5 Basic Mistakes to Avoid When Translating English into French

by | Nov 30, 2019

5 Basic Mistakes to Avoid When Translating English into French 1

Ah…la belle langue française! French is one of the most widely-spoken languages in the world. This is why many companies choose to translate and localize their websites and apps into this beautiful language. Unfortunately, however, translators sometimes make rookie mistakes when translating English into French. These errors can detract from the effectiveness of your localized content and may adversely impact the success of your business. To help you steer clear of these problems, here’s a list of the top five mistakes that translators make during English to French translation.

1. Following English Grammar and Vocabulary Rules

When translating English into French, it’s important to remember that grammar rules differ between English and French. While the French language uses the subject-verb-object pattern for sentences, the sentence may change depending on which variation of a word you use.

Example: I lived in India for five years. The French word for for is pour. However, when talking about time, the French use the word pendant. So your translation should be J’ai habité en Inde pendant cinq ans. Sure, the sentence means the same if you use pour, but it’s not grammatically correct and will seem strange to your French audience.

2. Paraphrasing English Idioms

You should know that paraphrasing strips the French language of its uniqueness. This is especially true of idioms.

Example: The English idiom break a leg is used to wish people good luck. When directly paraphrased, the French translation is Casser une jambe, which literally means he/she broke his/her leg. This doesn’t make any sense in the context. Instead, you should find other words or idioms that French speakers use to convey the same message. For example, there’s merde, which means shit, but is the exact equivalent of break a leg. How so? The French believe that wishing someone luck is bad luck and instead wish someone shit to bring them good luck. So a sentence that reads merde pour ton examen is the equivalent of break a leg during your exam.

3. Believing That Many English and French Words Are the Same 

Sure, some English and French words sound, read, and look alike, but this is not true all the time. Unfortunately, many novice translators forget this fact and wrongly use French words (which actually mean something different) to represent English words.

Example: What do you think the words attendre, avertissement, supplier, and coin mean? They don’t mean attend, advertisement, supplier, and coin. In French, they mean wait, deception, beg, and corner.

4. Forgetting That French is a More Formal Language Than English 

The English language is significantly more informal and relaxed than French.

Example: In English, the word you and its variants are used to refer to absolutely anyone, irrespective of their social standing, age, relationship to us, etc. However, in French, the word you has two variants – the formal vous (used with strangers, elders, and superiors) and the informal tu (used with friends, kids, and family).

5. Using a One-Size-Fits-All French Variation for Every French-Speaking Market

This is probably the most common mistake that translators make, not just with French, but with all languages. French is a diverse tongue with many different dialects. For example, the French spoken in Paris is very different from the one spoken in Nice. Again, the French spoken in France is distinct from the French spoken in Canada, Switzerland, Africa, or any other French-speaking country.

Localize Can Help You Get Your French Translations Right

You need to work with translators who understand the differences between French and English. Also, for effective localization, they must have an understanding of the region-specific variants of the language. These differences relate to local cultural nuances that only a local translator will be aware of. Your expert translator can work seamlessly with Localize’s platform to ensure the highest-quality French translations.

Visit our website to see how we can make translating English into French an easier workflow than you imagined.