Friday, February 26, 2010

French to English: Olympic Souvenirs, Part 1

The Winter Olympics is close to ending - I believe closing ceremonies will be this Sunday - and we've had extensive coverage about winners and losers, victories and tragedies and phenomenal artistry and showmanship.  Canada did a good job, despite a few hiccups, and support for the athletes was - to use a teen term - "awesome."

I went to the online edition of Paris Match magazine and I found a survey it carried out among 1,907 readers on their views of the Olympic Games.
I'll reproduce it here:


Pour vous, les Jeux Olympiques sont...

  • 38% - l'illustration du pire du sport business.
  • 33% - un grand évènement sportif à suivre à la télévision.
  • 29% - un beau rendez-vous humain et fraternel.
(source:, February 13, 2010)

Translating that, we have:

In your opinion, the Olympic Games are:
(a) an illustration of the worst in the business of sports - 38%
(b)  a great athletic event to watch on television - 33%
(c)  a beautiful, human, and fraternal union of people - 29%

Notice that the French version has the percentage first while the English has it at the end.  That's just my personal preference.  There is no translation rule that states where the percentages should appear.

Pretend you're in Vancouver's Olympic Village and you received a gift certificate to spend it any way you like.  You go into a store that sells a variety of Olympic paraphernalia.  You carry on a conversation with the sales clerk who happens to be a bilingual Canadian.

Your conversation would probably go something like this  (you're "X" and the sales clerk is "Y":)

X:  Bonjour, je cherche des souvenirs olympiques.

Hello, I’m looking for some Olympic souvenirs.
Y: Nous avons toute une collection. Désirez-vous regarder ce que nous avons?We’ve got quite a collection. Would you like to see what we have?
X:  Non, ça va. Je vais juste regarder autour du magasin, si cela ne vous dérange pas.No, that’s okay. I’ll just look around the store if you don’t mind.
Y:  Pas du tout. Faites-moi savoir si vous avez des questions.Not at all. Let me know if you have any questions.
X:  Est-ce que ce chandail est lavable en machine?Is this sweater machine-washable?
Y:  Non, il est fait de laine à 80 %. Le nettoyage-à-sec est donc recommandé.No. It is made with 80% wool so dry-cleaning is recommended.
X:  Oh, j’adore cette affiche!Oh, I love that poster!
Y:  Tout le monde l’aime bien. J’ai vendu plus de 50 dans la première semaine.Everyone loves it. I sold more than 50 in the first week.
X:  Combien est-elle?How much is it?
Y:  L’affiche pour les jeux paralympiques coûte 150 $ et celle des jeux olympiques et paralympiques coûte 289 $.The Paralympic poster costs $150.00 and that of the Paralympic and Olympic Games costs $289.00.
X:  Je prendrai deux affiches paralympiques et cette collection de cuillère en étain.I’ll take two Paralympic posters and this pewter spoon collection set.
Y:  Souhaitez-vous les envoyer par la poste? Nous vous offrons un service de courrier. Would you like these items mailed? We offer mailing services.
X:  Non, merci, je vais les prendre avec moi dans l’avion. Nous partons demainNo, thank you. I’ll take them with me on the plane. We’re leaving tomorrow.
Y:  Très bien, madame. Donnez-moi quelques minutes et je vais les emballer pour vous.Very well madam. Give me a few minutes and I’ll wrap them for you.
X:  Merci.  Thank you.

For our next post, we'll take a look at some more Olympic souvenirs!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

French to English: Store Flyers, Part 3

"Advertising helps raise the standard of living by raising the standard of longing."

I saw that quote from a jokes web site and wondered howdesire I would translate that into French.  How about this:  La publicité aide à améliorer la qualité de vie en faisant monter le niveau de désir.  I'm not sure if that works well, so if anyone reading this can think of a better translation, please...I look forward to your comments!

For this last series on store ads, I picked up eight more expressions - this time from Bureau en Gros (parent company is Staples) and Centre Hi-FiBureau en Gros is the name used in French Canada while in the other provinces it is called Staples.  Selling office and school supplies, they have a wide inventory of computers, printers and office and home furniture.  They also have a copy centre which I like, especially when it's tax time and I need multiple copies of receipts and tax documents.

Centre Hi-Fi, as you might have guessed, sells electronic appliances - TVs, home sound systems and stereos.  I have never bought anything from them but they seem to do brisk business.  Now that prices have come down for luxury items like large-screen and high definition TVs, the store regularly releases flyers announcing sales and specials.

Here are the eight catch phrases which I "harvested" from Staples and Centre Hi-Fi:

store flyers part 3

Catch phrase # 3:  rapide, parfait...  I think there was no need to include the word "made".  Quick, perfect and on time - all the time would suffice, because it was clear in the flyer that this refers to the store's print and photocopy centre.

Catch phrase 6:  visez, enregistrez et téléversez...I learned something new.  The French "téléverser" means to upload, according to the Grande dictionnaire of the Office de la langue française - OLF.  I was familiar with "télécharger" which means to download, but had never heard of "téléverser." 

The OLF explains it further.  To upload, you can also use télécharger but you'll need to add, vers l'amont.  Hence, you have two possible translations for upload:  téléverser or télécharger vers l'amont

To download in French is simply télécharger or télécharger vers le serveur (your server or computer).

Catch phrase # 7:  l'audio cinéma maison à son meilleur should have been translated as home audio cinema at its best.  The flyer's translation puzzles me.

Let's look at what Staples and Centre Hi Fi are selling these days:

déchiqueteuse à coupe en fragments 6 feuilles6-sheet cross-cut shredder
fauteil de direction en cuirleather manager's chair
papier photo glacé évoluéadvanced gloss photo paper
tablette autocollante pour chevaletself-stick tabletop easel pad
logiciel d'impôttax software
souris sans filwireless mouse
haut-parleur portatif pour iPodportable speaker for iPod
caméscope ultra-compactultra-compact camcorder
caméra numériquedigital camera
support mural fixed wall mount
écouteurs sans filwireless headphone

And now a bonus for you.  I found this on YouTube.  It was published by, and it's on advertising!  It gives those words frequently used by "Mad Men."  Have a listen!

Friday, February 19, 2010

French to English: Store Flyers, Part 2

sale 50% off This time I'll pick up some advertising lines from Canadian Tire, a huge retail outlet that doesn't sell only tires.  To Canadians, this store is a sacred tradition and very much a part of their lives.  It's been around for decades and its product line has been expanded to include home, garden, and kitchen merchandise as well as electronics and banking.  It started out selling car accessories and offering car repair services.  They're also famous for their "Canadian Tire money"; every time you buy from them, you get these colorful bills in varying denominations which you can use for your next purchase.  Don't throw them away - they're NOT Mickey Mouse currency!

If you're looking for a "solid" company, Canadian Tire ranks up there.  Its stock - both on the shelves and in the stock market - is healthy.

I kept this Canadian Tire flyer because it has common advertising "come-ons" that you may have come across.  Add them to your terminology base.  You'll never know when they'll come in handy.  Let's take a look:

store flyers, part 2

The first box where it says "premiers arrivés" - you're familiar with the saying "first come first served."  The French equivalent is "premier arrivé premier servi."  But notice how it was translated to "door crashers."  The intention was probably to convey the idea that shoppers ought to be standing by the door when the store opens in the morning - to give the impression that the slashed prices will attract throngs of eager shoppers.

I'm not too happy with the second advert.  The French uses the noun form; i.e. achat gros and grosses économies (bulk purchases and huge savings).  The English translation should have been consistent with the French by keeping the noun form as well, but it used the verb form (buy in bulk and save big).  A better translation would have been:  bulk purchases and huge savings.

The rest are fine. 

Next, why don't we go inside the store and see what we can put into our shopping carts?

friteuse numérique digital deep fryer
scie à seau pour carreaux wet tile saw
pulvérisateur électrique electric pressure washer
nettoyant d'injecteurs fuel injector cleaner
lave-glace avec dégrivant washer fluid with de-icer
scelleuse food sealer
bouilloire sans fil cordless kettle
meuble audio-vidéo multimedia storage
robinet - 1 manette single-handle faucet
foyer électrique electric fireplace
armoire/placard, fini érable maple-finish storage cabinet/pantry
extincteur fire extinguisher
pièces de rechange universelles durables pour toilette long-life universal replacement parts for toilets

Final note:

économies - savings

rabais - discount (as in je l'ai acheté au rabais - I bought it at a discount) but on lui a fait une remise -she got a discount.  Also:  le magasin fait une réduction de 5 % sur les jouets is translated as:  the store is currently offering a 5% discount - or a 5% reduction - on toys.

escompte - the English word is also discount.  An escompte de banque is a bank discount.  We also say 50 % d'escompte sur toute la marchandise - 50% discount on all goods.

The percentage sign (%) in French is written after a space, like this:  50 %; 2 %, 10 %.  There's always a space between the number and the percentage.  In English, the % is written without a space as in 50%, 2% and 10%.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

French to English: Store Flyers, Part 1

store flyers pix When I moved to Montreal, I was astonished at the number of store flyers that landed in our mailboxes.  Not only are they placed in individual mailboxes, they are also displayed on wooden or metallic stands at the entrance of every apartment building.  These store flyers are kept neatly in one plastic bag called a Publi-Sac.  I've been living here for over 20 years and guess what?  These publi-sacs are still around.

Store flyers are the "literature" you browse while you're having your morning cup of coffee or taking a lunch break.  I devoured them when I was a student at McGill and learning translation.  They're the ideal vocabulary builder, but they also serve another purpose:  some of the ads are translated in imaginative ways.  Depending on how ads are worded, they can be translated literally (without losing anything in the translation) or translated with a wee-bit stretch of the imagination. 

That's why I love translation.  When you're translating a document on civil engineering, there isn't much room to be creative; you have to use the appropriate terminology that civil engineers use.  Advertising is different.  It's one field where translators are allowed to let their creative juices flow - as long as the translation is not off-tangent.

Let me give you your baker's dozen of terms first.  After that, we'll look at some of these catchy lines. 

This first set comes from supermarket flyers:

store flyers, part 1

So, what kinds of adverts hook your attention?  The ones with 50% off, free delivery, 2-for-1, or those that offer discount coupons?  I hardly use coupons (they're cumbersome to insert into your wallet), but I wouldn't mind reduced prices.  Some people buy only  recognized brands; I tend to go for no-name brands especially when there's no discernible difference in quality.

How about those store flyer adverts?  I took these from two of my favorite supermarkets:  Mourelatos and Loblaws.  Most of the adverts below are from the recent flyer of Loblaws where they featured their "Blue Menu" products.

store flyers 1.1

If you read some of the lines, you'll notice that the translator exercised her "editorial" privileges. 

Take "le vrai bon goût du gruau":  an inexperienced translator who does not have copywriting skills would have translated that as "the true and good taste of oatmeal." In this case, "the way oatmeal should taste" is much better.  It captures the spirit of the original.

Next, read how the translator rendered "une salade débordante de couleurs et de saveurs" into "valuable heirlooms by the tub."  That's a good one!  Another translator would probably say "a salad rich in color and flavor" which is also correct and probably more faithful to the original, but "valuable heirlooms by the tub" shows the translator's creativity and imagination.  Not all clients will probably approve this translation because they prefer to preserve the "flavor and color" concepts.

My friendly reminder:  translation - while it needs to reflect the meaning of the original - is very subjective, particularly in fields like advertising, music and the arts.  Translation's been called a science and an art.  There are documents that have to be translated the way the original reads, but sometimes, you'll get a document that calls on another part of your brain - the creative side.

My advice?  Go with what your clients want!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

French to English: The Press, Part 3

This is our last series for newspaper terms.  I'm going to take another extract from Le Devoir, the Quebec newspaper with an intellectual, conservative leaning.

This extract is written by Jean-Robert Sansfaçon and was published on February 1, 2010 in the economics section.

Mr. Sansfaçon says:


Consultations prébudgétaires - D'abord les dépenses!

Le deuxième «fascicule» produit par le comité consultatif sur l'économie et les finances publiques coprésidé par l'économiste Robert Gagné et par le ministre de Finances, Raymond Bachand, montre du doigt la façon de dépenser du gouvernement et le manque d'efficacité des sociétés d'État comme Hydro-Québec. Il confirme une impression généralisée que nous n'en avons pas pour notre argent.


Two points I'd like to tackle here before I translate this passage:  "fascicule" is a term that used to confuse me.  Think of it as a book with chapters, a report with sections, or a manuscript divided into specific instalments.  "Fascicule" therefore means that which is a part or section of a document.  In Mr. Sansfaçon's sentence, he's referring to a part of the document produced by the advisory committee on Economics and Public Finance.

The second one is "montre du doigt".  It is the same as in English - point a finger or put the blame on something or someone.

Translating that paragraph as, we have:

Pre-budgetary consultations:  first, the expenses!

The second issue raised by the advisory committee on the economy and on public finance co-presided by economist Robert Gagné and by Finance Minister Raymond Bachand, points a finger on the way the government spends and on the lack of efficiency of Crown corporations like Hydro-Quebec.  It confirms the general impression that we're not getting our money's worth.

We use "Crown corporations" in Canada because government entities are said to belong to the Crown (Her Majesty). 

"Co-presided" is common usage, but you can also say "jointly presided."

Here is your final series of newspaper terms:

article nécrologique obituary
pagination pagination
correcteur d'épreuves proofreader
casier rack
bobines reels
reporteur reporter
revue review
reporteur local stringer
agence de presse syndicate
tabloïde tabloid
agence de transmission wire service
éditeur de journal publisher


Before the end of 2009, I read that La Presse might have to fold owing to a dwindling readership and anemic circulation.  It got salvaged - to everyone's relief.  La Presse is a Montreal institution.  It wouldn't look too good if La Presse stopped publishing.

Newspapers that close for business isn't a good sign.  It's not because people read less, but a point made by Jeff Jarvis was enlightening.  He makes suggestions on how newspapers can survive; read about it here:

The two suggestions that struck a chord were to adapt to the digital age and to engage readers.  He says that readers want to know they're part of the news.  He says:  “The explosion of blogging and social media Web sites has created a culture in which consumers of news expect to be included in the news publishing process….”

Good point!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

French to English: The Press, Part 2

Deadlines, deadlines!  Ah, that's the life of a freelancer, but despite it all, I don't think I'd want to go back to corporate life.

That's my way of saying that I'm late for this post, I'm not blogging as regularly as I want to.  I make the effort because this blog has been running for close to nine months and for that amount of time, it would be self-defeating to throw in the towel (which I was tempted to do on occasion).

In my last blog, I translated a passage from Lysiane Gagnon's column in La Presse.  This time, I'll take an extract from Joseph Facal's column in Journal de Montréal, and translate it.  Then I'll give you the next set of terms used by the newspaper industry.

Joseph Facal says:


Pauline Marois vient de reconnaître que les demandes syndicales étaient «un peu élevées».

C'est le moins qu'on puisse dire. Dans le contexte actuel, ces demandes sont presque choquantes pour les non-syndiqués, ce qui ne veut pas dire que les syndiqués du secteur public sont les enfants gâtés qu'on dénonce trop facilement. Mais il s'agit évidemment d'une position de négociation.


English translation:

Pauline Marois just acknowledged that the demands of the union were "a little high."  It's the least that can be said. In the present context, these demands are almost offensive to non-unionized workers.  It does not mean, however, that unionized workers in the public sector  are spoiled children who we denounce too quickly, but their demands clearly put them in a negotiating position.

In the first line, the word reconnaître means "recognize" in English.  But if you use "recognize" in the translation, it would seem a little awkward.  For example, you can't recognize that union demands were a little high; you can, however, say "acknowledge" which blends better with the rest of the sentence.  You can also translate it "became aware".

The phrase vient de means "just" as in elle vient de manger (she just ate, she had just eaten); ils viennent de constater (they just noticed).

The French expression, c'est le moins qu'on puisse dire.  You might ask, why "puisse" and not "peut".  The answer is that it takes the subjunctive form of the verb (a tense that presents some difficulties to new learners).  The subjunctive form of the verb (subjonctif) is used when the expressions convey doubt, emotion, desire, necessity, insistence, indefinite antecedents, superlatives and others.  An easy to understand explanation is given by Stephen Ohlhaut here:

Let's deal with those newspaper terms:



légende inserée dans une illustration cutline
date et lieu d'origine dateline
échéance deadline
publicité par grande annonce display advertising
rédacteur (éditeur is also used) editor
bouche-trou filler
lézarde gutter
style de la pyramide inversée inverted pyramid
mise en page layout
lead lead
cartouche de titre masthead
papier à journal newsprint
maculage offset
salle de presse press room

Friday, February 5, 2010

French to English: The Press, Part 1

Which section of the paper do you read first?  Or which one don't you bother to read?

the press 1 I get to read whatever my brother has finished reading.  It's my subscription, but brothers are special that way.    They're the ones who have the privilege of reading the papers before their siblings do, siblings who pay for the subscription.  What do you think he'll tell me if I ask him to split the subscription fee with me?

He won't answer, he'll just give me that are you nuts look. 

On Saturday mornings - my favorite day of the week - the first section I read (if my brother's done with it) is the Gazette's Home Section.  I enjoy the articles written by the Gazette writers when they visit homes and chat with tenants and homeowners.  It's in the form of a question and answer, so it is easy reading.  Those who are interviewed show an area of their apartment or house and they tell readers why they chose the apartment or the location and what's special about the neighborhood.  If they have an interesting piece of art, they talk about that too.

I also like the business section.  It's a good way to rev up your financial education at your own pace.

This three-part French to English lexicon will focus on newspapers.  I'll give you some terms and I'll translate  short paragraphs from columnists of LaPresse, Le Journal de Montréal and Le Devoir - three newspapers with a wide circulation in Montreal. 

La Presse is read by Montreal's Francophone community (I'm sure many Anglophones read it too) and is the French equivalent of the Montreal Gazette.  Le Journal de Montréal is a popular newspaper, with a slight bent for the sensational.  Le Devoir is - ehem - more high-brow and read by the intelligentsia.  It's a conservative newspaper; if you want to refine your French vocabulary, and learn the art of sophisticated journalism, read Le Devoir everyday.

When I was first learning French, I had to keep my bilingual dictionary close by when reading Le Devoir.  There were many words I could not understand.  If I read LeDevoir today, I bet I'll still be looking up some words!

For today's blog, I'll start with Lysiane Gagnon of LaPresse.  This paragraph refers to the United States which seemed to be in free fall judging from last year's recession.  She uses the word "declin" (decline), and mentions Denys Arcand, a Quebec film producer who made the beautiful film, Declin de l'empire américain.


Denys Arcand avait trouvé un titre prémonitoire. Le fait marquant de la décennie est en effet le déclin de l'empire américain.
Déclin tout relatif, cela va de soi. Les États-Unis restent la puissance la plus riche, la plus avancée scientifiquement, la plus forte militairement, et celle dont la culture est le plus innovatrice. Mais déclin il y a.


Ms Gagnon uses the word "premonitoire"  (think "premonition").  "Cela va de soi" is an expression you might be familiar with.  It means "it goes without saying."

Here's the English translation: 

Denys Arcand may have chosen a title that hinted at a premonition because the most significant event of the decade was in fact the decline of the American empire.

But it goes without saying that the word "decline" is relative.  The United States remains the wealthiest, most scientifically advanced, and the strongest military power with a culture described as the most innovative.  But yes, it's on a decline.

You'll notice that I translated Ms Gagnon's paragraph by  adding or subtracting words where it was necessary to do so.  These translation theories are to étoffer (to beef up with more words) and to supprimer (to cut out or take out words) and they are techniques used by translators to make the translation more fluid and more natural.

Our translation professors always used to say not to produce a translation that reads like a translation; it has to read like it was the original.  As you can see, my translation isn't literal.  For example, premonitoire is "premonitory" in English, but who uses premonitory these days?  I chose instead, "that hinted at a premonition."  I also connected sentences 1 and 2 by adding the word "because" to make a more natural transition of ideas.  I have done the same with the rest of the translation. 

Writers make use of what's called "editorial licence".  For translators, editorial licence is an inevitable practice, especially when literal translations are to be avoided.

Your first set of newspaper terms:

lead story
corps du texte
body copy
caractère gras
journal grand format
bureau des informations locales
city desk
classified advertising
annonces classées
chronique, reportage
column inch
chroniqueur (chroniqueuse)
columnist (female columnist)
secrétariat de rédaction
copy desk
copy editor (female copy editor)
droit d'auteur
correspondent (female correspondent)

Monday, February 1, 2010

French to English: Business Letters, Part 3


Have you ever requested a recommendation letter from a past employer, co-worker or family friend only to wait days and days for it?  You're imagining how your prospective employer is interpreting this delay.

Is she unable to get a recommendation letter because none of her previous employers thought she was a good employee?

Want advice?  Make life easier for the people you request recommendation letters from.  Suggest that you write the letter yourself and send it to them for editing.  calling for recommendation

Here is what Joyce Lain Kennedy and Alain Dumesnil say in their book, Les lettres d'accompagnement (covering letters), published by Éditions Générales First, France, ISBN:  2-87691-652-5.  Their advice is written in three paragraphs; let's take one paragraph at a time.

First paragraph:

French:  Vous attendiez une réponse impatiemment et vous venez de recevoir un e-mail de votre employeur potentiel vous demandant de lui envoyer plusieurs lettres de recommendation.

English translation:  You've been waiting impatiently for a response and then you receive an e-mail from your potential employer requesting you to send him several letters of recommendation.

Second paragraph:

French:  Pas de panique - rédigez vous-même vos lettres de recommandation !  N'oubliez pas que les personnes susceptibles de vous recommander (anciens employeurs, professeurs, responsables d'associations ou de clubs) sont aussi débordées que vous.  Si elles sont prêtes à faire votre éloge, proposez-leur d'écrire un brouillon qu'elles n'auront plus qu'à peaufiner.

English translation:  Don't panic - write the letters of recommendation yourself!  Don't forget that the people who can recommend you (former employers, professors, association or club officials) are as busy as you are.  If they are willing to recommend you, offer to draft a letter so all they need to do is polish (or edit) it.

Third paragraph:

French:  Pour plus de commodité, identifiez le traitement de texte utilisé par chacune de vos références et saisissez votre brouillon sous le même logiciel.  Envoyez votre letter par e-mail en fichier joint ou bien enregistrez-la sur une disquette que vous acheminerez par La Poste ou remettrez en main propre avec une version paper.

English translation:  So it's more convenient, find out what word processor each of your contacts uses and type the draft using the same software.  E-mail your contacts with the letter attached, or save it on a CD which you will send by mail or submit a hard copy personally.

That's good advice.  If someone were to ask you for a letter of recommendation, and you're not exactly a letter-writer, you'd be ill at ease.  It's not because you don't think highly of the person's skills or experience, but the thought of writing a letter - something that takes you hours, even days - is an encroachment on your time.

But if the same person requesting a recommendation offers to write it herself, you'd be more open to the idea!

Let's face it:  not many people are comfortable writing letters.  The words don't come that easily.  I even heard of one case where a person was requested and it took him three weeks to produce one, because he agonised over what to say and how to say it.

These days, this is no longer a problem.  There are two solutions:  the first one is to search the Net for an example of a letter of recommendation, and the second solution is to ask the person requesting a recommendation to write it himself.  If you agree with what's written, all what's left is for you to sign it.

Just for fun, I googled "examples of recommendation letters", and I got over 9.2 million results.  Assuming half of those are bogus or poor quality sites, your chances of finding the perfect letter that you can tweak are still very good.

So you see, you have no excuse.  Do a good deed and write that letter pronto! 

Your bonus lesson:  some French phrases to avoid, how to say them better, and their English translations:

Don't say Say English
année académique année scolaire school year
engager du personnel additionnel engager du personnel supplémentaire, complémentaire hire additional staff
l'agenda de la réunion l'ordre du jour de la réunion meeting agenda
code régional indicatif régional area code
compléter un formulaire remplir un formulaire fill out a form
nom corporatif nom de société, raison sociale corporate name, head office
paie de vacances indemnité de congé vacation pay
plan d'assurance régime d'assurance insurance plan
faire du surtemps faire des heures supplémentaires do overtime
tentativement à titre d'essai; provisoirement tentatively