Flex Your French! 6 Translation Exercises for a Language Workout
What if there was a way you could turn your passion for French into cold hard cash?
As a major language, French needs translators who can help share research, speeches, books and more with the world. That means there are opportunities to transform your French skills into a fun new side hustle.
In this article, you’ll learn some great reasons to start translating and find some online exercises to help with French translation practice.
- How Does Translating Help You Learn French?
- Invaluable Tools for Top-notch Translation
- 6 Creative French Translation Exercises for All Learning Levels
- Become a Volunteer Translator at Translations for Progress
- Complete the French Translation Exercises at france-pub.com
- Translate Authentic French Videos on FluentU
- Write French/English Wikipedia Articles
- Advanced Speaker? Become a Freelance Translator
- Ramp It up with Simultaneous YouTube Interpretation
How Does Translating Help You Learn French?
Even if you don’t intend to make a career out of your language skills, translating French gives you practical experience with vocabulary, sentence structure and grammar. You need to expose yourself to real-world French to truly master the language—textbooks just can’t cut it all alone.
I keep a database of French words I encounter while translating. You’ll learn many new words related to academics, technology and jurisprudence (the subjects most frequently translated). More importantly, you’ll realize that some words are simply used more often than others, even if they mean the same thing. Getting familiar with these words makes your French more authentic.
There’s also a cultural element to translation. Several of the translation exercises you’ll find below will open you to a world of authentic French media, from movies to Wikipedia articles. And with others, you’ll quickly discover the art of formal written French.
For example, French correspondence often uses formules de politesse (formulas of politeness) such as:
Je vous prie d’agréer, madame, l’éxpression de mes sentiments distingués.
The sentence above literally translates to: I beseech you to accept, madam, the expression of my distinguished sentiments.
This is quite a mouthful to basically say the same thing as “sincerely!”
But this is real-world French. The French you’ll see while translating. Just why do the French use such long-winded expressions? What does this say about their relationship with their language? Every language implies a different way of thinking, and understanding this is indispensable to mastering French.
Invaluable Tools for Top-notch Translation
Translators can never do all their work without help. There are simply too many words to know, too many subtleties that are part of native-sounding French. Here are some of the tools I use to help me in my translation practice.
Look up Words in Context on Linguee
What makes Linguee different from other word-search sites is that you can search entire phrases. Linguee scours the internet to find word-for-word copies of the phrase you typed within a larger context, allowing you to make sure that you’re translating a given word correctly depending on the situation.
Of course you can also search for individual words, in which case Linguee provides both examples and the definition.
Double-check Your Writing at BonPatron
I only recently discovered this site, but I can’t believe I didn’t know about it sooner! At BonPatron, you can literally copy and paste your entire French text and it’ll identify errors and explain why you were incorrect!
BonPatron even gives you the option to uncheck je suis francophone (“I am a francophone”). By unchecking this box, BonPatron will know that you’re a learner and will offer more explanations.
Consider SDL Trados Studio Translation Software
If you’re really serious about translating, think about investing in software like SDL Studio.
Over 250,000 professional translators use SDL Studio for all their translation needs. Although it’s not free, SDL Studio offers automatic translations, dictionaries, project management and much more.
A distinct advantage of SDL Studio is that its dictionaries offer a consistent tone of voice across all languages. This is very important when translating academic and corporate documents because there’s a very specific writing style that you must adhere to with clear, concise grammar. Editions are available for professionals and freelancers.
6 Creative French Translation Exercises for All Learning Levels
As I explained above, there aren’t many online exercises dedicated to translation, so you have to think of other strategies to get in some translation practice. But what might those strategies be?
Become a Volunteer Translator at Translations for Progress
If your goal is to become a certified translator, you’ll need experience working for certified translation offices. Unfortunately, many translation offices are unwilling to give you work if you’re not certified. It’s a Catch-22!
But you can do what many certified translators before you have done to gain experience: volunteer!
At Translations for Progress, NGOs post translation work they need volunteers to pick up. Once you’ve registered, to find work, click English and “Search our Databases” on the main page and you’ll be able to filter projects by language.
Click “List all Translation Tasks” and look for the pairs “English to French” and “French to English.”
It’s up to you to contact the organizations, but as part of the deal, they’ll give you pointers and corrections on your translation. If the project is big enough, they might even compensate you. Once an NGO gave me a tote bag!
Keep in mind that it’s better to start off translating “French to English” instead of “English to French.” Your English grammar is better, and frankly this is more fair to the contracting organizations.
Complete the French Translation Exercises at france-pub.com
As I explained before, there’s a lamentable lack of actual translation exercises for French learners. If they exist, they usually just have one or two translation questions in a long list of exercises. One exception is france-pub.com, which has a few dedicated translation exercises for language learners.
On the main page, scroll to the bottom and click on the link that says “French Lessons.” From here, scroll to the bottom again and click where it says “Translation 1,” “Translation 2,” etc. under “Homework.”
Here you can translate French phrases and sentences. Some are quick, simple phrases on basic vocabulary, while others are longer sentences in a narrative. For most of the exercises you can check your work immediately by clicking for the correct translation to compare to.
For extra help, france-pub.com offers several lessons and grammar pointers.
Translate Authentic French Videos on FluentU
How about practicing translation with real French movies, commercials, funny vlogs and other authentic content? You can find videos like these and more on the immersion learning website and iOS / Android app, FluentU.
The FluentU program has several opportunities to try your translation skills. You can pull up the transcript and write a translation before you begin a video. Then, you can watch the video with English and French subtitles on and check how your translation compares to the official one created by language experts.
You can also turn off the English subtitles and focus on reading and listening to the French language.
If you’re not sure what a certain word means, you can click on it to see the contextual definition. Study this specific meaning of the word by saving it as a flashcard, viewing other videos that use the word in the same way and taking personalized quizzes designed to help you memorize new vocabulary words naturally.
Write French/English Wikipedia Articles
While surfing Wikipedia, you may’ve noticed that many articles come in a range of languages that you can select from the lefthand sidebar. Translating English articles into French (or vice versa) and then posting the resulting article is a fun way to practice translation while learning about all kinds of topics.
Wikipedia’s French speaking community will make edits and corrections on your article. All you have to do is keep a copy of your original and note the changes.
For this to work, you’ll have to register (on the top right of the main page, click on “Create Account”). Next, you’ll have to find an article that exists in English but not in French (or in French but not in English). Alternatively, if you can’t find an article to translate, you can do your own translation offline and check it against an existing French version.
Try to focus on topics that interest you, because a Wikipedia article can be a big undertaking. Choosing something you’re inherently interested in will make this a fun translation activity and not a chore.
Advanced Speaker? Become a Freelance Translator
Of course you can’t be a certified translator without work experience and exams, but there’s no law that says you can’t do freelance translation. You won’t be able to put a seal on your work (like that of the American Translators Association), which means that you won’t be able to translate sensitive documents like academic transcripts or criminal records, but you can always translate documents such as resumes, essays, letters, etc.
One great site to start with is ProZ.com. ProZ.com is one of the best-known websites in the translation community, and for good reason. Here you can find translation jobs, translation help and even discounts on translation products.
At the welcome screen, in the section “search for translators/interpreters,” if you select French, you’ll see a list of all French translators. As a website member, you’ll have access to the “job search” feature, allowing you to monetize your passion.
You can also get your name out there as a freelance translator on Upwork or Craigslist. On these sites, you can advertise yourself as a freelance translator and search for translation job postings.
On Upwork you can check out how much other freelances are charging to offer competitive prices. Keep in mind you’ll most likely have to charge less for uncertified translations—another reason to gain work experience and become certified!
Ramp It up with Simultaneous YouTube Interpretation
Some of the best translators work as interpreters, either simultaneous or consecutive. Simultaneous interpreters translate at the same time that the presenter is speaking using headphones. Consecutive interpreters speak just after. In this case, the presenter will pause, allowing the interpreter to translate.
Interpretation can be challenging because even if you understand everything in French (or English), formulating a sentence in your head under strict time limits is difficult. But that’s what makes it such great practice for French learners. In real conversations with French native speakers, you’ll need to understand what they’re saying as they’re saying it.
Plus, if you can master interpretation, there are many professional opportunities available.
I practice by simply finding French videos on YouTube, and trying to translate aloud what I hear. French conferences and TED Talks are best for this because the French tends to be slower and clearer. As your skills advance, you can try interpreting authentic French YouTube channels (the kind native speakers watch).
If you can translate, you’ve made it. It’s the ultimate expression of French mastery. Of course you’ll never know if you don’t try. Although unorthodox, French translation exercises will help you get your French skills up to a native-sounding level.