French to English Translator

I'm Chris Parkinson. I lived in France for 10 years. I have a degree in Applied languages in Italian and German from Grenoble University (Stendahl)

I have a postgraduate diploma in Translation and Conference Interpreting from the University of Bath (French/Italian) and a postgraduate diploma in Conference Interpreting (French/Italian/German) from the Polytechnic of Central London (PCL) now known as University of Westminster. My French is C2 level. European Framework of Reference for Languages

I specialize mainly in literary translations from French into English. I can also translate medical, law and technical books and documents and especially – advertising copy. No job too big or too small. I do not have coding skills but for websites I can work closely with a computing science graduate colleague to produce a finished article.

Quotes and samples are given by return of email: (I don't take phone calls because they break my concentration when working)

For books, work is delivered and paid for on an instalment plan agreed between the parties. I have posted several of my own sample translations on this site next to existing translations by other translators together with my comments on how the two translations compare and how I justify my own choices. (Click on buttons above). As a rule of thumb I try to write clear, lively, idiomatic English that stays very close to the register, style and meaning of the original but without necessarily translating either the structure or the words of the original. I read the French, I understand, I translate the meaning - not the words. My aim is to produce an accurate translation that does not read like a translation. It should read like an original work, first written in English. There are too many stilted, literal translations full of Latinate words out there. Time for a cull. Publishers, ask me for a free sample page to see how I can restore the true colours of that French classic. See my style (see underneath).

There is a comments section under each sample translation. Please feel free to leave constructive comments. You may make comments that are critical of my own choices but abusive comments will be deleted. Copyright : I claim copyright for this website, my translations and my “choices”. For extracts taken from published books I claim fair use. Links are given to purchase these books and I claim fair use under the freedom under copyright law to publish short extracts for criticism.

Important note: In all my sample translations, I have first copied an existing translation by another translator in order to compare and contrast the different choices a translator can make for the same text. I have put the translator's name at the top of their translation which you will find in the middle (blue background). On the right hand side (grey background) is my own translation which is headed « Myself ». If you are looking at the samples with a view to evaluating my work, please make sure you are looking at my translation for the evaluation not that of the translation I have given for comparison. You may prefer the other translator's work – in which case I would not want you to make a mistake when commissioning work from myself. Underneath my own translation you will find an in depth, sentence by sentence analysis of the translation with notes on how the two different translations differ.

My Style

1. Accuracy

It is of course supremely important to translate accurately what the French author actually means. Any linguist will know how hard this is to do. There are many words in both French and English which have the same Latin or sometimes ancient Greek root. They often have similar meanings but it is very rare for the meanings to be exactly the same in both languages. These words are what the French call « faux amis »: false friends. A good translator must know all the various meaning and nuances of these tricksters in both languages in order to avoid falling into the trap of just using the English “friend” when in fact the French might mean either something different entirely, or even more tricky, something quite similar but not exactly similar. Even when the meaning is the same in both languages, they might be in a different register – with one being a much more common or idiomatic locution in one of the languages while in the other its unfamiliarity might have a deadening effect on the style of the translation. The simplest way out of this dilemma is of course just to never use the « friend » but always to translate it with a synonym. Sometimes, the « friend », although it may have different nuances and/or meanings in one or other of the two languages may mean exactly the same in both languages in the context in which it appears - in the text to be translated. In this case, I believe a competent translator will use the « friend » if it would be used naturally in the English sentence structure (which will often be quite different to the French sentence structure) but I don't feel we have to slavishly strive to retain it.

A competent translator will read the French sentence and translate it with what an equivalent English writer would actually write. This ability to separate the structure of the two languages and to keep them apart in his or her brain is what makes a competent translator. A good translator will read the French sentence, understand it and then translate the meaning without being influenced by the French construction or even the French words. Conference interpreters (the crème de la crème of linguists) are able to do this « on the fly » instinctively. The translator will also try to find a register or style in English that corresponds to the French author's style and register.

It is important of course to be highly competent in the source language, otherwise there is a risk of mistranslations. Ideally one would be bilingual, that is, brought up to speak both languages as a child. However, it is considered by language experts to be virtually impossible to achieve native language speaker competence as an adult learner. That is why the « target » language will always be the native language for translators and interpreters, no matter how competent they are in the source language. The European Union has agreed a standard grading system for competence in Languages and C2 is the highest grade. A C2 linguist qualification includes native speaker competence but it is also possible to « be » a C2 when one is near to but not quite at this level. I consider that in order to avoid mistranslations, the translator should be C2 in the source language.

Of course having had a bi-lingual childhood does not necessarily mean that one is a great linguist. You might be a fluent speaker in both languages from being immersed in both as a child but this does not automatically imply great linguistic competence. A good translator should be able to write very fluently and concisely in his or her own language and be sensitive to all sorts of registers, subtleties and cultural influences in both languages. Learning one or more foreign languages makes one very sensitive to the nuances of one's own language. This learning process is more conscious and hard won, and this sensitivity is therefore, in my opinion, more likely to be highly tuned in the case of an adult learner.

Then we have the question of translating the « style » of the French into English. There are many levels of language. Someone like Claude Levi-Strauss can express quite hard to grasp concepts in formal, but beautifully expressive and clear French. My personal inclination with my « reader » hat on (rather than my « translator » hat) is to want to make the effort to understand these rather esoteric and difficult to grasp concepts because I trust Levi-Strauss precisely because he writes such beautiful, limpid French (he was a member of the Académie Francaise after all!) and I instinctively know therefore that he is not a « pseud » ; using difficult to understand concepts to make himself seem more intelligent than he really is. (A not unknown phenomenon in the realms of academe!) If the language was very convoluted, dense and hard to follow, my suspicions might be aroused. As a reader I know instinctively and subconsciously however that Levi-Strauss wants me to understand and that if I make the effort to follow him I will be rewarded by understanding his unique insights. That is why I think it is so important not to render his writing into a leaden and pedantic version in English.

2. French “Formal” dilemma: conversational versus flowery in English ; Anglo-Saxon versus Latinate words

The late and great advertising mogul and supreme copywriter, Angus Ogilvey said that the English language is a hybrid of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French and that in copy-writing you should always choose the Anglo-Saxon word in preference to its more Latinate equivalent because it is more comprehensible to the common man. George Orwell: “Bad writers, and especially scientific, political and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones.” and also “Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.” I will always try to mimic the style of the French original as far as possible. A lot of the French literature I will encounter will be « en langue soutenue », i.e. : formal language. French of course consists almost entirely of « Latinate » words. When translating, I will usually try to use an Anglo-Saxon word rather than a word of Latin origin . This may make my translation slightly more conversational than the French original but I prefer this to the alternative which generally has the effect of covering the original meaning with a sort of Latinate sludge. Or as Orwell put it: “A mass of Latin words fall upon the the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details.” Orwell again: “What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about”. (Orwell was talking about what constitutes good English language but this last quotation is even more relevant to translation where we really don't want the French word to choose the English one.)

In the same spirit, I will always try to find an English idiomatic form to correspond to a French idiomatic form of course but I will actually go further than this and use an English idiomatic expression where there was no idiomatic form in the French source text if I believe that a) the French author did not have an idiomatic expression available to him whereas there is one available in English and b) would have used this idiomatic expression if he had been writing in English and was a native English speaker. Of course this may again have the effect of making the language slightly less formal (but more expressive), so before using the English idiomatic expression where there was none in French, I am careful to ask myself if there is in fact an such an expression in French. If there is and the French author has not used it, then I consider that I don't really have the right to put words into the French author's mouth and I will not take the liberty of using my English idiom. However, where there is no idiomatic expression in French but there is in English I will feel entirely justified in using it.

Sometimes one needs to use extra words or even clauses to render every last nuance of the original. Whether the target language is French or English, one usually ends up with more words in the translation although sometimes it can be less. I think French is usually but not always more concise than English, whereas English is more flexible. I will always strive to use the most elegant and concise construction possible in English with the aim of limiting the amount of extra words needed but never at the expense of losing some of the meaning.

To contact me about a translation, email: (I don't take phone calls because they break my concentration when working)

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