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Translating French to English is a common way to study the language and improve your skills. Tutor Nadia B. shares three big tips so you don’t get lost in translation…
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Are you learning French and need to translate some of your French homework into English? Or perhaps you want to translate a French text just to be sure that you have understood the meaning?
Translation is a useful tool for improving comprehension and fluency, so read on for three important tips for translating French to English. These tips will ensure you translate quickly and accurately on your first try!
French To English
1. Don’t translate idiomatic expressions literally.
There are many French expressions that shouldn’t be taken literally when translating French to English. The literal translation won’t reflect the meaning of the expression. If you come across an expression that, when translated literally makes no sense in context, you’ve probably found an idiomatic expression.
Here are some examples of French idiomatic expressions and how they can be translated into English:
- une bouche d’incendie – fire hydrant (Since “bouche” means “mouth” in English, “a mouth of fire” isn’t a correct translation!)
- une bonne fourchette– a hearty eater (or, literally, “a good fork,” but that lacks meaning to English speakers!)
- faire le pont – to make a long weekend (literally, to make a bridge, but it refers to the French habit of taking a four-day break by adding Friday or Monday to the weekend plus the mid-week day that a holiday falls on)
To improve your skills when translating French to English, try to learn as many idiomatic expressions as possible. If you’re listening to a French speaker and you don’t understand an expression they use, inquire as to the meaning so you can continue to build your knowledge base. Over time, this will make French translation easier and more rapid as you draw on the knowledge you already possess.
2. Use online forums and dictionaries to get help when needed.
When translating French to English, sometimes you can get stuck with certain expressions or usages. If you just can’t figure out how to appropriately translate something, forums like WordReference offer valuable help from native French speakers and highly knowledgeable second-language French speakers. There is a huge archive of threads covering a wide range of topics in French, so you can type in a phrase or word to learn more details about it. After all, when possible it is always in your best interest to use human translation for the most accurate understanding.
Online French dictionaries are another excellent resource. A well-respected one is Larousse. Here, you can access a French-English dictionary, as well as a French monolingual dictionary, in which you can find words and definitions all in French. The monolingual dictionary can be an especially great way to increase your knowledge and your proficiency in French as you research your translation query.
3. Use cognates, but watch out for false cognates.
Cognates are a great help when trying to increase fluency in a language and translate quickly. Here is a short list of French-English cognates:
- immense – immense
- amusant – amusing, fun
- la page – the page
- lamusique – the music
- latomate – the tomato
- lecandidat – the candidate
- l’hôpital – the hospital
The only thing to remember with cognates is that there can also be faux amis (false cognates). These tricky French words sound like a word in English but are not equal in meaning. Here are some French false cognates to watch out for:
- actuellement – currently (not actually)
- attendre – to wait (not to attend)
- assister – to attend (not to assist)
- bras – arms (not bra)
- blessé – injured (not blessed)
- une librarie – bookshop (not library)
- un raisin – grape (not raisin)
If you follow these three tips, you should be translating with confidence in no time! The more attention you pay to the details and work on increasing your vocabulary and knowledge of idiomatic expressions, the more you will find that your translations are accurate and thorough.
Want to learn more about translating French to English? Taking French lessons with a private tutor is a great way to increase your proficiency in the language, because you can receive individualized instruction that best fits your needs. Find your French teacher today!
Nadia B. teaches Italian and piano in New York, NY, as well as through online lessons. She speaks Italian, English, and French and received her degree in Music Performance from New York University. Learn more about Nadia here!
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