Hilarious French Translations – Why You Cannot Trust (Yet) Online Translators

Author: Camille Chevalier-Karfis

What’s the French translation for X in French? What’s X in French? Or even X French translation… Can you really trust the free French translation softwares?

You’re about to have a very meaningful sentence tattooed on your body forever, and you’re thinking: “I love French. I could translate it in French. It would be so cool to have a tattoo in French!”

Should you trust a free online translator for the French translation?

Hell no!

I miss you in French is “Tu me manques”. So the image above is quite likely to be a French person trying to translate “tu me manques” in English and getting it really wrong… Or it’s poetic and then it’s quite nice. However, I cringe thinking about all the French translations gone wrong in important situations…

1 – Free French Translation

So many free French language translators are now available that translating something seems very easy. Yet, can you really trust a computer with your French translation?

My answer is… they are getting better. But you shouldn’t trust them if it’s important.

I’ll illustrate this article with a few pictures mostly found on Pinterest of French translations gone terribly wrong…

Some are not politically correct: you’ve been warned!

2 – Are Language Translators Reliable?

As you may know, English is not my first language. I often use translation software to help me find the correct English translation of a French term. And sometimes, I also use them to find the French translation of an English term.

I have to say I am amazed at the progress of language translation softwares: most of time, the translation makes sense. I mean, it’s far from being perfect, but you’ll get the gist of the message. And sometimes it’s really amazing.

So amazing that often, when I have to translate a whole paragraph, I enter it in Google translate, copy it and then correct it… And usually, it’s faster than typing.

Now, this being said, I would not trust Google translate for a tattoo…

The French translation says: “boisson au jus de Coréen au citron”: drink made from the juice of a lemon flavour Korean (person)…

3 – Translation in French is Getting Better

So my experience is that these translation software are getting smarter. Why smarter? Because they seem to be understanding the context. I mean, I often get a better translation from a whole paragraph than from just entering a word.

That’s why I don’t like Reverso much… Since I know both languages pretty well, I can tell when the translation is not accurate. And it’s often the case with Reverso which is unfortunately one of the first result you always get.

Un poussin in French is the baby of a hen, a chick. A chick pea in French is “un pois chiche”.

4 – What is X in French Translation

In my experience, searching for “what’s the French translation for X in French? What’s X in French? or if you get lazy – or are in a hurry: X French translation” is faster, but also likely to give a wrong result.

So what should you do?

5 – Reliable Free Translation – Ask a Forum

You could go to a French forum and ask for help with your French translation. Not all members are reliable though so if what you need to have translated in French is important, like this tattoo you’re contemplating, make sure you get the help of a senior forum member or admin…

I’ve also used Project Voltaire. It’s in French, so not as great for English speakers but it’s an amazing resource to find answers to tricky French grammar questions. Very reliable!

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6 – Instant Translation in French

For instant French translation, I always use Wordreference.org. Actually, if I need something translated that’s how I enter my search “X French translation wordreference” and this way the Wordreference result will appear first.

Wordreference will give you the Collins dictionary results, but also their own results which come from member submissions in their forums. And that is accurate!

They also have a customer friendly search, so it’s very easy to use.

I’ll take this opportunity to say thank you Wordreference! This site has helped me a lot and I use it almost daily.

Here is another funny bad French translation example.

The French translation says: “polissez la saucisse”: polish the sausage…

7 – Professional Translation in French

Of course, you could hire a professional French translator. And you should if you are translating something as important as a tattoo: they may charge you for an hour of work to simply translate a sentence, but they’ll give you several options, and at least, you’ll be certain that what you have tattooed forever has exactly the meaning you want it to have.

A professional would also find the best way to say it, maybe adding a poetic twist to it if that’s what you wanted, or keeping the sentence short…

“Un préservatif” is a condom in French 🤣

8 – My Latest Funny Bad French Translation Example

I was doing a search for birthday cards in French to illustrate my 20 ways to wish happy birthday in French article. So I was browsing the results of one of the biggest stock image site, and found this result.

flowers and a very bad French translation

This is a typical translation software mistake. The sentences in English was certainly ‘may you enjoy many more years”. Not easy to translate but I would say something like “que tu profites encore de nombreuses années” or rather “encore beaucoup d’années de bonheur”.

The French verb “jouir” is a very very tricky verb to use. I used to mean to enjoy, and may still be used this way in a very, very formal literary text, like “cette maison jouit d’une belle vue sur la baie” – this house enjoys a beautiful view over the bay.

Most of the time though, “jouir” means ‘to come sexually’.

So in modern, everyday French, that card translates as “may you still come sexually for many years”… Happy birthday! 🥳

I just can’t stop laughing but imagine how embarrassing that would have been if you’ve sent that card to a friend…

What about you? Do you have stories where translating something in French didn’t quite work for you? Please share them in the comment section below, I’d love to read them!

Author: Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Born and raised in Paris, I have been teaching today's French to adults for 25+ years in the US and France. Based on my students' goals and needs, I've created unique downloadable French audiobooks focussing on French like it's spoken today, for all levels. Come to Paimpol and enjoy an exclusive French immersion homestay with me in Brittany.

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