Languages for the future – French

Continuing my series of blog posts about important languages for UK government, business, organisations and individuals, this week I turn the spotlight on French and French translations.

As you may remember, last year the British Council updated their report on Languages for the Future, identifying Spanish, Mandarin and French as the top three most important languages we need to succeed in a global marketplace.

Many of us learnt French at school but, as the report discovered, our language skills fall below those of other countries. In fact research has shown that UK students do not take as much advantage of opportunities to study overseas, in part because they lack the necessary language skills. Whereas in countries such as France, Germany and Spain many more students use the Erasmus funding programme to gain valuable experience in other countries.

This lack of language proficiency can hold businesses back when it comes to seizing opportunities in key markets, including French speaking markets. In the CBI’s latest Education and Skills survey (2017), French remains the language most sought after by those employers looking for language skills (51%).

French speakers are not just in France!

France is not the only country that speaks French. It is also an official language of many more countries, including Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, Andorra, Monaco, Haiti, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, and Seychelles to name a few!

However as French is so widely spoken, there are some region variations in how it‘s spoken and written. Canadian French and European French is a good example, where there are differences in pronunciation, grammar and terminology.

Everyday vocabulary, particularly informal words, can be different in Canadian French compared to European French. Punctuation in Canadian French is similar to English punctuation, whereas there are more differences in European French. The Canadians also tend to use the informal ‘you’, while the French favour the formal ‘vous’.

There are also differences in the way anglicisms (a word or phrase that is peculiar to British English) are handled. The French generally retain the English word, for example ‘le week-end’, while Canadian French speakers would say ‘la fin de la semaine’.

Why do businesses need French?

Worldwide approximately 76 million people speak French as their first language. It is also estimated that between 100–200 million people speak French as a second language. That’s a very sizable market of French speakers who will be more receptive to your business, brand or products if you communicate with them in French!

French is naturally an important language for exporting to France. Only 20.7 miles and a busy shipping channel separate us, so France is a logical market to export to and import from. The British Council’s report ranks France as the 2nd most important non-English speaking export market for the UK, valuing the French speaking export market (combine with Belgium and Switzerland) at £69 billion.

Communicating With French Speakers In The UK

Of course, communicating with customers and doing business with French speakers is not just confined to exporting to French speaking countries, or importing goods from those countries to the UK. There are also many opportunities where having French language skills can help your business here in the UK.

Along with students, French tourists also swell our towns and cities every year and they too may buy more products or services if they can find information in French. According to figures from Visit Britain, France was the UK’s most important market for visitor spending in 2016, valued at £1.37 billion.

Any business that provides services or attractions for tourists should explore whether French translations and French-speaking customer services, should be part of their business strategies.

Not all visitors to the UK are here for a holiday. In 2016 we also had 200,000 business visits from France and this is another important consideration for UK businesses. If your business is attending an international trade fair or conference here on home soil you might not consider translating content for a global audience. However, that could give you the edge over competitors. Similarly, having interpreters or French speaking colleagues available to help build Anglo-French business relationships could be advantageous.

Next steps

If you want to reach customers in French speaking countries, or do business with other businesses and organisations in France, it’s time to review your in-house capability and make strategic plans for the future. Long term this might involve recruiting more French speaking staff, or providing language learning to those team members who need it.

You may also like to explore professional support, by partnering with a translation service provider. Companies like us, Comtec, have native-speaking French linguists to help your organisation communicate successfully in French speaking markets. Our linguists include translators and interpreters with industry-specific experience, working in European French, Canadian French and other regional dialects.

To discuss your organisation’s language priorities and how we can support your global objectives, please contact our team on +44 (0) 1926 335 681 or email us at For a quick quote, click the button in the sidebar =>

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