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The Great French-English Translation Challenge: Part I

I’ve been in the translation game for a while now. Although I spend most of my time copywriting, I also translate and adapt French content into English.

english-french-translation-english-copywriter-in-paris

I admit I’m not big on long, technical translations; but I am rather fond of finding creative ways to adapt (or transcreate) trend books and marketing copy.

Set your creative limits:

It can be tricky capturing the minute nuances of the French original, while adding a little of your own style to make it more readable. But, not too much. Otherwise, you’ll stray off the path into “that’s too creative” territory.

Some clients want this active input. Others, are very proud of their work and expect every single word, phrase and full stop to be echoed in the English translation. With no exceptions!

I still remember the agency that angrily send back my translation covered in “corrections” that turned to be another copywriter’s creative choices for poetic perfume descriptions.

Accept that too many cooks spoil the translation:

Too literal! Not enough adjectives! Be careful with the passive!

Too literal! Not enough adjectives! Be careful with the passive!

One of the pitfalls of working into a language that almost everyone has at least some grasp is that almost everyone has a word to say. Especially non-natives who’ve spent long hours swotting up on irregular verbs and watching Game of Thrones with subtitles.

Once, I spent a good hour pinging backwards and forwards with a client who felt the following construction was just a little too negative:

 (Company) has been making (product) for over 50 years

The client assured me that the present tense would be much more appropriate.

Beware the rise of franglais:

Given the surprising insistence with which some French clients correct or question the English translation (that they’ve paid a professional to produce), it can be difficult to stand your translation ground.

This requires oodles of time, patience and energy. And, sometimes, (shocking as it may seem) it just isn’t worth it. Sometimes, the client wants to be right rather than have the right translation.

Provided that I’ve done my best to provide top-notch translations and explain my choices, my conscience is crystal clear.

Watch out for wannabe translators:

Rather frustratingly, a couple of my clients like to make “small” last-minute modifications themselves. Sadly, this often undermines the finished result to make the copy look amateurish and the investment in professional translation or copywriting services futile.

I hope this article hasn’t set an overly negative tone – don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change my job for the world. There are endless highs from the satisfaction of satisfied customer to the relish of finding just the right word.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be looking in more detail at some of the challenges of translating from French into English.

Watch this space!

Have you had similar experiences as a freelance translator? Are you an agency or company that regularly works with freelance translators? I’d love to hear from you!

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