French Translation Lesson 3 Homework

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…

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!

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.

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!

Post Author: Nadia B.
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!

Photo by decar66

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Dialogue[edit]

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Culture· Education in France[edit]

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Vocabulary· School and students[edit]

Grammar· Present perfect with regular verbs[edit]

The passé composépresent perfect is a compound tense, and is therefore composed of an auxiliary verb and a past participle. With most verbs, that auxiliary verb is avoir.

Meaning[edit]

In English, verbs conjugated in the passé composé literally mean have/has ____ed. While there is a simple past tense in French, it is almost always only used in formal writing, so verbs conjugated in the passé composé can also be used to mean the English simple tense.

For example, the passé composé forms of parlerto speak , [avoir] parlé, literally mean has/have spoken, but also means spoke.

Basic formation[edit]

To conjugate a verb in the passé composé, the helping verb, usually avoir, is conjugated in the present indicative and the past participle is then added.

Auxiliary verb - avoir[edit]

Conjugate avoir in the present indicative.

j'aiI havenous avonswe have
tu asyou havevous avezyou have
il ahe hasils ontthey have
elle ashe haselles ontthey have

Past participle[edit]

  • -er verbs: replace -er with é
  • -ir verbs: replace -ir with i
  • -re verbs: replace -re with u
  • irregular verbs: varied; must be memorized
Formation of the past participle
Verb GroupInfinitiveStemPast Participle
-er verbsjouerjoujoué
-ir verbsfinirfinfini
-re verbsrépondrerépondrépondu

Avoir + past participle[edit]

J'ai jouéI have playedNous avons jouéWe have played
Tu as jouéYou have playedVous avez jouéYou have played
Il a jouéHe has playedIls ont jouéThey have played
Elle a jouéShe has playedElles ont jouéThey have played

Please also note:

Fem. Subject or Person (Elles, Elle, Nous, On etc.)- Add another e with no aigu or grave to end of word- if a female person is partaking in the group.

Plural Subject (On, Nous, Tu, Vous etc.)- Add another "s" to end of word.

Finally, some verbs are irregular for the past participle, such as aller (to go), instead of using avoir to form the past participle, they will use être (to be) to form the past participle.

Always check the verb's irregularities before using to form past participle. Some "past participle" irregulars are regular verbs when forming other tenses.

Examples[edit]

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Vocabulary· At school ·À l'école[edit]

^ The word professeur is considered masculine at all times, even if the teacher is female. The only case when "professeur" can be preceded by feminine determinant is either when contracting it in colloquial language "la prof", or when adding a few words before : "madame/mademoiselle la/le professeur".

Vocabulary· Actions[edit]

In French, you do not "own" body parts. While in English, you would say my hand or your hand, the definite article is almost always used in French:

la mainmy hand
la jambemy leg
le brasmy arm

To and of are part of the verbs écouter and entendre respectively. It is not necessary to add a preposition to the verb. Other verbs, such as répondre (à), meaning to respond (to), are almost always followed by a preposition.

Supplementary examples[edit]

C’est un auteur que j’ai peu étudié.He is an author that I have little studied.
On ne devient pas savant sans étudier.You do not become learned without studying.
Ce pianiste étudie plusieurs heures par jour.This pianist exercises several hours a day.
Il étudie l’écriture sainte.He studies scripture.
Elle parle couramment le français.She speaks French fluently.
Ne parlez pas si haut.Do not talk so loud.
Écoutez, j’ai quelque chose à vous dire.Listen, I have something to say to you.
J'ai entendu plusieurs fois ce chanteur à la Scala.I heard this singer several times at La Scala.
Tu dois répondre aux questions que je te pose.You must answer the questions I ask you.
Il répond à toutes les lettres qu’il reçoit.He responds to all the letters that he receives.

Supplementary usage notes·Entendre[edit]

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Grammar· To write and to read ·Écrire et lire[edit]

Écrire[edit]

Écrire is an irregular French verb, meaning to write. It varies from other -re verbs in the plural conjugation, by adding a v. Its past particple, écrit, is also irregular.

The verb coécrireto co-write/ko.e.kʁiʁ/ is conjugated the same way. The nouns écriture/e.kʁi.tyʁ/, meaning writing or handwriting, and écrivain/e.kʁi.vɛ̃/, meaning writer, are derived from écrire.

Lire[edit]

Lire is an irregular French verb, meaning to read. Its plural conjugation adds an s, and its past participle is lu.

The verbs élireto elect/e.liʁ/ and relireto reread/ʁǝ.liʁ/ are conjugated the same way. The adjective lisible/lizibl/, meaning readable or legible, is derived from lire.

Examples[edit]

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Mon père écrit des poèmes pour ma mère.My father writes poems for my mother.
As-tu écrit ce slogan sur le mur ?Have you written that slogan on the wall?
Il a une mauvaise écriture.He has bad handwriting.
Jean lit très souvent.

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