Localization: get your French copywriting right!

Localization: get your French copywriting right!

In the last years I have been involved in translation work.

I’ve been asked to translate marketing material and websites into French.
I accepted the challenge with curiosity.

I am always surprised that so many people (speaking only their mother tongue) believe that being a native speaker makes you a sort of a natural translator. It’s wrong.

I am not a translator: I live, work and socialise in a second language. And I am interested to understand how companies handle languages. I found that few are successful on this point.

The reasons could be multiple: lack of awareness, lack of time or lack of care.

Quality of language matters: do not compromise on quality

A lack of budget is often presented as the main reason for not hiring professionals. I do not buy this idea: the localization of a website is a small investment in comparison to the cost of building a comprehensive website. And there is a large choice of professional solutions to do it right without compromising on quality.

Quality matters.

The common case is to rely on automated translation services. It can be hilarious and can compete with surrealist poetry. It brings damaging serious mistranslation and can be detected as spam. You sound silly. Really.

Some examples? “Let your hair down” goes for “Laissez vos cheveux vers le bas” which could be the advice of your hairdresser. “Snug countryside boltholes” goes for “De trous de boulon serré” which means nothing, just some broken French in a DIY shop. “Want your latest shot to appear here?” goes for “Vous voulez votre dernier coup apparaisse ici?” which is a vulgar expression about a recent sexual conquest. That is interesting and funny material when you can handle both languages but it is highly risqué.

Get your French copywriting right: publish less but better content

You do not want to invest in the localization or the translation of your full website?

Build one or two bespoke pages in French that contain what people need. Create French content to explain:

—  the benefits French people get when they buy your product or service
—  a few words about your company, your service or product
—  how to contact you in French
—  how to book / register / order and pay
—  how to get support (in French) when things go wrong online.

Create simple Pdf documents in French with legal mentions and commercial information for people to download, print and read. It’s an easy way to keep your French content always up-to-date.

Have a look at the website of the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam). It is beautifully done, easy to navigate and they handle languages in an efficient way: 2 main languages for the full website and 8 secondary languages for information to the visitors.

Localize, adapt and publish French content that make French people feel welcome and respected.

You want them to spend time on your website, don’t you?




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Leave A Reply (4 comments so far)

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  1. Helene Gibbings
    5 years ago

    Very true! so many examples of bad translations… Thanks for the link to Rijksmuseum – beautifully done indeed…

    • Veronique
      5 years ago

      Thanks for your comment Helene! Room for improvement for many multilingual websites…

  2. Kell Sloan
    5 years ago

    Excellent Advice! Of course, there are many “translation ” packages available for websites but I particularly like your point that local phrases do not translate well in any language. Terms and phrases I use in Montreal have vastly different meanings 200 Km up river in Quebec City.

    I was in Paris several years back and made a comment to the world’s coldest and unfriendly waiter that his French was difficult to understand (in part because he was mumbling) and spoke like an ‘estranger’ or foreigner which in Montreal would have received a laugh. Apparently, in Paris this is not so funny.

    • Veronique
      5 years ago

      Thanks for the comment Kell.
      I think many businesses take big risks with their language strategy. It can be very damaging for a brand to broadcast offensive copy for foreign readers, or to accept misunderstanding from a robot translator.
      Loads to do to raise awareness!
      And about waiters in Paris… it is another story! 😉