What Everyone Should Know Before Translating French

Many English speakers don’t fully grasp the importance of accent marks in other languages. Accent marks aren’t simply word decor, (although Noël does look pretty cool)! Each accent mark serves a purpose, and oftentimes, only fluent or native speakers truly understand all of their uses. In this article, we’ll take a quick look at French accent marks, and how they’re crucial to properly translating any document or file.

3 Accent Marks in French

French is a beautiful language, but it can be tricky to master. Why? One reason, aside from its unique nasal and guttural sounds, is the inclusion of several different accent marks. Some of these accent marks affect the way a word is spoken, others are simply meant to differentiate two similarly spelled words. We’ll dive into three of the French accent marks below.

The Accent Aigu

This accent in French is represented by an upward, slanted tick mark and it changes the way an E is pronounced. Normally, the letter E in French is pronounced “uh,” but when you add the accent aigu, it becomes “eh.” To really hear the difference, try smiling as you say “eh.” It should sound like you’re saying the letter A in English, but a little softer.

Some words that have the accent aigu are “fatigué” and “parlé.” To hear this accent and the following accents in action, check out the short video below.

The Accent Grave

This accent is a downward, slanted tick mark and it always falls at the middle or end of a word in French. The accent grave changes the normal “uh” sound for E in French, to an “eh” sound like in the English word “egg.” It might seem like a slight difference, but to native speakers – it’s a very noticeable one!

Some words that have this accent mark are “très” and “après.” The accent grave can also be used on other vowels like A or U, but in these cases, it doesn’t change how the word is pronounced. Instead, it helps distinguish the word from another word that sounds exactly the same.  

For example, look at the words “ou” and “où.” “Ou” without the accent means “or,” but with the accent it means “where.” Another example is with the words “la” and “là.” “La” without the accent means “the,” but with the accent it means “there.”

The Trema Accent

The last accent we’ll go over in the article, although there are more accents in French, is called “le tréma.” This accent is represented by two small dots that hover over a vowel. You’ll see this accent mark on a word that has two vowels side-by-side.

Instead of pronouncing the vowels together, this accent mark tells the speaker to separate the vowel sounds. Because of the accent mark, the vowels become two different syllables in the word, like in “Noël.” Instead of saying “Nol,” the French say, “No-el.”

When it comes to translating documents or websites, using accent marks properly is a necessity. Forgetting an accent can drastically change the meaning of a word, and leave your listeners or readers very confused. Save yourself from embarrassing mistakes and be sure to work with real language experts for all of your translation needs. Check out SpokenHere today.

Jessica Dais is Senior Content Marketing Specialist for TakeLessons. She is a friend and guest blogger of SpokenHere.