Friday, July 22, 2011

Translating for European French vs. Canadian French

A question when looking for French translations that often arises is what kind of translator should you use to translate your materials. Understanding the history and some nuances of the language may be able to help.

Canadian French (also known locally as Quebecois) is a French dialect mainly spoken in Canada’s province of Quebec, and European French is an umbrella category for the dialects of French spoken in France, Belgium and Switzerland.

The differences between Canadian French and European French are believed to be greater than those found between American and British English, mainly because the early Canadian French settlers did not speak Parisian French, which has now become the norm in France. Canadian French is a language frozen in time, being more closely related to the language spoken throughout France in the 15th and 16th centuries. Because of these major differences, often it is recommended that a separate translation into Canadian French and European French is requested if it is a viable option.

There are also other socio-cultural and political factors that have contributed to the large differences in the language. French Canadians are often bilingual yet Americanisms and Anglicisms are less often found in Canadian French than in European French. Because English is perceived to be a threat in a country with an English-speaking majority and a powerful English-speaking neighbor, French Canadians feel like they have to protect and preserve their language. Canadian French faces more regulations than European French, as seen from their enactment of the Office québécois de la langue française (Quebec Board of the French Language), whose initial mission was to “align on international French, promote good Canadianisms and fight Anglicisms”.

The differences may differ depending on the subject matter. A technical translation would have fewer differences than a subtitle translation for a movie, yet this does not mean that technical translations would be easily understood in each region. Below are some differences found in the IT industry, for example:

Canadian French
European French
server proxy
Serveur mandataire
Serveur proxy
e-mail, mél

Other differences include capitalization style (no accents are needed in capitalized letters in European French) and syntax, including the use of prepositions.

A decision to have a separate translation, however, is not always a viable option. It would not make sense to provide bilingual packaging that is intended for both France and Canada in both European French and Canadian French. If there was ever a decision to be made on what “type” of French was needed for a translation intended for both regions, European French may be a safer bet. Because European French culture and language is exported throughout the world, French Canadians may have a better understanding of European culture than vice-versa. Yet doing so may risk offending or alienating some French Canadians, as they may feel like European French had preferential treatment. A translator with a background in both translating for European French and Canadian French would best be able to "soften" the language to make it the most marketable for each region.

Ultimately, the more geographically targeted your translated materials are, the more effective your translations will be in capturing your audience. It might seem like a great idea to use a French that was more "universal" to capture more audiences, but cultural nuances may be sacrificed. Some companies, such as IBM, have found it worthwhile to translate their materials in Canadian French, French spoken in Belgium, Switzerland and France, yet some companies do not have this option because of costs or because of bilingual packaging. Yet when choosing a translation service, please make sure to indicate what region of the French-speaking world you are interested in reaching. Doing so will help the translation agency assign a translator that may be able to help with this cultural dilemma.

Precision Language and Graphics offers Translation Services in more than 40 languages, including French for Canada and Europe. For more information about our French translation services, please visit our page at or contact a PLG representative at (847) 413-1688 or Toll Free: (800) 760-1688.

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