Sylke Denfeld, Vendor Manager at WHP, recently wrote this article for Localization Focus, published by the Localization Research Centre (LRC).

More than 65 million people and twice as many French speaking Canadians, Belgians, Swiss, Africans, and various islanders worldwide definitely make France a major localization market.  Written French, with regard to content localization, distinguishes mainly three variants, depending on the targeted consumer audiences: Continental, Canadian and sometimes Belgian French.

France is the fourth industrial nation, a major importing and exporting world force. French is one of the official languages for the EU, the UN and the WTO. Due to the exponentially growing number of translations, the EU developed a machine translation system that works especially well for French. As a result, French will probably always be a source or intermediate language in the EU context. With the French government fiercely defending the French language against the growing impact of English in politics, economy, technology, science and culture, there is a long list of laws and ministerial decrees imposing the translation of documentation for goods and services that foreign manufacturers or editors intend to market in France.

The French are a very dynamic people, whether in culture, politics, or industrial production, and the French economy is better off than most of its European partners. All this assures that French will continue to be the leading part of the basic language set for all content localization: FIGS. However, French customers are very demanding and working for the French market needs an important amount of fine-tuning. On the other hand, this secures the market against any speculation regarding off-shoring French localization.

In spite of the high potential, reality is more complex, and the French localization market suffers from several weaknesses.

The first concerns the lack of qualified resources. Although translation as we understand and practice it today has a very long history in France, with first translation schools teaching translation “ad verbum” already back in the 15th century, there is a shortage of qualified translators in France. The academic world and its institutions have not yet caught on with market requirements. Most of them provide an inappropriate literary education, and with staff that often is out of touch with today’s business world. Very few universities and training centres prepare the students for their future jobs by offering a suitable, specific localization curriculum. The industry has tried to come up with their own solutions: Quite a number of companies are offering internships to graduated students. The investment to be taken into account, especially in a mid-size localization company such as WHP, must not be underrated: the trainee requires constant monitoring and supervision by a senior translator who needs to spend quite some time out of their productive assignment in order to educate the potentially future colleague.

Another concern is the immaturity of the French localization market, which becomes apparent with both localization customers and translators. Both work in very dispersed and isolated set-ups.

On the translators’ side a certain state of mind surely accounts for this. Individualism occupies a religious-like status in French society and it shows: The immense majority of independent French translators are working alone and are very reluctant to share work and responsibilities in a group. The very recent and sporadic appearance of small virtual teams does not substantially challenge the situation.

Even if French translators are technically well equipped with the latest hardware, software and DSL, which is now available in the most remote French provinces, the dispersal of resources is still a challenge for localization companies such as WHP who need to handle large and complex localization projects in ever-tighter time frames. In order to deliver quality in time, we need to be inventive and develop our own tailored tools and procedures.

When looking at today’s French customers a similar fragmentation becomes visible: translation is still often separated from content production and either handled in-house or outsourced to one of the numerous French translation agencies. These agencies do not add any value to translating when merely subcontracting translations to freelancers. French companies usually will not contact a localization company to get a turnkey product or full service. They rather look for one-off solutions as per internal department requests.

The potential is clear: centralizing customer localization demands and tasks and regrouping and concentrating service offers would open the door to successful and efficient localization activities for all parties involved.

Although WHP’s headquarters are located in France, we have very few large French client accounts. Most of them are related to national L10N centres of multi-lingual corporations, or foreign L10N centres of French headed multinationals.

For the moment, the large majority of French localization requests concerns EN< >FR. However, with the development of the EU market and the exchange with emerging economies, we foresee an important growth of the demand coming from the French industry, especially from/to other languages. The French localization market will certainly be among the top five for another decade.

Sylke Denfeld, Vendor Manager at WHP.