|10 Min. Read
|December 12, 2022
Did you know? Roughly 45% of all English words have a French origin. Yet despite the similarities in vocabulary, an English to French translation isn’t as simple as it sounds. Like all languages, French has a distinct grammatical structure, multiple dialects, and cultural norms—all of which must be taken into consideration.
Before starting a project, there are four major challenges that a French translator must take into consideration. These include:
Let’s take a deeper dive into each.
Although French speakers learn a standard spoken and written form of the language in school, there are actually nine major regional dialects. These include:
Each one has variations in vocabulary, grammar, and cultural norms. For example, Haitian French includes borrowed words from West African languages as well as Spanish and Portuguese. And translators must decide whether to use Standard French to reach the largest audience or use local dialects for each region.
French translations are about 15 to 20% longer than English texts. This is because French often requires more words to convey the same information. For example:
The longer French text translation can make it difficult for translators to convey the same message within the same space constraints. Buttons and drop-down menus, which may only contain a set number of characters, can be particularly difficult to adapt. That means translators may need to get creative with word choices to preserve the original formatting.
The primary grammatical difference between French and English include:
While there are standard rules for many of these grammatical differences, some words are irregular and must be memorized. And when it comes to translation, whether to use vous or tu is subjective. The pronoun you choose will depend on the tone of your brand and the audience you want to reach. That’s why it’s important to hire a professional French translator to ensure accuracy.
Although the two languages share many similarities, English has a much larger vocabulary with 600,000 words compared to 100,000 words. This results in French words with no direct translation due to its sparser vocabulary and untranslatable English words with more nuanced definitions.
In French, words that have no direct English equivalent include:
In English, several words with distinct definitions have only one word in French. These include:
In instances like these, the translator must choose the word or phrase that best conveys the same message, instead of relying on a 1:1 translation.
Now that you know more about the challenges of French translation, let’s take a look at seven ways to address them.
Working with native French linguists is key. This helps ensure the accuracy of translations and allows you to be confident that you are getting the right message across to the right audience. Native linguists can replace words that don’t exist with accurate substitutes and ensure that the right version of French is being used depending on the target demographic.
To properly address French audiences, you’ll need to localize different websites for each target market. While this may sound unnecessary given the use of standard French, it can impact how your brand is perceived.
Canadian French, for example, has several differences, including:
By localizing content for each French speaking market, you’ll be in a better position to connect with new audiences.
Internationalization is the process of designing software, websites, and mobile apps to ensure it can support different languages and regional requirements. This includes:
By taking this step beforehand, translating your website into French will be much easier.
Internationalization can assist with this by building padding and adaptable sections into your theme. This gives translators more flexibility and can even increase accuracy because space constraints will be less of an issue. Once the translations have been added to the website, it should be QA’d to ensure the length is being accounted for properly.
The best way to adapt your message is through a process known as localization. Translation is part of it, but localization goes one step further to account for cultural norms and local standards. This may include altering the tone, word choice, and/or cultural references to better connect with the target audience.
When it comes to localizing French, it’s important to understand that it’s a high context language. This means that much of the information is conveyed through tone, body language, and cultural understanding. English, on the other hand, is a low context language, which means the message is more direct. What may sound like “plain English” may come off as too direct in French, and would need to be modified to match the French style of communication.
A translation memory is a database that stores a website’s translated content. It saves word-, phrase-, or sentence length chunks called segments to help human translators and speed up the publishing process. For example, let’s say you want to add a new section to the French version of your website. Your translation team will use the translation memory to find phrases within the new content that were previously translated.
Localizing your website is a great first step. However, you also need to consider the entire user journey from searching online to navigating the website itself. If you want to reach the widest audience, you’ll also need to localize paid ads, social media, videos, and other outreach.
There are multiple ways to translate a website. Here’s a look at four popular methods and the pros and cons of each.
Neural machine translation (NMT) is a method of machine translation that uses an artificial neural network to predict the likelihood of a sequence of words. All you need to do is feed the system English text and it can instantly generate translated text in the language you choose.
A Translation API is a programmatic interface that dynamically translates content using NMT. It allows you to incorporate MT into your website to help publish content in multiple languages.
A translation proxy is a set of technologies that work together to instantly serve localized websites. It works independently of you CMS and typically includes a:
A CMS connector is a preconfigured interface provided by a translation agency. It lets you integrate the provider’s translation connectors, plugins, or APIs to your content management system (CMS).
Despite advances in technology, we recommend using a hybrid approach to translation. It combines the speed and efficiency of MT with the knowledge and skills of human translators.
Here’s how it works:
This method allows you to quickly and affordably translate your website—without sacrificing your brand message. However, the method you choose will ultimately depend on the type of content, your on-going translation needs, and budget.
Want to learn more about your website translation options? Contact MotionPoint today.