So, you've taken French lessons for some time now, and you're building up a decent vocabulary! Maybe you can even hold a short conversation entirely in French!
(If you haven't started French lessons online yet, hop to it!)
Or maybe you're already taking formalised French lessons, and feeling more and more confident to speak French in class. Your French teacher may have suggested you go beyond the textbook and check out the French news online, listen to French podcasts and read texts in French!
Ever the eager Francophile, you agree.
But there's a hitch - you're not quite fluent yet. There are still a few holes in your vocabulary and you have trouble translating many of the ideas or concepts you're absorbing.
Maybe you understand the general meaning of sentences, but a French word, idiom or expression escapes you here or there.
Sounds like you need a good French translator for your French to English translations in your French reading and learning exercises?
A quick Internet search will turn up hundreds of English to French translators - some totally free and some paid. Some are automated and others connect you with French linguists or native speakers
The selection on offer can be overwhelming or mind-boggling, and that's where Superprof comes in.
We've investigated a range of translation sites and software so you don't have to!
So, what's on our shortlist?
English to French Dictionaries
If you're searching for the occasional word to fill in your knowledge gap, an online dictionary may do the trick.
A good online dictionary will not only show you the word meanings, but also an example of how they are used, their antonyms and synonyms, and some sample sentences for you to peruse.
Since French nouns are gender-specific, any good dictionary should indicate whether you need to use une or un or le or la in front of the word.
Older dictionaries such as the Collins Dictionary doesn't have that feature, but you should be able to tell the noun's gender by reading through the sample sentences included below the definition.
A better option might be the Reverso French English dictionary, which is powered by Collins. Reverso offers the Collins definitions, but with a vastly expanded number of options and functions.
Beyond your basic definitions, Reverso has a conjugation function for verbs, an expanded database of idioms and their meanings, medical and business phrases and an entire page dedicated to literature!
Reverso is so thorough, it is almost an encyclopaedia of Francophilia!
One dictionary we don't recommend is French Linguistics. This originated in the UK and target British students learning French at a GSCE level. One feature that students from around the world can benefit from is a free listening quiz in French.
But in general, this dictionary is somewhat of a mess. There aren't any sample sentences or synonyms, and it doesn't offer word etymology or verb conjugation. It will also only translate words and not longer phrases or expressions.
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Babylon, Microsoft Translator and Google Translate
These are three of the most popular multilingual translators available for free online.
On the upside, they are very convenient and easy to use: you simply copy and paste in your text, select your target language and hey presto! Your French text will be converted to your mother tongue.
But whilst these services might get full marks for convenience, the quality of their translations can vary wildly.
We had fun putting a few of these online translators to the test. We inputted some of our favourite French phrases, some of them including slang...
The results were... often comical!
Unfortunately, online translators often struggle with context clues, meaning that they're not so great at translating homonyms and might mangle any slang or idiom you happen to enter.
To be fair, these translators do a good enough job with individual words, but you'll need to be careful that your accents are perfectly placed!
For example, "ou" without an accent means or, but "où" means "where" and can be a preposition, adverb or relative pronoun depending on the sentence.
Unfortunately, these web-based translators often struggle to contextualise and differentiate between these two words.
However, the good news is that translators are constantly evolving.
For the moment, they're great for if you need an informal translation on the fly. But if you're preparing a longer essay for your French VCE coursework, best to steer clear, unless your French is good enough to polish the inaccuracies.
One very good online translator we liked is SDL Translator.
SDL Translator wasn't quite as effective when it came to instant text translation, but the benefit is that it also offers French translation by bilingual French/English translators. That's right - your documents will be translated by real humans!
You can request a free quote for document or website translation. Personal documents are cheapest, and the price increases for business translations.
So, let's move on to your other options for online translation.
Click here for an article on the best French podcasts for French learners.
Where to Source a Human Translator
If you need your English to French or French to English spot on, automated translate may not cut it, and you might need to seek out translation by real human beings.
Machine translation may have issues with accuracy, especially if a clear understanding of context and nuance are needed. Often these machine translators won't compensate for accents you've forgotten or incorrect grammar.
Whilst there is always the possibility of human error, with professional human translators, you have more assurance of a clear, concise and accurate translation.
So where can you source someone to translate your documents quickly and cheaply?
That's where Translated.net comes in. This site offers a three-tier service, with the option to choose from premium, professional or economy. The second tier one is recommended as the best bang for your buck.
They translate for many reputable companies and have translated over 40,000 documents each year since they were established over 15 years ago.
The professional translation option will guarantee a returned translation overnight.
If you run a French website and need translation into English, Translated.net have a package for you. Or perhaps you're developing an app and you'd like to launch it in Francophone countries?
It may be tempting to go with the economy package, but be aware that this means your document or site will be run through translation software and then lightly skimmed and edited by a human translator.
If it's technical translation you're after - for example, wishing to publish an Engish article in one of the French medical journals - you'll want to consider their premium or professional levels of service.
Translated.net streamlines the translation process by publishing their prices upfront - this means no soliciting and quote and then waiting around for a response.
However, be aware that the price quoted is not always a firm guarantee of the final price you'll pay for the service.
Another service connecting you with a human translator is Day Translations. We like that this service generates a quote within ten minutes of submitting your document. They offer language translation worldwide, as well an interpreting in-person and over the phone. This kind of service is particularly helpful for immigrants who might need an English translator during the process of acquiring a visa.
They also offer a specialized service for translating medical and legal documents and another service for website translation.
Legal and medical records often contain sensitive information, so you don't want just anyone handling them!
Day Translations is an official member of the Association of Translator Companies, and each of their translators is a certified linguist.
If you're dealing with sensitive personal documents, make sure you look for these kinds of credentials.
And how do you transmit your sensitive documents securely?
Day Translations makes the process of secure transmission simple, either by fax, courier, or their secure server.
However, not every translation needs to be kept safe and secure. If you want public information like the text on your website translated, all you'll need to provide is the web address.
Engage a Freelance Translator
You can hardly visit any web page nowadays without receiving a deluge of ads. So how do you sort through the chaff to find a translator that suits your budget and needs?
What if you translation job is smaller - perhaps a family document or revelant French passage?
If you contact an online translation company, you may be bombarded with promotions selling their other services and maybe even offering a discount on future translations.
Spare yourself ongoing intrusion by going with a freelance translator.
There are lots of great databases for freelancers offering remote, online translation.
One place to look could be Upwork. Their platform hosts profiles of different freelancers, who are encouraged to list any memberships to professional translation organisations or translation qualifications.
For the moment, you're looking for French translation, but these sites host translators of many languages, so if you're looking for Spanish, Arabic or even Japanese translation in future, there will be someone who can meet your needs and your deadline.
If you're only just starting out on your French learning journey, and can't communicate in French confidently yet, don't translate any important communication with a dictionary - hire a professional translator!
So there you have it, depending on your level and the type of document you're translating, you have many options available to you:
- a French dictionary or word reference site
- an online translation tool
- a French translation service through an agency
- freelance translators hosted on a platform
Until you've mastered French and can comfortable translation English to French and vice versa solo, make the most of the many instant translation options out there on the world wide web.