Acronyms are often a headache for translators: do you keep the original acronym or do you create a new one from your translation of the name of the organisation? It all depends on how well-known the said organisation is. The WTO’s acronym in French (OMC) has been around for years and is as well-known as the English one.
However, it is a different matter for lesser-known bodies. If you translate the name of an organisation, it makes sense to also translate their acronym. But then you turn what is often a well-known sign (for specialists of that field anyway) into another one that might well be completely unrecognisable. Different clients normally have marked preferences on this topic and of course, I respect their choice. My preference, however, goes to the following solution: keeping the original name and acronym, with a translation of the name in French in brackets when it first appears. Often, the target readers know what you’re talking about anyway and a translation would only confuse them. For example, I recently translated documents for RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) and there was little sense in trying to use a different acronym that would be totally alien to everyone.
Acronyms like GPS (global positioning system) are particularly tricky to deal with. It is translated as “système de positionnement mondial” but the resulting French acronym (SPM) isn’t as familiar as GPS.
I believe that French words should be used above English ones when they are perfect equivalents, but in this situation, I find myself in a difficult position: I have a perfectly satisfying translation (système de positionnement mondial) but a near-unknown acronym (SPM)… My answer was to keep it in English the first time it appeared with its acronym, to add the translation between brackets and to use GPS in the rest of the text. The target readers would be specialists in the field of geography, so I knew they would not be fazed by this at all. If it had been a text to be read by a wider audience, I think I probably would have used “système de positionnement mondial” throughout the text, even if it might have proved slightly heavy.
As an aside here, I would just like to point out that “système de positionnement global” would be a mistranslation, as “global” in French means “general” and not “worldwide”. If you do a search on google, you’ll find, however, that it is much more commonly used than the right version: 1,640 hits v. 365 hits.
I think what happened here is what Robert Castelo described in his comment to my “Spin Doctor” entry: a term appears (in this case, a wrong and literal translation of an English term), people start using it, other people see that a lot of people have been using it, so they use it and it becomes adopted. Nothing to do with the quality of the term in question, it might be wrong or inadequate, but so many people are using it that it becomes a standard term.
When it comes to more general acronyms, I have a particular favourite: FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions). In French, the literal translation is Questions Fréquemment Posées. It is efficient, but then the acronym becomes QFP, which is not as instantly recognisable as FAQ. So many sites on the Internet being in English, most French speakers become accustomed to using common English acronyms. This is why I much prefer Foire Aux Questions ("Question Fair"). Not only does it retain the original acronym, but it is also metaphorical and thus gives it an amusing and interesting slant.