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French in Context

More than Words

Good translation is about more than transferring the words of a text from one language to another. Context is key, and if a translator does not take this into account the translation will fail, as it will not be intelligible to its target audience.


Localisation refers to the process by which a translator uses certain types of contextual information to create a document that makes sense in the target language. In order to localise a text, a translator has to consider how the:

of the target language differ from those of the source language.

The different cultural contexts of the two languages will also need to be taken into account and negotiated by the translator.

Other Contexts

Unless the following broader contexts are also considered, the translation will not be effective at conveying the meaning of the original text:

Localisation in Practice
A Case Study

A large logistics company based in the South-East of Britain wanted to translate its corporate literature into French, in a bid to target French-speaking manufacturers and grow its customer base.

The original text advertised how the company’s warehouses were within easy reach of the M25 and the M1. Yet this selling point was likely to be lost on continental businesses, and so a little localisation was required.

I had the options of:

  • removing the references to the two British motorways, or
  • replacing this information with a more general phrase explaining the warehouses’ proximity to the Channel Tunnel.

I chose option 2, as this would retain
the meaning of the original document
while speaking more directly and
pertinently to the client’s target

I explained to the client the
localisation I had carried out
and the firm was pleased.

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The English and French languages are in themselves different contexts, but so are cultures of Britain and France.

This means that in British English, in non medical contexts, we generally speak of people being infected with ‘swine flu’ in preference to the ‘H1N1 virus’.

In France, by contrast, the more technical ‘grippe A’ is commonly used.

What kind of information needs to be localised?

English to French localisation can consist of simple changes, such as:

However, in order for a translation to make sense to its target audience, a translator sometimes has to re-write (large) portions of text.

This often occurs when the translator needs to substitute culture-bound references or metaphors for ones that are more immediately intelligible to the target audience. Idiom substitution is a simple example of this, but if a text’s meaning hinges on a certain culturally-specific phenomena such as Bonfire Night, then the translator will need to employ their creativity and skill at length.

Trust me to communicate your message

I understand that employing a translator can feel a bit like an act of faith.

You can rest assured that I am highly-qualified, experienced and have a deep practical and theoretical understanding of the importance of context, in every sense.

Learn more about my skills and experience or please get in touch if you’d like to discuss your project.