English to French Words

Valorie Delp
French dictionary.

When learning French, you often want to figure out how to translate from English to French words. Keep reading for tips on how to translate, what to watch out for, and tips on buying the best dictionaries and classroom helps!

Translating From English to French Words

There are a slew of good French translators online such as Yahoo's Babel Fish and Google Translator. In general, if you want to look up a word here or there, these are good options. However, there are a few pitfalls to using an online translator like this.

The Pitfalls of Online Translators

Often times a translator will give you the exact equivalent of the words written as opposed to giving you a more colloquial and accepted phrase. This can result in a French that sounds broken or foolish. The reality is, while a translator can be helfpul -- it's never as helpful as your brain!

A second pitfall is that if you're always looking to have things directly translated for you, you deny yourself the opportunity to really learn how to think in the language. Once you learn how to think in a foreign language, it's no longer necessary to go from English to French words but instead you can simply 'speak'.

Go from English to French Naturally

People naturally learn language by repeating and modeling. When a toddler makes a mistake in speech, most often the adult they are talking to repeats the phrasing correctly. For example:

Toddler: Me want cookie.

Adult: You want a cookie?

Toddler: Yes, I want a cookie.

While it arguably takes more than one repetition for a toddler to master certain concepts, adults still learn language the same way. So for example, if you want something in a store and don't know how to ask, you may say: J'ai besoin de ça. While pointing your finger at what you want. A clerk is likely to respond: "Oh--tu a besoin du lait? And now you know that the milk you're asking for is le lait'' and you also have learned how to ask for it correctly. This is a natural approach to learning any language. Not only that, but by trial and error, you are more likely to learn the colloquialisms that signal a fluent speaker.

Resources for Translating French Words to English

Although you should try to learn language naturally in context whenever possible, there are times of course when you simply need to look a word up. Having a good dictionary is essential to coming up with the right translation. (Or at least something close enough so that the people to whom you're speaking understand you!) Here are a few recommendations for dictionaries and resources to have when you just have to translate word for word:

  • La Rousse Advanced English to French Dictionary -- This is the Cadillac of French dictionaries. What makes a dictionary advanced and the best of the best? For one thing, it has other sections besides just words. There is a section on conjugating verbs, and another that gives numeric conversions -- particularly important for the American speaker who is not used to the metric system. In addition, you always want to get a dictionary that has multiple entries for certain words that are used in many phrases.
  • If you're writing, you will most likely want a French verb conjugator. One of the best brands on the market is Bescherelle. They offer a complete guide to translating 12,000 verbs--pretty much anything you want to say is going to be in this book!

More Tips for Learning to Think in French

Remember that instead of translating word for word, you'll want to learn to actually think in French. The best way to do that is to speak, speak, speak! However, there are some excellent resources to help you get the practice you need:

  • Pierre Books - -One of the ways you can improve your spoken French is to read in French. If you're just starting out, you may well want to begin with familiar stories and stories like Barbar and Tintin. The pictures will help you bring meaning to the text even if you're not sure exactly what is happening.
  • Of course it never hurts to listen to something in French. Almost all cable stations have news in French -- it varies from location to location. However, listening to the news is a great way to practice listen to French that is spoken correctly and articulately.
  • Don't discredit the many websites that are in French. The internet makes the world a smaller place and you as a student can take advantage of many, many websites that are written for Francophones.

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English to French Words