Friday, January 29, 2010

French to English: Business Letters, Part 2

typing In my last blog, I gave examples of closing sentences in French business letters which can't be translated into English literally.

Today, I'd like to mention some opening lines commonly used in French business correspondence.  I'm afraid you won't see anything that closely resembles "Hey Dude".  We're talking business letters, remember? 

Occasionally, however, when two business people happen to be also good friends or golf buddies, the "Cher Monsieur" is crossed out manually, and replaced by "Salut Jean" or "Mon Cher Jean." 

This is the same practice in English.  At least in the companies I worked, it was customary for my boss to strike out the "Dear Mr. Jones" to replace it with a more personal greeting like "Dear John."

I'll translate a handful of French letter opening lines into English and will dispense with the table format this time.

French:  En réponse a votre lettre du 8 juillet 2008...
English:  In response to your letter of July 8, 2008...

French:  À la suite de l'annonce publié dans le journal...
English:  Following the announcement published in the paper...

French:  Nous avons reçu votre candidature pour le poste d'adjointe administrative...
English:  We received your application for the position of administrative assistant...

French:  C'est avec grand plaisir que nous avons appris votre nomination...
English:  It gave us great pleasure to learn of your appointment...Alternately, you can also translate this as: We were delighted to hear of your appointment...

French:  C'est avec regret que nous vous faisons part de...
English:  We regret to inform you that...

French:  Nous sommes actuellement dans l'impossibilité de...
English:  It is presently impossible for us to...

French:  Nous avons pris connaissance du document que vous nous avez fait parvenir...
English:  We received the document you have sent us...

When I started my translation courses at McGill University, I was afraid to "deviate" from the French and fell into the trap of translating literally.  The outcome left much to be desired. When you're starting out as a translator, you may feel this same hesitation.  Go with your instincts.  Ask:  does this sentence sound awkward?  Can this sentence be further improved without altering the meaning of the original?

My advice is to translate sentences in business letters the way they're normally written in English.  Let's take the last example above.  "Nous avons pris connaissance du document que vous nous avez fait parvenir." 

The phrase "pris connaissance" (infinitive:  prendre connaissance) is literally "to recognize" or "to learn about."  However, we can't begin a formal business letter by saying that "we recognize the document" or "we learned about your document."

The correct translation would be:  "We read the document you sent us."  But if I were to translate that, I would write it this way:  "Thank you for sending the document which we have read."

Given that English tends to use fewer words, try to be as brief as possible while still reflecting the essence of the original - or source - language.

Note:  "Faire parvenir" - this is a phrase you will encounter often in French correspondence.  It means "to send."  In less formal correspondence like in e-mails, the French would simply say "envoyer" or "transmettre" as in "envoyer une lettre à quelqun (to send somebody a letter), or "je peux te transmettre les documents" (I can transmit the documents to you). 

Pick up a book that contains examples of French business letters and try translating them for fun!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

French to English: Business Letters, Part 1

Starting today, I'll be taking a different approach for this blog.  You will still get your lexicons, but there may be fewer terms in certain posts in exchange for more translations of phrases and sentences.

typewriter As I start this new theme on business letters, I'll take common paragraphs used in various types of business correspondence and then translate them into English. 

You may have read business letters in French and thought, "the French write in a different manner."  That observation is accurate.  They write the address and dates differently, they don't capitalize days and months of the year, and their closing lines are a tad more elaborate, unlike the more direct and brief English business letter.  There's an engaging tone in their closing lines that can be described as "flowery", but that's the charm of the French.  Didn't someone say that French was the language of diplomacy? 

Here's an example of a closing line in French:

"Vous remerciant à l'avance de l'attention que vous porterez à ce document, je vous prie d'agréer, Madame la Directrice, mes salutations distinguées."
(source:  Office de la langue française, Le français au bureau, 1996)

English translation:  Thank you for taking the time to read this document. I look forward to hearing from you."

You're going to say that's a wrong translation.  It is.  It isn't an accurate reflection of the French message.  But while it is a wrong translation, it is the right way to express it in English.

Which takes us to the theory that says that literal translations will not work.  If we were to translate this closing line literally, it would read like this:

"Thanking you in advance for the attention you will give to this document, I sincerely offer you, Madame Director, my distinguished sentiments." 

Sounds awkward, doesn't it?  It may have been perfect in the days of King Henry VIII, but today, we subscribe to the notion that business letters should be brief, to the point, and devoid of clutter. 

I still receive letters written in French that close this way.  That's fine.  I'm not going to argue against tradition, but when translating a French letter into English, we should translate it in the most appropriate manner possible.

If you need more convincing, my Harrap's Shorter dictionary (2006) translates "je vous prie de croire à mes sentiments distingués"  as simply "sincerely" or "yours sincerely."
This is one reason I love translation.  It's like having two brains, forcing you to absorb the nuances of language and culture of two different worlds. 

Types of business letters:

réponse à une offre d'emploi
letter of application (in response to a posted job announcement)
lettre de présentation accompagnant un curriculum vitae
covering letter (to a CV)
convocation à une entrevue
notice of interview
demande d'emploi
job application letter
réponse défavorable à une demande d'emploi
rejection letter (to a job application)
letter of resignation
première lettre de recouvrement
first collection notice (to an account that's past due)
congratulatory letter
letter of recommendation
demande de renseignements ou d'information
letter to request information

Here is another sentence commonly found in acknowledgement letters:
"Nous accusons reception de votre lettre du 8 juillet 2009 et vous demandons de fournir les informations supplémentaires suivantes..."

English translation:  We acknowledge receipt of your letter dated July 8, 2009 and request that you provide the following additional information...

That's a good translation.  A better one, however, is:

Thank you for your letter of July 8, 2009.  We request that you provide additional information listed below...

"Acknowledge receipt" - even if still used - sounds stiff and too formal, so my preference is to simply thank the sender for his letter!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

French to English: Gym Equipment, Part 3

gym part 3
I can't blame people for abandoning their gym memberships.  Let's face it:  doing repetitive exercises over time is like eating spaghetti five days a week (which I used to do back in the days when I was a poor student).

But when spring draws to an end and we're feeling heady about the warm days of summer, two things  hit us:  wearing sleeveless shirts  and wondering if last year's bikini ought to be replaced by a one-piece bathing suit, complete with a pleated skirt running across the whole abdominal area.  We look at our arms in the mirror - swing them sideways and upwards and we don't like what we see.  Our abdominals are looking more like slack and wet dough instead of a 6-pack.  Oh me, oh my!

The solution:  head back to the gym!

Two of my favorite exercises are those that work the triceps and tone the abdominals.  I have a harder time with my biceps and have not been able to increase loads despite all these years of gym exercises.  The triceps machines, however, are a doozy!  Comparing the muscles in my forearms, I'd say my triceps are much stronger - and better toned - than my biceps.

And yet...

A few personal trainers have said that the triceps are one of the more difficult muscles for women to work on.  The word "triceps" means there are three heads  - or triceps brachii - long head, lateral head and medial head.

So why are women finding it difficult to work their triceps? The short answer:  estrogen.
The long answer:  it is caused by what science has called the gynoid pattern of fat distribution or women's tendency to store fat, giving them a pear shape.  Female fat is most obvious in the thighs, hips and triceps.  Males, on the other hand, who are not in shape, tend to have bodies that show an "apple" shape, so a lot of that unwanted excess flesh appears on their bellies.

I like the abdominal machines in my gym, reason why I've gravitated towards them instead of lying down and doing abs exercises sans machines.  Doing crunches are more manageable with equipment designed for certain movements, instead of sitting and lurching forward with your hands at the back of the head and your abs constricted - ouch!

Looking at this last series of French and English terms for gym equipment, you'll notice that the French terms are almost the same; the difference being the type of position adopted (indicated in brackets):  sitting, lying down, rotating, or adjustable.  I'll give you the abdominal machines first and then a handful of triceps machines:

appareil abdominal (poids libres)lying crunch - plate loaded
banc abdominal (incliné)sit-up machine
appareil abdominal (double action)dual seated crunch
appareil abdominal (couché)lying abdominal
appareil abdominal (rotation)abdominal rotation
banc abdominal (redressement)crunch board
appareil abdominal (assis)seated crunch
appareil pour triceps (indépendant)triceps isolator
appareil pour tricepstriceps pushdown
appareil pour triceps (vertical)overhead triceps
appui pour triceps (assis)triceps extension curl
banc pour tricepstriceps bench

I know there are women who don't like working with machines, so here's a youtube exercise for your triceps using dumb bells, courtesy of Curtis Penner.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

French to English: Gym Equipment, Part 2


I read somewhere that most cases of back pain is caused by strain in the lumbar area (chronic or acute), irritated nerves, disc damage, a condition called "bony encroachment" and bone and joint problems.

Strain in the lumbar area covers mostly the lower back and occurs when the tendons, muscles and ligaments are injured.  You get low back pain when you overuse or improperly use back muscles, or if you subject your back to trauma.

Irritated nerves can also cause low back pain.  Irritated nerves occur either because of disease or a mechanical jolt.  Damage to the discs - caused by degeneration of the outer rings of the discs or trauma - also contributes to lumbar pain.

A slew of tissue and bone problems that also produce low back pain in varying intensities include those conditions that are congenital (e.g. scoliosis and spina bifida), arthritis, weakening bone cartilage, and injuries and fractures.

The back has several muscles which surround the spine.  They facilitate movement between the vertebrae and also facilitate movements that use the back and shoulders.

Unless back pain is caused by a congenital disease, back problems are usually corrected with the correct exercises and with a good dose of discipline.

I used to suffer from back pain about three to four times a year but when I started going to the gym and worked with weights and machines, those flare-ups have disappeared.  My back pain would last a week, and getting in and out of the car was excruciating.  I was told, "don't overdo the resting in bed bit.  Get up and walk...walk a lot."

The number of machines for exercising the back has grown and some of them are designed to target specific areas of the back.  You can choose not to work with machines and simply use dumbbells or the exercise balls.  A physiotherapist can teach you some movements that if done consistently, will help relieve some of your symptoms.

What are some of the machines for exercising the back?

Take a peek!
appareil vertical
rotary pulldown
poulie verticale
lat pulldown
poulie 45°
incline row
rameur vertical
vertical row
banc lombaire
banc lombaire, fessiers et ischio-jambiers
deadlift and rowing platform
diverging row
appareil en "T" incliné
incline T bar row
appareil lombaire
lower back extension
poulie horizontale
low row
appareil pour trapèzes
shrug and deadlift machine
If you're not into machines, here's a video showing you how to exercise your upper back with weights and balls.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

French to English: Gym Equipment, Part 1

January is the month when the gym suddenly teems with humanity.  But there were not as many people this month compared to January 2008.  The belief that we gain 1-5 pounds during the holidays makes us want to work out harder in the gym.

combine gym

I've been noticing a trend.  There's a spike in the number of memberships during the first weeks of January and when February comes around, you see maybe only 50% of the new members.  I don't blame the "dropout" rate, fitness training is arduous.  You need tons of discipline.  The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

Next to the library and supermarket, the gym is a place I go to regularly - actually four times a week.  When I started out, I was excited and passionate about my workouts.  I'm on my 10th year now and my attitude has changed.  I wish I didn't have to go. 
It's not a question of burning out, it's probably sheer boredom.  I used to get up at 4:00 in the mornings to make it to the gym by 5:00 am, and then rush home to get ready for work.  I was on this routine for a very long time.  Today, I wouldn't dream of getting up at 4 am just to exercise.  Been there done that.

But I still go to the gym in the afternoons - grudgingly.  I do it because exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle.  I find myself wishing though that a clever scientist would find an elixir that we could all drink so we wouldn't have to exercise.  Wouldn't it be nice to have an elixir that would take care of the calorie burning, the BMI, the heart rate and the cardio?

My gym days are divided into muscle groups.  I do my cardio workouts (alternating between the treadmill, stair master, elliptical and bike) four days a week for 45 minutes.  After the cardio workout, I spend another 30 minutes for resistance training.  My personal resistance program looks like this:  Mondays are the abs and back, Tuesdays are the biceps and chest, Thursdays are the legs and shoulders, and Fridays are the triceps. 

Some of my friends divide their resistance training sked into upper body versus lower body muscles.  And there are those who alternate days for cardio and resistance training exercises.  I think the heart is an important muscle, so I do my cardio 4 times a week. 

One muscle group I don't enjoy working out are the legs.  The gym that I go to has several leg training equipment, most of them manufactured by Atlantis, a Quebec company.  I like their equipment - solid and sturdy.

What do we call those leg machines in French and English?  Let's take a look!

jambe développeur (horizontal)
horizontal leg press
extenseur des jambes
leg extension
fléchisseur des jambes (assis)
seated leg curl
appareil pour fessiers
butt machine
fléchisseur des jambes (agenouillé)
kneeling leg curl
appareil pour adducteurs
appareil adducteurs et abducteurs
adductor/abductor combo
appareil pour flexions (incliné)
hack squat
appareil pour flexions (debout)
power squat
plateforme pour james
leg platform
fléchisseur des jambes unilatéral
unilateral lying leg curl
support usage multiple
power rack
support poliquin
poliquin rack

During the winter time, dragging myself to the gym feels like I have to tow a truck.  When it's snowing outside, I can't even use that as an excuse because the gym is a 10-minute drive and my car has winter tires.  But it does make me wish I had a home gym, complete with an elliptical trainer, stepper and thigh toner!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

French to English: Film Titles, Part 3

In my last blog, I promised to let you know of my reaction to the film, Polytechnique.  I was particularly eager to zero in on the subtitles, but it looks like there was a misprint in Entertainment Magazine.  It said there would be English subtitles but the entire film was in English.  And there I was, comfortably ensconced on my sofa, with pen and paper to jot down my comments.  Pas grave!  Un malentendu, c'est tout.

Two, after the first 30 minutes, I couldn't help but feel that it was a budget movie.  Pity, because the incident took on major proportions;  I thought the film had to at least equal that magnitude.  A disconnect there somehow.

The dialogue could have been improved - in fact, I was thinking that the film was seriously lacking in dialogue, and there should have been less focus on going back and forth in terms of time.

I don't like wearing the hat of a severe critic.  The film had its merits, and the director did a fine job.  Perhaps his hands were tied and he had to kowtow to the producers' wishes.  But overall, the film deserves a good grade.  The lead actress, Karin Vanasse, one of my favorite Quebec actresses, did justice to her character.

The film Polytechnique revealed a new character I wasn't aware of - the male engineering student who was in the same classroom where the ladies were killed.  He was profoundly affected by the crime that he later killed himself.  The feeling that he could have done something to save his fellow students nagged at his insides until he couldn't take it anymore.  He could not have done anything, not the way Marc Lepine held those women hostage in the classroom.

From news reports I read 20 years ago, I thought the killer went on a rampage in the university cafeteria.  I didn't know some of the women were killed in different areas of the building.

On to another movie.  My brother and I watched Grace is Gone last night, starring John Cusack.  I'd describe it as a poignant movie and it would touch the hearts of both pro-war and anti-war advocates. 

Grace is Gone is the story of a man who has 2 young daughters to look after when his wife joins the troops in Iraq.  When she's killed, he can't bring himself to tell the girls about her death so instead takes them on a long road trip to Florida.  He wants to take them to Enchanted Gardens, a trip he had promised them before their mother took off for Iraq. 

It was only when they start to head home that he takes the girls to the shore and there tells them that their mother was killed in Iraq.  You could feel him simmering with forceful emotions throughout the trip, and he struggles with monumental effort to act like everything's normal.  The elder daughter, Heidi, however, senses that something's amiss.

The film brings out the message that patriotism is a fine thing.  Dying for your country in the line of duty is a noble, commendable act.  But what happens to the moral fiber of those families who lose a loved one in the war?  A heart-wrenching movie.  I recommend it.  Superb acting by Cusack, Shélan O'Keefe (Heidi) and Gracie Bednarczyk (Dawn).

Here is the final set of 12 film titles:

Anges et démons
Angels & Demons (2009)
Année bisextile
Leap Year (2010)
Au coeur de la tempête
Into the Storm (2009)
Après la noce
After the Wedding (2007)
Ça roule
Whip It (2009)
Camp de jour en folie
Daddy Day Camp (2007)
Capacité réduite
Diminished Capacity (2008)
Cash back - la beauté du temps
Cashback (2007)
Casque et talons hauts
New in Town (2009)
Ce qu'il faut pour vivre
The Necessities of Life (2008)
Ce qui se passe à Vegas
What Happens in Vegas (2008)
Crush (2008)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

French to English: Film Titles, Part 2

I can't wait!  The Movie Network will be airing "Polytechnique" tonight at 9, a movie directed by Denis Villeneuve.  On December 6, 1989, a mentally unstable man - Marc Lepine - entered the École Polytechnique of the University of Montreal.  Firing his semiautomatic rifle at random, he killed 14 women, all of them bright, engineering students.

That incident sparked panic and indignation not only in Canada but elsewhere; it was later known as the Montreal Massacre and that's how history will remember it. 

What was mind-boggling is that Montreal has always had a low crime rate (they say "blame" it on the cold, bitter weather) so when this happened, a painful and lingering shock crept into our psyche.  Television footage of the crime scene and of the funeral with the grieving families will remain etched in our memory.

I'll be paying close attention to the subtitles when I watch the movie tonight.  I'll keep you posted on my reactions - both about the subtitles and if the film held my attention from beginning to end.  Stay tuned.

Here's your second set of film titles in French and English:

À vos marques, prêts, décorez
Deck the Halls (2006)
Accros du rétro
Kickin' it Old Skool (2007)
Adieu Grace
Grace is Gone (2007)
Ados extrêmes
Extreme Movie (2008)
Ailleurs nous irons
Away We Go (2009)
Alma Mahler - La fiancée du vent
Bride of the Wind (2008)
Amour sous influence
Personal Effects (2009)
Ananas express
Pineapple Express (2008)
L'Ange de pierre
Stone Angel (2008)
Angles d'attaque
Vantage Point
Après la noce
After the Wedding (2007)
Au bout de la route
Reservation Road (2007)

Can you guess what "close-captioned" is in French?  It's a long 5-word translation.  Termium's translation is:  encodé pour les personnes malentendantes.  A mouthful.  It however gives us an idea of what close captioning involves.

In some countries like the UK, they make no distinction between subtitling and close captioning.  Here in Canada, subtitling is intended for people who have no hearing impediment but who can't understand the language of the original film.  Close captioning, on the other hand, is for people with a hearing problem.

For hearing-impaired viewers watching their favorite TV show, they use a feature in their TV sets called a decoder.  By activating it, they can read what's being said.  Decoders come as a separate gadget or are built into television sets.  In the US, it became law in 1993 for manufacturers of 13-inch TV sets to include a decoder in television sets.  The captions appear at the bottom of the screen. 

Closed captioning is also useful when there's a TV set in noisy and crowded places like restaurants and airports.  My gym has half a dozen tv sets perched from the ceiling and they all have feature.  The gym manager turns off the sounds coming from the TV (because the sound system - music - is blasting away) but the decoder makes it possible for us to watch and read what the hoopla is all about on screen.

In my last blog I mentioned a book on audiovisual translation by Jorge Diaz-Cintas.  I found two more on Amazon that may help you if you're seriously considering a translation career with specialization in subtitling and close captioning:

1.  The Elements of Subtitles: A Practical Guide to the Art of Dialogue, Character, Context, Tone & Style by D. Bannon (2009); and

2.  Closed Captioning: Subtitling, Stenography and the Digital Convergence of Text with Television by Gregory J. Downey (January 2008).


Sunday, January 3, 2010

French to English: Film Titles, Part 1

Aside from eating leftovers and returning gifts you don't like, what other activity do you do during the holidays? 

You guessed correctly.  Watching movies!  In an officially bilingual country like Canada, many English film titles are changed to French titles, but not all films get a French title.  Films with proper nouns - names of people, cities and special events - usually retain their original titles.  The film Julie and Julia is an example.  Another is Gia - a film about a top fashion model, Gia Carangi, whose tragic life ended because of drugs and a terminal disease.  Her life was excellently portrayed by Angelina Jolie. 

As for changed titles, the film "It's Complicated" starring Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin was released on Christmas Day.  If you want to watch it in French, don't ask for "C'est Compliqué" which is the literal and most obvious translation.  Instead, you should ask for "Pas Si Simple."

I have this fascination for movies - I can't ever end my day without watching a film.  I even have a greater fascination with how they drum up catchy French titles.  At the same time, I wonder why some film titles are left as they are, like Avatar and Twilight.  It probably has to do with box office success.  If a film rakes in millions on its initial release, film owners would of course have it sub-titled in multiple languages but prefer to keep the title as is.

Film subtitling, by the way, is a fiercely competitive industry.  Once upon a time, London was the center of subtitling activity, but with the advent of DVDs and other advanced technologies, American media outfits started buying European and British subtitling companies in 2001.  If you're interested in a subtitling career, you should visit the web site of The Subtitlers Association of London:  It has a wealth of information for aspiring candidates.

A helpful reference written by Jorge Diaz-Clintas entitled Audiovisual Translation: Subtitling (Translation Practices Explained) is available on Amazon and might be of interest to you if you're a student of translation and are thinking of pursuing a career in subtitling!

This is the first set 12 of films produced in English with their titles changed in French:

À vif
In the Cut (2003)
Drôle de monde
Funny People (2009)
À l'autre bout du fil
The Other End of the Line (2008)
À l'épreuve de la mort
Death Proof (2007)
Balles en feu
Balls of Fury (2007)
Bataille à Seattle
Battle in Seattle (2008)
Beethoven et la copyiste
Copying Beethoven (2007)
Bien sûr, peut-être
Definitely, Maybe (2008)
Bienvenue à Bruges
In Bruges (2008)
Armored (2009)
Bon Dimanche
First Sunday (2008)
Bouge de là
How She Move (2008)

That last film, "How She Move", is not a typo.  I first put "How She Moves", but the correct English title is "How She Move."  Why there's a bit of wrong grammar here, I don't know, but even song lyrics don't have to be grammatically correct...for effect.

Care to answer the poll on the right side bar?  Thank you!