English to French translation: thoughts from an expert!

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting René Meertens, an experienced English to French translator who spent his entire career in prestigious institutions like the World Health Organisation and the United Nations. He is the author of the best-selling “Guide anglais-français de la traduction” and maintains an active blog.

When I first heard of René on Twitter, I visited his site and tried to learn more about him. But I did not find a lot of information about the man hidden behind the translator. This triggered my curiosity and, living not far from each other, we agreed to meet in person at a very nice café in the heart of Brussels. I was happy to make Rene’s acquaintance as we sat and conversed, surrounded by written dedications of iconic visitors, such as  Raimu, Maurice Chevalier, Sacha Guitry on the walls of the coffee shop.

Today, I am very pleased to offer you a worldwide exclusive:  Rene’s answers to some fundamental linguistic questions (you know, the kind which keep you awake at night)… and I proudly present one of his first pictures on the web!

Anne: René, you have been translating for more than 30 years from English to French. Of all the millions of words you encountered in English, what is your preferred one?

René: It is self-righteous. I like it because it is a difficult word to translate. A direct equivalent does not exist in French. It conveys the attitude of someone piously sure of his own righteousness or someone exhibiting pious self-assurance. Being self-righteous is a moral default, so I try not to fall into that trap myself. In my dictionary I mentioned « prompt à faire la morale » and “réprobateur” as alternative translations.

Anne: What is the English word you hate most?

René: Community! This word is used for all kind of purposes and often misused. In my guide, I list a whole page for this sole word!

Anne: What is the translation you’re the most proud of?

René: Well, translating 20 pages in 5 hours on a Slovene keyboard. What conclusion should we draw from that?  Well, I’m not sure. I realized later on that my translation contained some inconsistencies.

Anne: What was your worst experience as a translator?

René: When I began to work for the European Commission, my translations used to be proofread by colleagues, usually translating German into French. Being outside of their comfort zone, they were afraid of making mistakes and wanted to stick to the text, claiming that I was straying too far from the source text.

Anne: Based on your experience what is the most common trap translators fall into?

René: Lots of translators stick to well-established translations which are in fact typical mistakes. For example, “guidelines » is translated as  « directives » or « community » as « collectivité » (in order to avoid « communauté »). Those stereotyped translations are legion on translators’ forums and attempts to correct them often evoke sarcastic reactions. There is a certain group conformism I noticed at the UN, where the conventional wisdom is that « implications » is always translated by « incidences », whereas “implications” is sometimes the right translation. Generally, I can recognize a given translation as having been done by a UN translator, because most of them use the same style. This being said, UN translators are generally extremely skilled.

Anne: Who is your favorite English-speaking character?

René: Noam Chomsky. Beside the fact that he is a famous linguist, I admire his intelligence. He uses his reputation as a linguist to spread his political ideas which he has developed over many years. I am particularly impressed by the way he can answer the trickiest questions, on the spot without any hesitation, which is a great talent!

Anne: What is your favorite English dish?

René: It is mince pie. Those little cakes are served during Christmas time with mulled wine.

Anne: Which English accent do you prefer?

René: The accent of some people in New-York City is really my favorite one. It is similar to the Irish accent. It is very clear, all letters are pronounced, specially the “R”. I can understand it very well. New-York City is also my favorite place, I love this city which never sleeps: its noise, its rumor, its traffic, its air-conditioning, its atmosphere.

Anne: Can you tell us a little bit more about a habit you dislike in Anglo society?

René: I prefer to avoid generalizations. In each country or community, there are nice people on the one hand and unpleasant people on the other hand. I remember once playing darts with some colleagues. We were two French guys against a bunch of Englishmen. At the end, we were so bad, they made us out to be armless penguins.

Anne: On the other hand, what do you like in Anglo culture?

René: I am really fond of American action movies, especially those directed by Martin Scorcese.

Anne: That figures, given that he directed the iconic film “New York, New York”.

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Franse vertaling nodig? 10 tips om de juiste freelance partner uit te kiezen!

Deze blog is bedoeld in het Engels maar voor de “week van de freelancers”, een initiatief van UNIZO zet ik even de samenvatting van mijn artikel hier zodat jij een commentaar kunt plaatsen.

Nog alles even op een rijtje zetten.

Regel #1: Kies resoluut voor een native speaker.

Regel #2: Kies voor iemand die talent heeft om te schrijven.

Regel #3: Kies voor iemand die in Vlaanderen woont of er een lange tijd heeft gewoond en nog contacten met het land onderhoudt.

Regel #4: Kies voor iemand met ervaring.

Regel #5: Kies voor iemand die makkelijk te contacteren is en die snel reageert.

Regel #6: Kies voor iemand die nieuwsgierig is.

Regel #7: Kies voor iemand die uw waarden deelt.

Regel #8: Kies voor iemand die creatief is.

Regel #9: Kies voor iemand die zijn afspraken naleeft.

Regel #10: Kies voor iemand die duidelijke prijzen hanteert.

Let jij nog op andere punten, als jij een freelance vertaler aanwerf? Ben jij zelf freelance vertaler en zie jij andere aspecten die wij aan potentiële klanten naar voren kunnen brengen?

Laat uw stem horen!

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Intercultural trainer, I need you!

For those who are fans of Columbus Project AND are consulting Facebook on a regular basis, you know by now that I’m going to relocate to Hobart (Australia) in early July.

Distance Belgium Hobart

Belgium – Tasmania :

  • distance 17093 km
  • 8 hours ahead of Europe
  • spring here, autumn there
  • 22-hour flight, 2 stops (one in Abu Dhabi or Dubai and the other in Sydney or Melbourne), in short about 30 hours of travel
  • language: English (great, easy part!)
  • talking in km/h but driving on the wrong side of the road. To name a few of the differences…

My husband and I went there for a week in April to get a feel for the place and to make arrangements for housing, schooling and banking and so forth. The countdown from Belgium has now started and I really feel the need to prepare the transition as a FAMILY (2 boys and 2 girls aged 15, 13 and twins 8).

Guess what? We need Family Intercultural Training! Now. Before leaving.


  • To prepare ourselves mentally
  • To manage our expectations and fears
  • To MINIMIZE the transition time


The kids will finish school in Belgium on June 30th.  We’ll arrive in Hobart on July 4th in the evening.  A few days later, the kids are supposed to start a new school with new friends, new teachers and in a new language.  In such a short time, they’ll have to deal with jetlag, English, a new home. With such a heavy program, being prepared is key to success.

In an ideal world, we would spend some time NOW with an Australian living in Europe who speaks French or Dutch to :

  1. Learn the basics about Australia (history, geography, customs, economy, religion, politics)
  2. Be aware of the do’s and don’ts
  3. Make an assessment of our ability to adapt to another culture
  4. Have an open discussion about expectations, fears AND tips

Last but not least: as an intercultural trainer myself, there are some parts I could take care of but I doubt it would have the same efficiency.

“No man is a prophet in his own country”.

In the eyes of a teenager, any external party has much more influence than the parents! Does this sound familiar?

Any experience of family intercultural training? Your comments are more than welcome.

P.S. : Many thanks to Catherine for proofreading this post!

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Vous êtes trop cher !

Une fois n’est pas coutume : un article en français. Pourquoi ? Parce que je n’ai pas trouvé d’équivalent en anglais mais peut-être pourrez-vous m’y aider en lisant cet article jusqu’au bout.

Situation classique : lorsqu’un prospect ou mieux un client vous apostrophe en s’exclamant « Vous êtes trop cher ! » Que répondez-vous ?

Les livres de marketing sont remplis de poncifs du genre :

1. Un prix en soi ne veut rien dire : c’est le rapport qualité / prix qui importe. C’est une évidence : tout le monde en a déjà fait l’expérience mais on l’oublie parfois un peu trop rapidement. Je me suis retrouvée ainsi la semaine dernière à acheter une paire de petites baskets en toile à 20 EURO pour mon fils. J’étais pressée et je pensais qu’elles feraient l’affaire pour quelques mois en chaussures d’appoint. Après les avoir mises une journée, il avait perdu la moitié des rivets sensés garnir les orifices par où passent les lacets ! Résultat : retour au magasin pour remboursement desdites chaussures, changement de fournisseur et achat d’une paire de qualité à 100 EURO.

2. Un prix en soi ne veut rien dire : c’est ce que vous faites gagner au client qui importe. Inutile de rappeler ici l’impact d’une campagne de publicité mal traduite, le coût de brochures imprimées remplies de fautes d’orthographe, un manuel technique erroné.

Oui, mais tous ces raisonnements suscitent une explication et vous voilà parti pendant cinq minutes à disserter sur des exemples connus ou vécus, des cas de figures pertinents et éloquents voire des comparaisons avec d’autres corps de métiers au risque de passer pour quelqu’un qui fait la morale ou donne des leçons. Même s’il y a là un travail indéniable de pédagogie utile, certaines situations exigent une réponse brève, bien ciblée et percutante.

Il y a quelques années, au cours d’une réunion, j’ai assisté à un échange savoureux.

Au client qui lui disait qu’elle était trop chère, son interlocutrice fournisseur lui répondit :

« Oui, je sais que je suis chère… à votre coeur. »

Et j’ajouterais : « Cela, ça n’a pas de prix ! »

Posted in Small Business Practises | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

NDA: to sign or not to sign, that is the question!

Non Disclosure Agreement : to sign or not to sign

Last week, I had a bad experience: I lost an order because I refused to sign an imposed Non-Disclosure Agreement from a new translation agency. (In fact, I lost two orders, because in the meantime I turned down a new job since I had already committed to the first job. But that’s an other story…). You know the feeling? SO frustrating. Anyway, I thought I should turn it into a positive experience by sharing some of my views with you.

Over the last three years several agencies have asked me to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements. Nothing strange so far. I would even say that it’s good business practice in the translation world. EXCEPT when these contracts are drafted to their advantage and are NOT negotiable.

 Let’s have a closer look at it.

Based on my experience in a previous life (as Key Account Manager for a big American multinational), an NDA should always contain:

 1. the correct name of all parties. While this is obvious and generally done correctly, don’t forget to check.

 2. the purpose of the agreement. The scope should be as narrow and as detailed as possible.

 3. the elements (trade secrets, production methods, customers information…) and their form (email exchange, brochures, video recording etc.) that will be covered by the agreement.

 All of the above is generally done right. Now for the tricky parts.

 4. the duration of the contract. The contract is valid as from 20xx…. for one year and will automatically and tacitly be renewed each year unless otherwise agreed by the parties. (for example)

Yes, I have seen contracts that had no validity period!

To be on the safe side, it would be even better to put a date (2 or 3  years later for example) after which the contract will IN ANY CASE be reviewed to avoid committing to this secrecy agreement throughout your whole life.

 5. the duration of Non Disclosure. Generally the Non Disclosure period is the validity period of the contract + XX years (ranging from 2 up to 10 years). I never saw anything longer than 10 years even with pharmaceutical companies. The most common duration is 2 to 5 years after termination of the agreement.

 6. the termination of the contract. In the last contract I had, this item was simply not mentioned.

I would suggest something like “Termination of this agreement must be done in writing by either party with one month notice.”

7. the applicable law. While the party drafting the agreement will systematically use the law which is most advantageous (most of the time the law where its headquarters are located), I still think that it is not realistic for a freelancer to accept ANY applicable law. French law and English law are quite different in business practices. Already in my country of origin (France) and my country of residence (Belgium) there are differences and both are based on Napoleon’s code!

 LAST but not LEAST

8. Liability and fees

Take a look at the last clause formulated in the agreement I was supposed to sign last week:

“In addition to any other remedies provided by law of this Agreement, Translation Agency xxx shall have the right to obtain injunctive relief against the breach of this Agreement by Freelancer. Translation Agency xxx shall be entitled to recover from Freelancer any costs or expenses incurred in obtaining injunctive relief against breach of this Agreement by Freelancer, including without limitation legal fees and costs, at any time after the Effective Date (regardless of whether Freelancer is then still providing services to Translation Agency xxx).”

 What if the freelancer gives his computer to an IT specialist for repair and has all his content spread on the web? This occurred a few years ago to a famous Chinese actor who had compromising pictures in his hard drive and saw his files on Internet!

Is it realistic to sign such a clause to win a 400 EUR contract?

Answer from the Translation Agency:

This is a standard clause featured in many contracts, which all of our freelancers have accepted without question. As long as the agreement is not breached this should never be a problem. OF COURSE!

 I also heard: Don’t worry, trust us. Even if it is written, we never had to enforce this measure.

 Why do I have to sign then?

And you, what are your thoughts? Do not hesitate to share them. Lawyers are also welcome to comment!

PS: Big thank you to Catherine for proofreading this post.

Posted in Small Business Practises | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments