2

My French language skills are poor. I travel to France on occasion, and exchange infrequent email correspondence with friends, and in making travel and lodging arrangements. Google Translate has been essential, but I understand it is far from ideal. When in France, I do not practice French as much as I'd like. I think my friends feel it's much easier to converse with me in English (which they speak fluently) - and that makes perfect sense, but doesn't improve my French skills dramatically. Nevertheless, I do want to improve.

I use Google Translate out of necessity; it generally accomplishes the required communication, but I'm sure my Google-Translated email correspondence leaves my recipients shaking their heads :) And so my questions are these:

  • Is there a better alternative to Google for English-French translation?

  • Is there some general guidance available on how to cross-check the French translations from my English?

  • And finally, I wonder if I might improve the quality of my Google-Translated French by structuring my English-language input in a particular way? For example, don't use possessive pronouns, avoid adverbs, etc... general guidance in other words?

2 Answers 2

3

As said in a preceding answer, DeepL is an excellent translator, but that is only a half-truth that does not take into account the very difficult problems that context creates and that modern technology can't yet tackle. It is not able, for instance, to relate the parts of a sentence to one another so as to adjust them in relation to one another, and so it is more likely to make errors in long sentences. Provided one has a solid enough knowledge of both languages, it is excellent as help for recalling corresponding forms, and often enough perfect translations are obtained, in particular for short sentences. However, it can't be trusted. If the user can't make a full assessment of a translation provided by this machine, that is, if he/she is not sure that the grammar is correct, or not sure that the meanings correspond and that all the terms are idiomatic, he/she is at risk of using a translation that can be from unsatisfactory to a chaos of words. Here is one very simple case.

Asked; translation into English of the following.

  • L'histoire est drôle et on ne la croit pas toujours. (By "histoire" is meant the subject matter.)

Deepl proposes this :
              1/ The story is funny and not always believed.
              2/ The story is funny and not always believable.

DeepL chooses arbitrarily "story" and not "history" for "histoire". So you have to know the two words and make your own correction. Secondly, there is an important change in the meaning (bad error): what people do not always believe is not what is not always believable. So there is one error in the first translation and there are two in the second.

3
  • 1
    Great explanation of the downsides of DeepL, I didn't express them properly in my answer.
    – J. Quick
    Aug 2, 2022 at 7:14
  • Thanks for the insights. I'll try DeepL, and continue working to improve my skills. In the meantime, I'll have to rely on the charity of those who receive my malformed French :)
    – Seamus
    Aug 2, 2022 at 7:50
  • There's even more ambiguity arising from on in your example; the original could mean we don't always believe it, which in English is different from not always believed. Aug 2, 2022 at 11:55
3
  1. I use DeepL whenever I want to machine-translate, it gives you natural, but neutral translations and is generally better than google translate.
  2. The main thing that helped me in cross-checking machine translation in languages I had yet to master was knowledge of grammar (or the relationship between both languages' grammar, English and French are "back to front" if you get what I mean), making it possible to check individual words or groups of words by comparing with a translation. You can use wordreference.com for words and conjugated verbs (useful to check the tenses line up).
  3. I wouldn't bother. I rephrase only when my cross-check tells me the translation is nonsense.
3
  • Merci beaucoup :) A useful answer, but I'm not entirely sure I understand your "back to front" statement.
    – Seamus
    Aug 2, 2022 at 7:42
  • The most common example is the position of adjectives "a blue car" -> "une voiture bleue". The adjective is before in English, and after in French (most of the time).
    – J. Quick
    Aug 2, 2022 at 8:08
  • Ah! That was my first thought, but you said, "English and French are back to front", and my second thought was that my first thought must be wrong... thanks for the clarification.
    – Seamus
    Aug 2, 2022 at 10:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.