SimulTrans Localization Blog: SimulTips

4 Pitfalls to Avoid when Translating into French

[fa icon="calendar"] June 19, 2017 / by Laura Vuillemin

French pitfalls.jpgTranslation is a job in itself (hence the need for translation services). While some people may be able to more or less render a source text into their mother tongue, someone who is not a professional translator will likely produce something that is not necessarily fluent, or which is too literal. They may also not take the audience (the end user of that product or service for which the translation is intended) into account, leading to sentences that won’t fit and won't be understood culturally speaking. This applies to any language and of course to French.

Here are some crucial points that should be taken into account when translating from English into French.

1. Avoid informal tone of voice

English is a language that is, in some way, more “relaxed” than French. The tone can be pretty casual - notably in marketing content. Usually, this will seem odd or even inappropriate in French.


    English: Wait! Think it out before you log out!

    French: Êtes-vous sûr de vouloir vous déconnecter ? [Are you sure you want to log out?]

2. Don't use the "tu" pronoun

Using the “tu” pronoun should be avoided by all means (except in content intended to children). A few French websites now tend to do it anyway, with a view to sounding trendy and “cool”, but the overall impression is not good on the target audience.

The pronoun “tu” is used among relatives, colleagues or neighbors who know each other. Addressing people with “vous” is highly recommended if you want to sound professional, serious and, last but not least, respectful.

If you are a company and translate content intended to your French clients, bear in mind that this is only what they are. They are not your friends. If you are being too familiar with them, they will not like it and your image may be impacted.

3. Adapt cultural references

When source-specific terms or expressions are used, they often need to be skipped or replaced by something that is less idiosyncratic but still conveys the same idea. While French readers might know what these expressions mean, if the English source text incorporates, for instance, sports metaphors, they will most likely not understand them.


    English: How to hit a home run with your new website

    French: Comment viser dans le mille avec votre nouveau site Web. [How to hit the bull’s eye with your new website]

4. Initialisms

Source texts can also refer to specific laws or organizations which, most of the time, have no equivalent in the target country. Usually, the approach would be to use a generic French term that conveys the overall idea behind it.


English: These actions are a regulatory requirement that the FDA [American Food and Drug Association] inspectors consider singularly critical.

French: Ces actions sont au cœur de toute démarche qui se veut conforme aux normes dictées par les agences de régulation. [These actions are a requirement that regulatory agencies consider singularly critical].

Cultures differ, so as a translator you need to make sure the message will be rendered accurately, but also in a business context and in the correct tone of voice. Taking your audience into account while translating, as well as checking for language appropriate terminology and relevant cultural references, will result in high quality translation into French.

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Topics: Documentation Translation

Laura Vuillemin

Written by Laura Vuillemin

Laura has been serving as SimulTrans’ French Team Lead for the past 6 years. She holds an M.A in Translation Studies from Dublin City University, as well as a B.A in English from the Université Jean Moulin Lyon III. Passionate about her native language and its characteristics throughout French-speaking countries and territories, she assimilates the work of a translator to that of a writer – a translation should read as if it was directly produced in the target language. Laura also studied German, Russian and Spanish and is currently taking Portuguese courses.