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!


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