French Contract Translation

Helping commercial legal teams translate legal documents.

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French Contract Translation

Reliable French contract translation is essential when businesses want to expand their market to include France (or a French-speaking country). All legal documents such as Terms of Service, Privacy Policies, and more will need to be properly translated into French so that the target audience can easily access and understand them.

Translating English to French and vice versa is not for the faint of heart. Though the two languages borrow heavily from one another, there are distinct grammatical differences that are not intuitive to a casual speaker/student of the language. That’s why native translation — or at least someone with extensive experience in using French on a formal and literary level is required.

Let’s explore everything businesses need to know about French contract translation here.

French Legal Translation

As a Romance language, French falls softly on the ear and has a melodic, harmonious sound to it. Many a foreigner has been mesmerized by the sound of a native French speaker.

However, even someone with a basic understanding of French can understand that speaking French on the street and using formal French in a legal document are two very different things.

Just as one example, the French language employs six different registers or degrees of formality. Literary language sits at the top and slang is at the bottom. When translating any document, the translator must take into account these six registers and use the appropriate one for their audience.

In French legal translation, proficiency in the most formal registers is an absolute must. It is extremely important that businesses employ legal translation services that take into account these registers or they risk offending their audience or making themselves look like insensitive foreigners.

Spoken language is constantly evolving, but French vocabulary and terms used in legal documents have not changed much over the years. This results in the language sounding a bit archaic and requires the translator to have a more complete understanding of the French language.

English to French Contract Translation

For In-Country Use

We provide two types of high-level, high-quality professional French contract translation. The first type is English to French contract translation for businesses expanding into a French-speaking country.

For example, in the digital age, it is imperative for businesses moving into a French market to have a French web site for French users. Creating the content of that site might feel simple by using machine translators to switch over your English content.

However, any French person reading the site will know the business took the easy way out. They come out looking cheap and insensitive.

Furthermore, machine translators absolutely butcher the translation of formal legal documents like a Terms of Service. They just literally translate words from one language to another. They don’t take into account the correct register or nuances with formal legal terms that don’t typically appear in everyday French or may not have a direct English equivalent.

For accurate translation, businesses need experienced, professional contract translation services handled by a real person with a deep understanding of French legalese.

French to English Contract Translation

For Cross-Border Negotiations

The second type of translation is the opposite. Businesses who have dealings in French-speaking countries will receive legal documents from other businesses. Unfortunately, their English-speaking lawyer will have a difficult time reviewing it and ensuring that the business is safe to sign it.

A document properly translated into English, however, can make all the difference.

Of course, the accuracy of the translation is an absolute must. There is a reason the phrase “lost in translation” exists. Even if a translator faithfully translates every single word literally from one language to another, the end result could be two documents that say two different things. That’s why using machine translation services for important documents is so dangerous.

Contract Translation Tips

Context is important as well as understanding both literal and figurative meanings in both languages to complete an accurate translation. Sometimes this requires adding clarifying text (or using more words as the language requires), and other times it means eliminating unneeded words. For example, it typically takes 15 - 20% more words in French to say the same thing in English.  

French is a supremely elegant language and some legal concepts in English are hard to convey in French. The translator must have an intimate understanding of how to retain the elegance of French while still conveying the correct meaning.

It is also important to note that the local language as well as local law should be taken into account. French varies somewhat from country to country. While a French person would understand a French-speaking Canadian, there would also be differences that might cause a chuckle or two during a conversation. Unfortunately, these chuckles are not appropriate in formal contract translation.

Finally, local law and legal terms can also affect the meaning somewhat. It cannot be stressed enough that the translator is keenly aware of their target audience and local differences in order to produce an accurate piece. Anything less is asking for a lawsuit.

Types of French Contracts

There are various types of French contracts orlegal documents that businesses may need to have translated. These include:

  • Terms of Services
  • Privacy Policies
  • Online Agreements
  • Vendor Contracts
  • Customer Contracts
  • Master Service Agreements

Contracts in France

In order for contracts to be valid in France, there are certain obligations that must be fulfilled. There must be:

  • Free and informed consent from all parties involved
  • The parties must be deemed capable of entering into the agreement
  • The contract must have a certain determined objective
  • A lawful cause 

Obligations of the parties must be clearly defined as well as quality control methods and procedures put into place.

Popular French Contract Terms

As mentioned, the French found in French contracts differs somewhat from French spoken on the street. While street French has evolved with time, legal phraseology is not so fluid. This means that many terms in French contracts sound archaic and many not even appear in modern-day dictionaries or grammar guides.

Here are a few examples of the terminology you might see in French contracts:

relatif à...
Relating to
X s'interdit de…
X agrees not to or shall refrain from… (not to be confused with the next one)
X š'interdit de...
X is prohibited from… (note the caron over the s is the only difference)

France’s Legal System

When it comes to the legal system, France is on the other side of common law v civil law systems. While the US, Canada, and England all use common law systems, France uses civil. France’s legal system is also quite complex, making it that much more difficult for international companies to fully understand their laws.

Thankfully, however, France is a signatory to the Vienna Convention on international contracts. This means that most French companies will accept contracts adhering to international law — making business dealings between countries a whole lot easier.

Translate Contracts with Peace of Mind

When it’s time for businesses to work in different countries, proper legal contract translation is essential to their business. Reach out to us today for legal French contract translation services you can count on.

When it’s time for businesses to work indifferent countries, proper legal contract translation is essential to their business. Reach out to us today for legal contract translation services you can count on.

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