem

Language being what it is, French as we know it now did not always exist. It developed over a long period of time, independently but parallel to many other European languages. These languages, including Italian, Spanish and English, share a common Indo-European source. Apart from some words that share etymologies, this shared root can give rise to challenges in French translation, creating a sense of false safety.

Handling sentence structure

While Indo-European languages can share some words, their sentence structure can vary considerably. To get around this, French translation can be viewed more easily when whole sentences are considered for translation rather than individual words in those sentences. The question of context in the sentence makes it easier to understand and communicate the intention of the original author.

French translation and idioms & cognates

French translation is rendered more difficult by the use of idioms and cognates. An idiom is a series of words that are not obvious in their meaning based on the individual words. In English, the phrase ‘Over the moon’ means to be happy. In French, ‘une bouche d’incendie‘ translates into ‘a mouth of fire’ but actually means ‘fire hydrant’. Being aware of such idioms is important in avoiding inaccurate or confusing translations.

Cognates, on the other hand, are words in two languages that look the same and mean the same thing – as a result of a shared etymological root. Some examples are:

  • Amusant – amusing 
  • La musique – music 
  • Immense – immense

False cognates in a French translation

A further issue in French translation is caused by false cognates – words that one would think mean the same thing, but actually don’t. Some examples of false cognates include:

  • Actuellement – currently
  • Bras – arms
  • Une librarie – the bookshop

The above examples serve to illustrate some of the challenges in French translation – it can sometimes be easy to make a simple mistake.

Reviewing French translations

Fluency in French is just one aspect of French translations that can make a difference in the end product. In order to improve upon a translation, ask yourself the following questions by way of review:

  • Does the translated text read as if someone fluent in the target language had written it?
  • Have you introduced or lost cultural references during translation?
  • Does the translation serve its given purpose? 

Those three questions will help to address:

  • How accessible a text is
  • How accurate the translation is
  • Whether the audience of the translated work will understand the final piece 
  • Whether the tone of the translated piece is suitable for the intended purpose of the original text

It is also worth being aware of the reading age of the intended audience of the original text. Using language that is too simplistic – or, in the opposite case, too convoluted – can impact upon the suitability of the translation. 

How can we help?

We specialise in translation, with trusted translators at hand to assist in French translation and a whole host of other languages around the world. Take a look at the languages we work in, and when you’re ready, get in touch for a quote. We’ll be glad to handle the rest.

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