We sat down with one of ICD Translation’s preferred French translators, Patrick, for an interesting Q & A on the topic of “European vs. Canadian French.” Stationed in East Grinstead, West Sussex, United Kingdom, Patrick has worked as a professional translator for over 34 years. Here he shares some insights into the French language in hopes of saving clients time and money when translating.
What’s the difference between European and Canadian French?
The core academic and scientific language of European and Canadian French are the same. Rather than calling it “Standard French,” many Canadians prefer to call it “International French.” If you are translating a technical manual or a text with straightforward information, any French translator should be able to do a great job. Marketing material and other items that require localization is where a big difference is noticed.
Compared to French from France, Canadian French has some very specific differences. Some include: Punctuation (minor details, such as no space before a semi-colon), including both Imperial and Metric measurement units (rather than converting everything to metric measurements only), and avoiding “anglicism.” English nouns such as “e-mail,” “LED,” or “week-end” are common in France but are typically disliked by Canadian French speakers. French Canadians are generally exposed to European French, whether through news articles, television feature films, etc., but the majority of French citizens are unfamiliar with Canadian-specific terms or usages.
How are they most different?
Differences are quick to come as soon as you start delving into the daily lives of Canadians. The names of administrative departments, political institutions, hospital wards, even some medical procedures or illnesses are different. Names of simple things such as t-shirts, or even the way you teach kids how to divide long numbers in primary schools are different. Many expressions such as “falling in love” or “having difficulty with” also translate differently in French Canadian.
Common, non-standard uses of French words that are similar to an English word, have become confused in Canadian usage. Words such as “éventuellement” which many Canadians use to mean “eventually” or “ultimately.” Unlike in standard French dictionaries, “éventuellement” is defined as just “possibly,” so any good translator should know about them and avoid them.
Do you see a trend in the demand for Canadian French versus French for France?
My subjective impression is that demand for Canadian French translation has been growing rapidly in the last few years. The demand for so-called “Standard French” is growing at a slower pace. This is in keeping with demands for more regional variants of widely spoken languages. Demand for Standard or International French is still much larger in terms of volumes.
What can a client do to make the translation process easier for the translator?
The uncomfortable truth in our trade is that (a) context information supplied by clients verbally is often poorly relayed to the translator at the end of the chain, and (b) most translators will only go so far when searching the web for missing context information before they decide to take a guess. This is mostly a problem for shorter translation assignments, updates, software strings, etc. Client often assume “the obvious” and end up surprised by the translator’s interpretation, or lack thereof. Take the time to write down a few lines about the context or purpose of a text for translation. Making sure that information is relayed to the translator can often make a big difference in the resulting translation quality.
Any translator secrets you’d like to share?
I use the “search” fields of major daily newspapers. If I am in doubt whether a word is commonly used in Canadian French, I type it in the search field of “Le Journal de Montréal”, and I usually get my question answered immediately. When using the internet to search for words (which happens a lot), I also use the “images” tab, which often leads me to better synonyms than whatever I had in mind originally. This way, I am certain about actual word usage rather than using a word which could be misconstrued.
Would you like to share a story about a specific client experience?
I remember a translation error in materials issued by a Church. They wanted to promote freedom of religion with the simple slogan “Support Religious Freedom.” It got translated literally into “Supportez la Liberté de Religion.” Although this may not sound shocking for a French Canadian, to a metropolitan French ear, “supportez” will be understood to mean “tolerate without wincing.” The word is mostly found in the negative form when talking about very annoying people one struggles to deal with. Hardly the open-minded, friendly attitude intended and just another reason why it is very important to know the target audience.
At ICD Translation we believe that by educating our clients, we will be able to save them valuable time and money. We have experienced, native speaking translators from around the world who are experts in various industries. Do you have a question about a translation project? We are here to help.
*This blog has been partially edited for accuracy since publishing.