When it comes to technical terms, France is caught in a conundrum…
On one hand, there is a strong desire to keep the French language ‘pure’ and a rejection of too many anglicisms but on the other hand adoption of English computer and tech terms is inevitable since we operate in a globally connected world where English (like it or not) is the standard.
The Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication even puts out the official French tech terms glossary to make sure that the official French terms are used (Get the 330 pages long PDF document here). As an funny note, this guide was last revised in 2009, so maybe they are giving up in trying to catch up with the speed of progress…
French computer terms can be broken down into 2 different categories:
1 – Literal French Translations of English Computer Terms
Most of the time, the French equivalent is just a literal translation of the English term. For example:
- File = “le fichier”
- Bookmark = “Le marque-page” (but also “signet” or “favori” depending on the browsers)
- Software = “Un logiciel”
- Software library = “Une logithèque”
- An (email) attachment = “Une pièce jointe”
- A browser = “un navigateur”
- Word processor = “un traitement de texte”
- Hard drive = “un disque dur”
- Password = “un mot de passe”
- Mouse = “une souris”
- Database = “une base de données”
- Search engine = “un moteur de recherche”
- Scroll bar = “une barre de defilement”
2 – Tech words that stay in English because there’s no (official) equivalent in French:
Sometimes even the hardcore French language conservatives will get stomped and so terms like these become common:
- Web = “Le web”
- Blog = “un blog”
- Wifi = “le or la WiFi” (pronounce it wee fee)
- Modem = “le modem”
- Driver = “le driver” (you’ll sometimes see “le pilote” on this one)
3 – How To Say To Surf The Web in French?
Internet is a strange one because people use it either with an article in front or not.
To surf the web can be said as “naviguer SUR l’internet” but you also sometimes hear “naviguer internet” on TV.
Personally, I don’t use “Internet” but “l’internet”.
You’ll sometimes hear “la toile”, a literal translation of ‘the web’, but it’s mostly used in newspapers, and if you ask me, is a bit snobbish.
4 – How To Say Email in French?
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Email is probably one of the most contentious ones, most people say “un email” or “un mail”.
However, l’ Academy Française has actually pushed a brand new word that originated in Quebec and has made it the official term: “un courriel” (a combo of “courrier” (a classic paper letter) and ‘électronique’)
Honestly, except for the French administration, I have not heard the term “courriel” used in France very much. (Another one I sometimes run into when interacting with French government web sites is “mèl”… but that’s just wrong n’est-ce-pas?)
5 – How To Say A Blog in French?
A blog is mostly called… a blog! However, a blog post is often referred to as “un billet” (that one threw me for a loop at first!)
6 – How To Say to Download in French?
To ‘download’ is “télécharger” but “télécharger” is also used to mean ‘to upload’ (the official translation) …
So what do we end up doing? We conjugate “Uploader” as if it was a French verb: “J’uploade, tu uploades, ils ont uploadé…” :-) (note: some people also say “mettre en ligne” (to put online) to mean upload but it’s not often used by techies).
7 – More Weird French Computer Vocabulary
- A font = “une police de caractère”
- A laptop = “un portable”. It can be confusing though because many French people use the word “un portable” for their smartphone as well. It should be “un mobile” for the phone, but we use “un portable” as well.
- A bug = “Un bug”, ou “un bogue”, and the verb “beuguer” (mon ordi beugue/beug/bug…) = to crash, to bug.
- To crash = “planter” (yes, as in to plant…). French people sometimes use “crash” but it sounds a lot like “cracher” which is to spit on the ground !!!
“Mon ordi plante tout le temps” = My computer crashes all the time.
- To be hanging, painfully slow: “ramer” (yes, as in rowing a boat…)
“Mon portable rame quand je joue à Minecraft” = my laptop is way too slow way I play Minecraft.
- RAM = “mémoire vive” vs. ROM = “mémoire morte” (or dead memory :-)
- Shareware = “un partagiciel” (literal), or “un logiciel à contribution”
- Une arobase = the @ key
And of course, many French people use their “eeee-phone” not “eye-phone” (although I’ve heard both :-)
8 – Did you know? The French Keyboard
One thing that some of you might not be aware of is that the French keyboard (“le clavier français”) has a different key layout than what you are used to.
The key sequence more closely matches the frequency of specific letters in French so whereas the English keyboards are QWERTY keyboards, the French keyboards are AZERTY (see the first picture of this article).
Most of the letters share the same position between the 2 keyboards which makes you feel overconfident when you switch from one to the other and mistype just 1 out of every 10 letters :-)
If you liked this article, you may enjoy Camille’s articles on Social Media French Vocabulary.