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June 16, 2022By legaltranslationsTranslations Tips

The Challenges of English to French Legal Translation

Importance of the French language globally

French is one of the world’s most important languages in terms of the number of speakers and its international significance. French has declined to some extent in terms of its international significance as English and other languages such as Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, Russian, Spanish and Indonesian have all gained in importance. However, because of France’s past colonial sphere of influence, it still has a huge and varied number of speakers of the language, although for many it is their second or even their third language. 

French is spoken as a first language in France itself, parts of Switzerland, Quebec in Canada, the French colony of Guyenne in South America, and island territories in the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans, e.g. Martinique, French Polynesia, and Reunion. It is also spoken as a second language in many ex-French colonies in Africa, such as Cote d’Ivoire, Morocco, Algeria, Cameroon, Mali, Mauritania, etc. The use of French in South East or East Asian ex-colonies like Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos has not survived as well.


    The French language is also an important language in legal use, food, cuisine, literature, songs, film, and theatre as well as the fact that it has had an immense impact on other languages which have ‘borrowed’ French words.

    Challenges to translating documents from French to English or English to French

    The translation of documents from English to French or French to English is an important part of the translation industry. The major part of French translation uses standard French, i.e. the French used in France. For example, legal translation of French legal documents into English or vice versa uses standard French. 

    The challenge in legal document translation is not in the regional variations in grammar or vocabulary but in the use of French and English legal terms and a thorough understanding of the legal systems of both countries involved. This must reflect knowledge of specific countries’ legal systems. For example, legal document translation of documents from Quebec may very well be in French, but will not necessarily reflect the legal system of France itself but the province of Quebec or that of the federal government of Canada. On the English language side, legal translation must take into account differences in laws of the English language jurisdictions.

    The challenges in the translation of technical, medical, or scientific documents from French to English or vice versa are also more a matter of using professional medical, technical, or scientific translators rather than a more generalist translator.

    Variations in the French language

    Translation of marketing material or literature must take into account regional differences in the French language itself. French was exported all around the world and even if it is still used as an official or unofficial second language, the fact is that there have been many divergences in vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure, especially when examining colloquial or everyday use. In some countries such as Haiti, an old French colony, the main language used is a patois which mixes French, some African words, and homegrown vocabulary. Other patois is spoken throughout the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean territories

    Choosing a native translator

    It should now be apparent that when choosing a French to English or English to French translator should involve using a native translator who is not just fluent in both languages, but has the competence as a professional translator and has competence in the specific field, e.g. as a legal translator or medical translator.


    French remains an important language internationally with many tens of millions of first or second speakers of the language outside of France itself. Because of this significant status, French to English and English to French translation is an important industry. Key factors in choosing a translator are the subject matter of the text as well as regional variations in the French language. 


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