253: Pardon My French

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Pardon My French

It was hard to play videogames as a Québécois before they were localized into French, but Remi Savard taught himself English in order to play Final Fantasy and loved it. When the industry began translating games into his mother tongue, however, there was something lost in translation.

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Interesting article. As one who's struggling to learn enough French to read Proust sans translation, I find it a little disheartening to learn that not everything automatically becomes more pleasant because it's spoken en Francais. It is possible that perhaps the translation was just terrible (which incidentally is what I always chalk up my general disgust with the writing of Final Fantasy games to), but then, maybe the effort of having to translate makes it all the sweeter. And who said games couldn't be educational? Looking forward to reading further columns.

Very interesting article, I can somewhat identify with it.

I'm Dutch myself, English isn't my native tongue either. The first game that crashed my gaming world with a Dutch translation was a Tom and Jerry game on the N64. There were games in Dutch before that, but they'd weren't anywhere near as bad as that one. Although I do remember never choosing Dutch on a game before, as I was already used to gaming in English so much long before that.

I remember seeing the line "Speler 1 Gewonnen Spelletjes" appearing on the screen in a large yellow font. Roughly translating into "Player 1 Winning Game", although that's not nearly as bad as the grammatical fallacy that is the Dutch version. I can't even come with a counterpart to correctly reflect how bad that translation is.

There is one difference in my case though. I'm not breaking any molds by escaping from my original language towards a foreign one. I'm much more used to English than I am my native tongue. I think in English, dream in English. The fact I'm writing in English write now is the most normal thing I can possibly imagine. If I write a post in Dutch on the internet, I always end up feeling alienated and weird. Like I'm doing something fundamentally wrong. Not only that, I keep being afraid I might make simple mistakes, like someone would with their second or third language. I often stare at the screen in complete horror, not being able to remember what a certain word in Dutch is, while the English equivalent is right there on the tip of my tongue.

Localization here as always been a mixed back. It already started with cartoons. Even before I could speak the language or understand most of it, I rather watched SWAT Kats in English than Digimon in Dutch. I still liked Digimon, but there was something just off about the whole thing, and it wasn't really the shows fault.

I also want to comment it's funny that you're a Remi by the way. I'm a Rémy.

This happened to me as well, although in different periods/languages.

I live in Portugal, and I was taking my first English lessons when I got a game boy with Pokemon Blue. I literally learned English off it. I was always ahead of my class in English, even tho I was average on other subjects. Today I can't stand any sort of content unless it is in English or, when it applies, in Japanese.

Most games nowadays are localized in Portuguese, but it just doesn't feel right. Even subtitles feel out of place. Sometimes I will change the language of a game for a second playthrough but I always end up going back to the original because I hate it.

An excellent article. I have often wondered how the Quebecois feel about localization. Though I obviously cannot take this as a universal truth, the different perspective is enlightening.

A corrolary for the author if I may; might I suggest that there would be more Anglos or at least bilingual people in Quebec if many francophones were not so overtly hostile to visiting Anglophones. I have travelled extensively in Quebec, and the one universal I have run into, is hostility when my admittedly terrible french breaks down (though I try).

That said, I should just get off my keester and do some more classes in French.

Wow, did I ever digress. The point remains, excellent article and thank you for a different point of view!

carpathic:
...there would be more Anglos or at least bilingual people in Quebec if many francophones were not so overtly hostile to visiting Anglophones....

Sadly, the opposite is just as true. Walk around Calgary talking french and see what kind of welcome it gets you.

Fantastic article. What boggles my mind even more regarding EA and its French localization? The games are made by EA Canada.

Remi Savard:
"Maudit que t'es plate," he'd say.

Oh my goodness, is that even French?? Ils sont fous, ces Québécois!!
Heh, and now that I've made my typical "French sneering at a French Canadian" impression, on to the core of my comment!

I greatly enjoyed reading this article, having grown up myself, with a foot on each side of the fence, or rather on each side of the Atlantic. Of course, I learned English from TV, watching Sesame Street, and playing with the neighbors' kids, but that's another story entirely.
I've lost count of the times in which I've quivered in disgust at the sight of French text in a English video game, or at the sound of the French dubbing. Even the game box in French makes me shiver in horror. And have you ever heard Minsc (from Baldur's Gate for you young whippersnappers) yell out his battle cry in French? I'm still trying to erase that from my memory. It's not just the video games, it's *everything*. The French have this obsessive, compulsive need to dub everything, and I'm mostly referring to movies and series. I've been around a bit, and I know that a lot of other countries use subtitles. In France, however, if you want a movie with subtitles, you'd best be prepared to take a trip to Paris (I'm exaggerating a bit, but beyond Paris and Lyon, the only films showed with subtitles are indie, artsy films). Why is it that French can barely stand the sound of a language other than their own? I've wondered for years, and I still don't have answers.
It's a shame, really, that the young French aren't exposed to English a lot earlier. For starters, it would make learning the language a lot easier, and would spare us ridicule on an international scale when our leaders attempt to speak in la langue de Shakespeare.
All in all, a very interesting, pertinent article, and one which makes me realize that perhaps I'm not over the "Uncanny" myself. Until then, I'll keep having my videos games shipped in from overseas.

And also... oh gosh, a pétanque video game?? Are you mad, sir?? ;)

GrandmaFunk:

carpathic:
...there would be more Anglos or at least bilingual people in Quebec if many francophones were not so overtly hostile to visiting Anglophones....

Sadly, the opposite is just as true. Walk around Calgary talking french and see what kind of welcome it gets you.

Oh yeah, absolutely. I hope I didn't give the impression that us Anglos are a golden, inclusive society or anything.

If I did, apologies, that was not the intent.

Though I will admit to being annoyed that almost all the good civil servant jobs are french imperative... but that is an argument for a different day!

I actually ended up leaving my hometown of Montreal because I wasn't bilingual enough to get a job equivalent to my skills. My parents moved to Montreal from the maritimes, and weren't cognizant of the bilingual requirements of the city. I grew up in an Anglo neighborhood, went to an anglo elementary school - and my first real exposure to learning French was in high school. By then, I guess it was difficult for me to learn a new lingo. I was good with writing and reading. My oral comprehension was pretty good too - as long as there was no slang or slurring. But my oral communication sucked. I had (have) a terrible accent, and I could never think of the right words on the fly. I got such flack, I stopped trying. Eventually ended up leaving my home so I could make a living.

I've less than fond memories :(

Wow! Et moi, je viens d'Alma!

Thanks a lot for the article.

As a gamer of about the same age as Rémi, I can totally relate! I grew up in a town not too far from Rémi's village (:P) and my English teachers were Sesame Street, NES games and manuals for my VIC-20. Videogames basically teached me english, making me an oddity at my young age. I was almost billingual, at least in writing. Work eventually brought me the speaking part.

One of my most cherished memories in my learning of English comes from The Adventure of Link. I'll remember this all my life. In one village, you see a guy saying that you cannot go further. Being only 7-8 years old, and before having my first English class in elementary school, I had to rely on my bad pseudo-English. I searched for days for a canoe, because if you read the word cannot in a French way, it sounds like the French word for canoe. When I found out thanks to my mom that cannot didn't mean a boat, but rather that it was not possible, I understood that while English and French words are sometimes similar, don't count too much on it.

Oh, and French localizations in Québec are so bad. I started playing Assassin's Creed 2 yesterday, and I slapped my head by how bad the French is, even if the game was done in Québec. Same with NHL 2010, as said in the article, Modern Warfare 2, Uncharted 2, etc. I guess that's the price to pay since France has more French speakers than Canada :/

A very interesting perspective. After seeing how things get mangled from Japanese to English, I can't imagine how much worse it would get further translating that into another language - and not quite the right one at that. It must be difficult to be a native Quebecois speaker and have to deal with Continental French all the time and poorly translated at that.

When I studied French in high school and college (oddly enough it wasn't Quebecois, even though the Spanish classes taught Mexican Spanish and not Castilian - one would think Americans would get more use out of Quebecois French, but that's another matter) I had a subscription for a while to a (Euro) French Nintendo magazine (Nintendo Player, precisely) and saw some of this firsthand. I had a good enough knowledge of French to make sense of what I saw and read, but particularly interesting was seeing the differences in the translations. I still recall a walkthrough of Battle of Olympus, which was not localised for the French audience, including transcripts of both the English text and a translation into French. Besides learning a lot of videogame French from it, I saw a lot of the differences inherent in getting the same sense out of words in two different languages.

Also learned a lot of mid-90s French slang, but that's for another message board.

As a portuguese I was forced to learn both english and french.
Even before I took english in school on 5th grade my older sister had already helped me learning much of the basics and yes I could understand the princess was in another castle. To me the concept of unilingual seems odd actually, as I barely remember to be like that.
Comparing different languages is funny when you start to be familiar with them. I live in the UK and spend a fair amount of time in France and French-speaking Switzerland. out of curiosity when I play games with English French and Portuguese versions I like to go through the three and see what meanings you get from each. And I have to say often I rather go with the French translation, but rarely with the portuguese.
One of the main obstacles are names of NPC's and locations. Many don't have any meaning, or at least not one in use over the last millennium, but yet it doesn't seem right to create a francophone or lusophone name for it. So the translation with anglophone names mixed with different languages sounds awkward to me.

Short reply (and first post yay) to say that there is indeed a petanque video game.
Even though the link leads to a french website, this is still unfortunately true.

http://www.jeuxvideo.com/jeux/wii/00032024-petanque-pro.htm

I also learned English through games, and later through books. Luckily I had a pc, and Civilization, when I was five. There is a massive amount of text in that game, and I wanted to understand it all.

Being French from France (and therefore talking real French, not the horrible patois québécois =p [/troll]), I can relate to that too: French translations are usually horrible. I think it's mostly a matter of culture. In France, fantasy literature is very poorly seen and considered a sub-genre for kids. Therefore, ALL fantasy literature is translated by dumbing it down horribly. For instance, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings or His Dark Materials have been completely butchered by the translation, targeting these books for kids or more exactly for mentally-challenged kids. Because, in France, you can't make smart shows for kids, it has to be completely dumb.

I think the same process has been applied to video games though it is not always so. I remember games on the N64 that were really very well translated, Ocarina of Time for instance. But for some reason, Nintendo France seems to have changed their localization studio and nowadays they take a lot of freedom with the text, way too much in my taste. Blizzard has always made some very good French translations too, though I hate their dubbing ><

Dubbing is another thing I really hate in France, it completely messes up timing and looks unrealistic. Being hearing-impaired, it makes it a lot harder for me to understand what they say since I can no longer read on lips but I'm a Parisian so it's very easy to find cinemas with subtitled movies, which is impossible outside of Paris.

Ravek:
I also learned English through games, and later through books. Luckily I had a pc, and Civilization, when I was five. There is a massive amount of text in that game, and I wanted to understand it all.

I've learned English almost the exact same way. By playing PC games and watching Western cartoons.

Steelskin:
Being French from France (and therefore talking real French, not the horrible patois québécois =p [/troll]) [...]

Because, in France, you can't make smart shows for kids, it has to be completely dumb.

I think the same process has been applied to video games though it is not always so. I remember games on the N64 that were really very well translated, Ocarina of Time for instance. But for some reason, Nintendo France seems to have changed their localization studio and nowadays they take a lot of freedom with the text, way too much in my taste. Blizzard has always made some very good French translations too, though I hate their dubbing ><

Heille le cousin, 'tention à c'que tu dis, tabarnouche! ;)

I have to agree with dubbed kids shows NOW, but they used to be good. I remember watching Les Mystérieuses Cités d'Or, back in the day, and boy, was it ever good. If the animation didn't stand the test of time, the dubbing still is fairly good to this day (that, or I'm wearing Nostalgia-hearing-aids).

As for Blizzard's dubbing, I think you need not look any farther than Charsi, blacksmith of the Rogue Encampment in Diablo 2. The way she talked, the dubbing was so, SO bad... Just hearing her "Bonjour!" was enough for me to cut the sound (or my ears) off... All of this because I wasn't fast enough to get my hands on an English version here in Québec.

Really enjoyed reading this article. I am a bilingual anglo but my kids have grown up here in quebec with french as their mother tongue. Watching me play Zelda inspired them to want to learn english well so that they could play and understand. ( I only started speaking english to them after they had each respectively passed their 5th birthday) Now, many years later they are all perfectly bilingual and play on-line as well as on console, and enjoy gaming in whichever of the 2 languages.

Hey, hey!
C'est intéressant de voir qu'un magazine attire du monde de partout comme ca, mais bon je vais continuer en anglais pour le reste, haha.
As a Québecer myself, i lived pretty much the same thing, but my parents didnt let me play video games until i was pretty much in 6th grade. But the problem is also true when you talk about movies and TV. So replace the guy playing final fantasy with a dictionnary by a kid running from the living room to the kitchen asking: "M'man, ca veux dire quoi ca...?"("Mommy whats this mean...?") and going back to watch elmo.(repeat every 15seconds for the rest of the show) I have a lot of friend who only speak french and each time i go to the movies with them i come out dissapointed. Good translations are rare as f***. Just to give you an example, translation turned Kick ass from a quirky, funny, weird comedy/action flic to a generic semi boring comedy with good action scenes... Translation usually ends up taking the soul out of the original work... So yeah its unimportant which media the work is in, but i think viewing/playing it desirves to be in its original language to be able to fully appreciate it.

(P.S. the scribble are "Accents aigus" im leaving them there out of principal... )

Same thing for me...along with films and books. I remember when I started reading the Harry Potter books in English and my mother went out and bought me the French version. I read the first page and put it down. I think everything is better in it's original language.

oooh yes the localised games horror (fuck you ubisoft! every single damn game i have bought from you in the pasts years has been localised!)
being dutch myself translating anything from english to dutch sounds much muuuuch more childish. mainly because they tend to use excessive amounts of diminutives.

Games are what thaught me english (movies and tv a little to. this has/will open up new opportunities for me. but localisation is a very bad thing that has been gaining ground here (cartoons are mostly dutch now instead of subtitled)

Eleima:
And have you ever heard Minsc (from Baldur's Gate for you young whippersnappers) yell out his battle cry in French? I'm still trying to erase that from my memory.

Les yeux Boo, IL FAUT VISER LES YEUX! YARRRRRRG!

Minsc is such a cool character that i could forgive him.

Interesting, almost the same story for me, except it was with Banjo-Kazooie (the real one) and not FF, since I never understood what I was supposed to do in any RPGs, even believed someone who told me he entered a cheat code to get to the last boss of Super Mario RPG, and then seeing Bowser. I did had a few English classes before playing Banjo-Kazooie, and I needed them, that quiz at the end of the game? yeah, especially those where you needed to talk to Grunty's sister along the game. Anyhow, video games pretty much taught me English, though I still have a rather strong accent compared to what I'd like, and every game translated in French feels...odd, so when it comes to gaming, I usually set everything in English just as a matter of precaution toward unwanted translations. (I'm a French Canadian also, but not from Québec)

'no francophone could ever publicly admit to hating French'

I would disagree. I come from the same region as the author (jonquière) and french has set me back tremendously. the anecdote of the author translating final fantasy word-for-word is cute, but all it illustrates is typical 'english envy', which the author probably still suffers from today. it's certainly bleeding all over this article, which I disliked (too naive).

though the issue the author brings up is legit (translated games are awful! 'duh'), but then again so are movies, cartoons, etc, translated in french. 'l'enfant sacré du tibet' (golden child, with eddie murphy) is, in fact, I find, much better translated in french then the original version. the loose, so-terrible-it's-good dub adds a touch of ghetto to the experience that makes it quite different, more fun.

so yes, games translated in french = evil. halo 3 in french is spectacularly bad, which is even more hilarious/paradoxical/puzzling considering the presentation tries to suck you in with massive epic music and dramatic moments and such, but then the translation just vomits all over that. the point is: it's very, very hard to make anything sound decent in french.

I am for games being available in whatever language you feel like playing them in. as far as quebec goes, I am not so much against 'bad' translations as I am against games being available primarily in french, forcing you to make the 'extra step' if you want the original, 'real' english version. but I have the same issue with movies, and I could also go on a big rant about literature.

I remember my sister purchasing 'surf's up', the game based on the movie, for X360. it boots directly in french, and she plays the game with her kids. there's nothing wrong with that. I think that makes perfect sense.

I know exactly what you mean. Okay, maybe not exactly but almost. I acquired my English skills mainly from videogames and the TV. Thankfully even now there hasn't been a single localization of a game. Maybe the cover and manual but the game itself remains unchanged and I'm thankful. It's just a matter of comparing any show or cartoon that was dubbed into my language. It completely and utterly sucked, it just didn't seem right. Everything sounded silly and over the top, but the same thing in English was completely normal. I even watched some shows in German and they sounded normal even though they were also dubbed. But when those already dubbed shows made it here and got translated it sounded strange.

There's just something different when you're watching or playing something and it is not in your language. This however may be difficult to understand by the native English speakers. But, we'll never know how the other side sees it. Not fully.

Remzer:
I have to agree with dubbed kids shows NOW, but they used to be good. I remember watching Les Mystérieuses Cités d'Or, back in the day, and boy, was it ever good.

to be fair, Les Mystérieuses Cités d'Or was a French/Japanese collaboration and was actually written first in french and then translated to japanese. =)

I hear you! I leart English from playing Warcraft 2 and watching Transformers =) I'm from Montreal though and live in an anglophone neighbourhood so it was easier for me.

lomylithruldor:

Eleima:
And have you ever heard Minsc (from Baldur's Gate for you young whippersnappers) yell out his battle cry in French? I'm still trying to erase that from my memory.

Les yeux Boo, IL FAUT VISER LES YEUX! YARRRRRRG!

Minsc is such a cool character that i could forgive him.

I can also forgive Minsc, but I can't forgive Aerie. Everyone on forums were saying that she was whiny and annoying, and I agreed with them. Then one day I finally found an English copy of BG2 (I still can't believe I bought it in french the first time) and I was stunned to hear her "real" voice. The French VO is a hundred times worse than the English one. So if you thought she sounded annoying in the English version, tell yourself that others had it much worse.

GrandmaFunk:

carpathic:
...there would be more Anglos or at least bilingual people in Quebec if many francophones were not so overtly hostile to visiting Anglophones....

Sadly, the opposite is just as true. Walk around Calgary talking french and see what kind of welcome it gets you.

Depends on the Calgarian you run into, we aren't ALL backwards hicks who despise our eastern brethren. Political Divisions should never extend to interpersonal relationships beyond the occasional heated discussion.

milhouse46:

Oh, and French localizations in Québec are so bad. I started playing Assassin's Creed 2 yesterday, and I slapped my head by how bad the French is, even if the game was done in Québec. Same with NHL 2010, as said in the article, Modern Warfare 2, Uncharted 2, etc. I guess that's the price to pay since France has more French speakers than Canada :/

And the worst is, there is less and less way to get around it. There is more and more unilangual French version of the games on the shelves of Québec. Back when I bought Mass Effect, I could only find the French only version (the good thing is, Wrex voice in french is better than in english imo). Same thing when I rented Halo 3 or MW2. Hell, I searched high and low through Gamestops and Futureshops between University of Montreal and my hometown of Lavaltrie in Lanaudière only to find and english version of Pokémon Soul Silver. I ended up finding it in a Wal-Mart in Joliette and felt dirty for buying a game there.

I wish they would give us the choice.

I cant stand localization... I even hink i english nowdays....

There's something else that had to be said: whenever a game is translated, it mostly shows just how incredibly juvenile the actual writing is. I remember playing mostly in english through my youth (Oh, Chrono Trigger!) and always getting this feeling of seriousness, the simple fact that it was in another language meant that I did not have the same level of sensitivity to bad writing. It's only when I got to the age of about fifteen that I understood how incredibly dumb some games were (jrpgs), and this does not only apply to games, but to most mediums: Tv, novels, comics, music.

I remember listening a while ago to all the shit I used to listen to growing in the late nineties: Korn, Limp Bizkit, Green Day (pre-emo) and such, what actually hit me was how profoundly stupid the lyrics were, and I wondered why I did not realize that sooner. Only, I think as a child the fact that I experienced games, music and novels that were not only epic or energizing, but also mysteriously foreign gave them an additional value that I now can't have back, it probably is one of the things that got me in litterary studies. I remember trying very hard in my youth to listen to local french bands and absolutelly hating it. Why? Because even if said bands had about the same lyrical talent as any english bands, I could hear every single tiny weakness, immaturity or plain errors in the voice of the signer, whereas I could listen to Blink 182 for hours without actually understanding what the signer sang.

However it actually bit me in the ass when I went through Mass Effect 2, which is supposed to have «stellar» writing: in one scene in particular, the courtship with that Asnari daughter whose name I can't remember, I perfectly understood everything that was said, and I understood just how adolescent (the thirteen years-old boy who draws naked barbarian chicks type of adolescent) it all was. Not that writing for a target audience is necessarly a bad thing, it's just that I finally understood what most old-ish game critics have been saying for a few years now: it is time for the medium to grow up.

Bref, these days I try to get every game I can in english to keep this volontary dellusion that the game is actually more intelligent than it pretends to be, only it is not working so well anymore.

ShadowKirby:

milhouse46:

Oh, and French localizations in Québec are so bad. I started playing Assassin's Creed 2 yesterday, and I slapped my head by how bad the French is, even if the game was done in Québec. Same with NHL 2010, as said in the article, Modern Warfare 2, Uncharted 2, etc. I guess that's the price to pay since France has more French speakers than Canada :/

And the worst is, there is less and less way to get around it. There is more and more unilangual French version of the games on the shelves of Québec. Back when I bought Mass Effect, I could only find the French only version (the good thing is, Wrex voice in french is better than in english imo). Same thing when I rented Halo 3 or MW2. Hell, I searched high and low through Gamestops and Futureshops between University of Montreal and my hometown of Lavaltrie in Lanaudière only to find and english version of Pokémon Soul Silver. I ended up finding it in a Wal-Mart in Joliette and felt dirty for buying a game there.

I wish they would give us the choice.

Well, nobody I know wants the french version of games, except those who can't understand english. We're all used to play in english. The worst is buying the french version of WoW because you end up on the euro servers (more lag and nobody's on at the same time as you). At least there's french-canadian guilds on all MMO I tried.

This reads a lot like my own story.
When i was about 12 satelite and cable TV became popular and i got my first Commodore 64. Back then no games at all were localized and all the flashy tv programs i could watch (early 90s MTV for example, when it still was about music) were in english. Living in a german speaking country meant (and still means) you get anything localised. To a massive extent. Much later i learned that what i was used to (getting anything not only translated, but even dubbed) is by far not common in other languages.
However, since all this stuff was new and there was no real market for it yet, for a while the only way to enjoy videogames was learning english. Which i did.
Now, much later, you'll have a hard time finding media which is not at the very least subbed (if not dubbed), be it games, movies, anime, manga, you name it.
And just like the author i am deeply disapointed by those localisations. Even anime shows i watch in japanese with english subtitles even when i have the option to watch it dubbed in my own language. It is like Remi said, it just sounds and feels wrong.

Dubbed movies are pretty bad too. My wife and I watch French movies every now at then. A couple years ago we watched Banlieu-13, and I translated (generally) for her during the movie. It was fun, silly and action packed. We recently watched B-13: Ultimatum (sequel) and it was dubbed in English. It was almost painful to watch. We also watched Angel-A (dubbed and undubbed) and had the same experience.

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