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If you go to market in Québec, your brand wouldn’t survive without French translation for Canada. Consumers in the province of Québec expect US-based companies to communicate in both English and French. If you don’t, they can file a complaint to the OQLF, the governing body that protects the integrity of the French language in Québec. This has many companies interested in the Francization process to avoid possible fines.

French Language Guide published by the Quebéc Government for French translation for Canada

French Language Guide published by the Québec Government

Because English is also spoken in Canada, it’s easy to overlook the impact the French language may have on a brand in Canada. The French language doesn’t follow the same rules as English, which designers and writers who are responsible for creating brand messaging often fail to take into account, especially if it is their first time being exposed to a second language.

Designing and typesetting with French translations is very much a cultural shift, because your mindset must switch from “what looks good in English” to “what looks good in French”. The Canadian government also publishes French language guides to standardize the way the French language is being used.

This is why multilingual typesetting is different from design. We often take the responsibility of typesetting French translation for Canada, because we look for these rules. Client designers often want to change the translation from what was delivered to conform to what they think makes the design piece look good, while in reality it is biased by their experience in English.

It’s only when you apply the French language rules appropriately that you can really take a brand from looking “translated” to looking “polished” in French. This is more than just localizing the brand message for Canada. Here are some tips related to French style rules and common misunderstandings:

Punctuation

Canadian French has specific punctuation rules. Here is a shortlist of the most commonly overlooked punctuation rules:

Quotation marks. Quotation marks in French are always double chevrons (called guillemets). The opening quotation mark is followed by a non-breaking space and the closing quotation mark is preceded by a non-breaking space. Common mistakes are: Replacing chevrons with English quotation marks, leaving out the spaces, or having chevrons super-scripted to match the look of English quotation marks. For example:

  • (Par ex., 10 $ ou « dix dollars » devra s’écrire 10,00)
  • (Par ex., 10 $ ou «dix dollars» devra s’écrire 10,00)
  • (Par ex., 10 $ ou “dix dollars” devra s’écrire 10,00)

Space before colon. There must be a space before the colon in French for Canada (French for France also has a space before question marks and exclamation marks). Designers often remove this space because they think it is a typo. For example:

An English blurb and a French translation for Canada side by side showing different conventions for colons and bulleted lists

(You may have also noticed in the example above that the French does not have commas at the end of the first two bullet points. This is also intentional!)

Units and decimals. Canada uses the metric system. When converting numbers, also keep in mind that thousands are separated by a non-breaking space, not a comma. Decimals are separated by a comma, not a period. For example:

  • 10 000 for ten thousand instead of 10,000 or 10.000
  • 2,54 cm instead of 2.54 cm (or 1 inch) – Also note that SI units or other symbols require a non-breaking space between the numeral and the unit.

Percentage signs. In French, there should be a non-breaking space before the percentage sign. This space is often removed by designers:

  • So, 60 % instead of 60%

Dollar signs. The dollar sign is placed after the amount and a non-breaking space. For example:

  • 10 $ instead of $10

Capitalization

The book "Un matin ordinaire" by Marjorie TixierProbably the biggest complaint in French translation for Canada is the overuse of Title Case capitalization. Only proper names are capitalized mid-sentence in French. Everything else should be lowercase. This includes items such as headers and titles and any callouts. This is probably the biggest cultural shift for designers because sentence case titles (where only the first word is capitalized) look rather understated in English. How could a title stand out in French? Perhaps “elegance over boldness” describes the approach best. Title Case sentences in French are considered “loud,” and not in a good way. There are other ways to draw attention to titles, and we recommend consulting with your French translation team on which way would work best in context.

An example of a simple line: Join Our Email List should be Inscrivez-vous à notre liste d’envoinot Inscrivez-Vous À Notre Liste D’Envoi

A side note: ALL-CAPS is appropriate in French. We recommend always having accented characters when using ALL-CAPS, though that is not always deemed essential.

Fonts 

Website localization example of font distortion in French translation for Canada

An example of font substitution. While the font clearly supports accented characters, it doesn’t support the c-cedilla (ç) character often used in French.

The French language uses an extended set of characters. Without the proper character support, you get font substitution wherever there is a special character, which makes the type look disjointed. We help clients find the right fonts with the right character support and that match the brand image.

Keep in mind that French requires support for over 134 characters. That’s about 34 more characters than English, including accented characters in both lowercase and uppercase (á, ç, é, è, ë, î, ï, ô, û, ü, ù and ÿ), ligatures (æ and œ) and letters found in words borrowed from other languages (for example ñ).

TIP: While we never encourage any designers to re-type our French translations (always copy/paste), we often see that even in-country reviewers are unable to type accents. The best way to type accented characters in Windows is to activate the international keyboard (go to Settings > Time & Language > Language; under “Preferred Languages” click on “English (United States)” then click on “Options”; under “Keyboards” click on “Add a keyboard” and select “United States-International”). Then you type the accent followed by the character. For instance ‘ + e = é and ” + e = ë. If you actually need the ‘ or ” symbols, hit the space bar after you type that symbol.

Dates, times, currency and metrics in French translation for Canada

The conversion of dates, times, currency and metrics can be problematic because they usually come pre-formatted based on the US system. These conversions need to be taken into account in design and websites:

Dates. Whenever we encounter dates, we write it out in French. It’s the best way to avoid any issues with the MM/DD version over DD/MM style. Also, months and days are not capitalized. For instance:

  • Valid through 9/23/2015
  • Valide jusqu’au 23 septembre 2015

Times. Times in French are based on the 24-hour clock, more commonly known as military time in the US. The most common form in documentation is the use of the hour followed by an “h” for “heurs” and then the minute:

  • 15 h 30 (instead of 3:30PM)A French-language listing of the Blues vs. Canadiens hockey game

 

Currencies, Postal Codes, Metrics, etc. are all things to consider when populating data into your designs.

One final tip: One advantage in Québec is that paper formats are the same as the North American letter standard. However, in the rest of Canada, the common ISO 216 standard (A, B, C size) is used. Keep this in mind when creating print pieces for Canada.

Differences from French for France

Did you know that French translation for Canada is different than French translation for France? As we’ve posted in reference to translation of advertising and food packaging in Canada, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to bringing your product or service to the Canadian market. Of course, this is especially true if you are advertising and selling in Québec, a province whose official language is French.

Build your resources

Brand Management for Canada is an organization-wide effort, including marketing managers, writers, designers, translators and project managers. Therefore, we encourage organizations to build and share a Canadian French language style guide that specifically addresses the impact of the French language to the company’s brand standards and messaging.

Good external resources for your Canadian Marketing Manager: