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Tips for French translations
Everything Translation

Translating to French? Avoid These Common Mistakes

French is one of the most widely spoken languages around the world, with 276 million speakers worldwide. It has the second highest number of native speakers in Europe, and it is the official language of approximately 29 countries. That’s why French is considered one of the most important languages for many businesses and companies looking to expand to new markets. As international organizations continue to grow, so does the demand for accurate English to French translations.

Countries where French is an official language
French is considered an official language in 29 countries around the world

Professional French translations make your content, brand, and product more accessible to a wider audience. French translations are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to localizing for French markets, but they are a very important piece! Accurate translations are critical for your localized content to feel truly local to your target audience.  

It’s easy to see the benefits of entering the French market, but there are some faux pas you need to avoid if you want to achieve high-quality, effective French translations. Keep in mind that French is spoken in many different countries around the world with varying dialects, cultures, and standards. Let’s take a look at some of the most common mistakes you should watch out for when it comes to translating into French from France.

Common French translation mistakes

Keep your friends close and your faux amis closer

English is closely related to French, with approximately 60% of the English language derived from French or Latin roots. But this isn’t always useful – particularly when it comes to false cognates. A “faux ami,” or a false cognate, is a word in one language that looks or sounds similar to a word in another language, but has a different meaning. Make sure you work with native translators that are aware of false cognates in order to avoid word choice mistakes that could be overlooked. Watch out for polysemantic words too – words that have more than one meaning – to avoid saying something you don’t mean, or even causing offense.

Pay attention to gender

All French words are gendered – masculine or feminine – and other parts of speech, like articles and adjectives, need to agree with the nouns. The gender of French nouns isn’t based on physical traits, it’s all about the grammar, so it can be very difficult to learn. French localization experts will know these things naturally as native speakers, so be sure to consult experts for correct gender agreement.

Master your tenses and conjugations

French words have far more tenses and moods than English. It can be difficult to understand the rules that go alongside each one. The tenses to look out for are conditional future, subjunctive, and past tense. Unlike English, French doesn’t have a perfect present tense.

top tips for French translations
5 Top Tips for French Translations

Localize your typographic rules

If you want your content to seem truly local to France, adhere to the correct French typographic rules. For example, French texts don’t use “quotation marks,” instead they use guillemets « ». Tatiana Puls, French translator, points out, “these are not major mistakes, as they don’t affect the understanding of the language, but if we have specific typographic rules, why not use them?”

Similarly, including the correct accents is very important, whether that be an accent aigu, accent grave, or the accent circonflexe. Contractions are another important factor as contractions are compulsory in the French language (with a few exceptions).

Localizing typographic rules and paying attention to these details helps a native French speaker trust the quality and competency of your brand.

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Avoid over- or under-translating

Ever heard the phrase “lost in translation?” Under-translating is just that – when the message of the original content is lost due to oversimplification. The other side of that coin is over-translating, where a translation can add an unintended meaning, changing the overall effect of the content. When translating into French, leave room for cultural adjustments while being mindful of retaining the original meaning and intent of the content. A good way of avoiding over- or -under-translating is by providing professional translators with a thorough project brief and glossary. The more context given to translators, the more likely the result will accurately deliver your message to French audiences.

How to avoid common mistakes

Don’t translate word-for-word

Translating text word-for-word leads to content that lacks any natural flow, making it very obvious to native French speakers that the content was translated. Direct translation from French to English wouldn’t work either.

For example, in English, you’d say “I’m 30 years old.” In French, you would say «J’ai 30 ans» which translates to “I have 30 years” in English. When translating any language, it is always best practice to make the translation sound natural to the audience that will read it. The fact that the content was translated should be undetectable. That’s what good localization is all about.

Make sure your text is proofread

Several pairs of eyes should check material before it is published. Reading over a piece several times will allow translators to spot mistakes and identify translation inconsistencies. When scouting for a French translation or localization service, see if they offer proofreading services as well. This helps assure you that you’ll receive quality French language localization.

Take a holistic approach to translating

It’s important to think about the desired impact of the piece as a whole – what do you want the content to achieve? What are your goals when it comes to French language localization? Beyond translation, think about transforming the whole piece to suit the required audience, while still preserving the original intent and message. Working with professionals who understand your product, industry, and audience is important to ensure that the translation is accurate and effective.

Work with localization experts

Using professional localization services is the best way to ensure quality French translations. Beyond basic translation, good French localization accounts for nuances in language, culture, and audience preferences. There is a certain level of understanding that only a native French speaker and localization expert can provide.

A professional translation and localization service should offer you the ability to adapt your content in the most genuine way possible. It’s also beneficial to work with a full-service localization platform that not only provides professional translation, but also voice-over translation, website localization, subtitling, and data enrichment. This way, you can work with one reliable source to localize all your content for French speakers. The quality of your French localization determines whether your clients will trust and connect to your brand.

Team up with BLEND

Contact BLEND today to learn more about our global team of native French translators, our expert localization services, and how to get your French language localization started.

Whether you’re looking to communicate with audiences in Canada, France, Belgium, the Ivory Coast, or any other French-speaking country, our network of certified translators are experts in local nuances and preferences – so your content is guaranteed to be natively local.  

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