Text, audio, video – How to best translate from French to English

3 Jul 2023 | Language

Contrary to popular belief, it is not enough to “know” Shakespeare’s language to translate professional contents (text, audio, and video) from French to English! To avoid common mistakes, learn how to translate from French to English and vice versa: biggest issues, best practices, which tools to use, etc. We will enlighten you on all you need to know. Let’s go! (Allons-y !)

Translating from French to English: what are the main issues?

Among the over 7000 languages spoken in the world, Shakespeare’s language takes the first place on the podium. It is THE international language.

Commonly used as a business language, English is also a vernacular language understood by a great number of people in various countries. As such, it is the most widely spoken language (when including native speakers as well as those for whom it is a second or third language) in the whole wide world in 2023. In 2021, English was the preferred language for many websites to be translated into due to the significant number of English-speaking users.

Conclusion: translating your professional content in English is a great means of developing your activity on a global scale. It is an essential step to:

  • Attract more audience and develop your business capacities.
  • Attract English-speaking clients (who find it easier to understand contents in their native language).
  • Increase the chance of improving your revenue.
  • Gain the attention of foreign investors.
  • Start a partnership with many competitive international suppliers
  • Comply with local authorities’ demands to expand into countries with English as the official language.
  • Improve your business reputation on a global scale.

To achieve all this, you must be able to provide accurate translations that conform to original documents and are adapted to an English-speaking audience!

In fact, literal translation (word-for-word) often result with senseless/meaningless translations and make the company look cheap. Why? Because these two languages are so different. Therefore, the translated content needs to be adapted according to their linguistic, cultural and legal specificities.

Specifics of English-to-French translations

English and French are both Indo-European languages. Even though they are form the same linguistic etymology, they separate into two different branches: Anglo-Saxon languages for English and Romance language (of Latin etymology) for French.

There are also many other differences such as:

  • Grammar. The distinction of genres (masculine and feminine) common in the French language is inexistent for nouns in English, as well as the use of “vous” (formal/polite form) or “tu” (informal form). The passive voice is used much more commonly in English than in French.
  • False cognates. There are so many! “Actually” is “en fait” in French and not “actuellement”, which means “currently”. “Library” is “bibliothèque” and not “librairie”, which means bookshop. In addition, “college” translates into “université” rather than “college” (middle school), “assume” is “présumer”, unless you are assuming responsibility for something, in which case “assumer” works., etc…
  • Lexicon and sentence structure. French is a very detailed language: it has a large semantic field, many prepositions, long sentences, etc. English on the contrary is very concise: for example, to introduce a noun complement, one just have to add “s” instead of a preposition.

This last point is very important, especially when translating from English to French and vice versa. There is a great difference between the volume of words between the source language and the target language. An increase of 20% is noted in English-to-French translations and about 25 to 30% between French-to-German translations.

This difference has a direct impact on the layout of a translated advertising document or when displaying the subtitles of a translated video uploaded on social media. This type of content requires specific adjustments.

Case study: translating a legal document

It is important to take the cultural references, linguistic style and many more issues into account when translating a document in French or English.

If you have to translate a French legal document into English, you have to make sure both texts are equivalent (and not identical); by transposing the Roman law into Common Law (the Anglo-American law). This is the only way the translation can be legally correct in the target country.

How to translate in English: four best practices

1. Do not start translating from English to French (and vice versa), without preparing

You took online English lessons and you have become comfortable/fluent in English. That’s a good start!

However, before translating a text into English, you ought to take your time to read the entire text attentively.

This preliminary step will help you understand the main point (context, tone, etc.). Some points tackled at the end of the text can shed light on those mentioned at the beginning. This will help you avoid misunderstandings and mistakes…

2. Use the best tools and resources to translate from French into English

Choose the tools suitable for the type of content (text, video, audio) you are translating.

  • Here are some of the top five machine translation software solutions when translating a text from French to English and vice versa: DeepL Translate, Microsoft Translator, Google Translate, Systran Translate and Reverso.
  • Translate a video or audio file in English into French and vice versa using these specific online tools: make an audio transcription and subtitle a video in another language with Capté. VoiceOverMaker allows you to automatically dub videos. Select the file (mp4 or WebM) to transcribe and automatically translate the text into English. Then choose the voice in the target language needed to start dubbing.
  • Translate a website using Localize, Bablic, etc.

Although these tools are becoming more and more useful, they are not completely reliable – some results still show signs of literal translations, errors; approximations, etc. – neither are they capable of localising (adapting):

  • Marketing content to make them more attractive to an English-speaking audience.
  • Keywords to ensure that all pages on a website are optimized on the international SERP.

So, use them for certain specific reasons: to help understand the key points of non-strategic documents, to translate content for internal use only, etc.

Note that other resources can be used as a bilingual dictionary like WordReference or Linguee.

3. Learn some adaptation techniques

Literal translations from English to French is definitely not an option for professional documents provided for partners, investors, clients, etc.

For high quality results, you must:

  • Adapt idiomatic expressions, units of measurement, etc.
  • Simplify and reformulate the sentence without translating word-for-word nor changing its intent.
  • Transpose by replacing one word (a noun) with another (adverb) using a different grammatical structure.
  • Change your point of view: a complement can turn into a subject to adjust to the specificities of one of the languages (the active form is more common in French).

4. French-English translation: call on a professional native translator

To provide important professional documents for English-speaking audiences, a good level of English and literal translations are not enough!

For best results, entrust the translation of your documents, be it text, audio, video, etc., to a French-English translation agency working with professional native translators.

These experts make use of their linguistic skills (they translate into their mother tongue) and their sound knowledge of the target culture. With their education and many years of practice, they are capable of providing accurate translations as well as adapting appropriately. They can even do transcreations (creative adaptation) to make your marketing or touristic content more appealing.

Conclusion: by assigning an English-French translator to your project, the translated content are more accurate and adapted for your targeted audience.

You now know how to translate a text or a video into English. While some accessible tools will certainly suffice in some cases, nothing can replace the skills of human professional translators. Reaching out to them is the optimum way to get high quality translations that meets your targeted audiences’ expectations and ensure a successful international development.