Proofreading translations

I had an excellent dinner at Brasserie Blanc on Tuesday night, but I was very disappointed by the quality of the menu’s French translation. Time to call a professional translator to the rescue? Menu translation is extremely tricky: the vocabulary linked to food is so rich, precise and culture-dependent that an in-depth knowledge of both cultures and languages and real terminological expertise are necessary to do a good job.
Regardless of the quality of the translation, which seems to “forget” a lot of the English, this menu contains a number of mistakes, which betrays a total absence of proofreading. I’ve already talked about editing and proofreading, which I enjoy: finding the odd and inevitable mistake in a colleague’s work is like a game and it can be extremely satisfying to add a missing “s” or to spot an incorrect verb agreement. It is extremely technical and needs to be approached methodically: this article on Interactive Training give lots of useful tips. I particularly like number 11: to stop the typos, read backwards so you’re not distracted by the meaning of the text.
So, how many mistakes can you spot in the French translation of the menu? I’ve also included one particularly “invisible” typo in my own text, can you find it?

By |2016-10-18T15:49:03+00:00September 3rd, 2009|Technical corner|18 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Tom Ellett September 3, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    I think I’ve spotted your deliberate typo: The last sentence in the first paragraph should read, “… an in-depth knowledge … IS necessary to do a good job.”

  2. jean-paul September 3, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    missing ‘s’ in ‘give’ in ‘this article on Interactive Training give’ 🙂

  3. dvee September 3, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    Well, no, the subjects of the verb “are” in that sentence are: “knowledge” and “expertise”, so a plural verb is appropriate.
    I think the typo is in the penultimate sentence of the penultimate paragraph:
    : …this article on Interactive Training give lots of useful tips.”
    The subject of the clause is “article”, so the verb should be “gives”, not “give.”
    Do I win? Do I? Huh?

  4. Linda Herbertson September 3, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    and “this article on Interactive Training GIVE lots of useful tips”
    as for the French,
    aux pêcheS
    truite grilléE
    salade de poire grilléE
    and I think there is something wrong with “mange touts”

  5. céline September 3, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    Well done jean-paul, Linda and dvee! Ahem… you found the inevitable unintentional typo. The deliberate typo is still there. And Linda, good effort but I can see more mistakes in the menu. Good search everyone, I’m off to bed now.

  6. Neij September 3, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    legumes d’été > légumes d’été
    glace á la vanille > glace à la vanille
    Can’t find your “invisible” typo, but then you did say it was invisible 🙂

  7. Paula September 3, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    I think you meant to SPOT a typo, not to STOP a typo.
    BTW, I loved this blog post! Very fun and creative. :o)

  8. Kyla Juett September 4, 2009 at 12:02 am

    Is it “to stop the typos”? I tried to read it as “spot”, then wondered if you really meant “stop”… and just ended up confused!

  9. Neij September 4, 2009 at 8:48 am

    @jean-paul: As a very picky native speaker of English, I’m not sure I agree on those two points. The second one, where Céline wrote ‘seems to “forget” a lot of the English’, I don’t think she MEANT ‘leave out’, I think she MEANT ‘”forget”‘, with inverted commas – almost as a euphemism suggesting that the translator (I use the word loosely) couldn’t be bothered to translate some of the trickier bits!
    On the first point, “the menu’s French translation”, I think this is more open to debate but there is nothing grammatically or idiomatically wrong with it if you put the stress (when speaking, or reading in the mind’s ear) on “French”. I think, though, that I would have understood “the menu’s French translation” to mean a separate sheet of paper rather than individual translations interspersed with the English. (Perhaps the translator saw them more as glosses rather than full translations!)
    Can I ask about “cat’s tongue”? I assume this is a little biscuit which I have only ever heard referred to as “langue de chat”!

  10. céline September 4, 2009 at 9:03 am

    Well done everyone, and particularly Paula and Kyla. It was “spot” the typo, not “stop”. A tough one to spot.
    @neij + @jean-paul: neij saw it right, I did use “forget” with a hefty dose of irony, but I suppose it could be read in different ways. And would “the French translation on the menu” be a better option?
    @neij: yes, cat’s tongues are biscuits, the closest British equivalent I can think of is shortbread, only cat’s tongues are denser and thinner.
    The other mistakes:
    poire grille → poireS grillÉES (although poire grillée would also be ok)
    Parmesan → parmesan (although I think this may be debatable)
    mange touts → mange-tout (invariable)
    truite grille → truite grillÉE
    legumes → lÉgumes
    pêche → pêcheS
    á → à

  11. jean-paul September 4, 2009 at 9:16 am

    to Neij: thanks
    1. definitely : spot (i.e: detect) the typos, not ‘stop’
    2. yes ‘intentionally’ forget
    3. menu’s: open to debate. It’ll be interesting to have other readers’ opinions.
    Any English grammar professors about? (I dont’ mean: English grammar’s professors 😉
    4. langue de chat: finger biscuit
    une friandise faite de chocolat fin de forme oblongue, portant le nom d’une création du chocolatier belge Galler[1], / un petit gâteau sec.

  12. céline September 4, 2009 at 9:21 am

    I’ve never heard of chocolate “langues de chats”, but they sound delicious. These are the ones I’m familiar with:

  13. jean-paul September 4, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    A cat’s tongue (one per animal)
    Cats’ tongues (still one per animal, but several animals) as in: cats’ tongues are rough
    –> ‘cat’s tongueS’ looks odd but I guess one biscuit is a [cat’s tongue] i.e generic, so many biscuits are [cat’s tongue] + plural S = cat’s tongues
    It’s interesting to note that, in French, the plural of une ‘langue-de-chat’ is des ‘langues-de-chat’ (no ‘s on chat)

  14. Natacha September 5, 2009 at 8:39 am

    I love this post!! I thought I was the only one enjoying myself with menus and their mistakes…actually we’re quite a lot 😉

  15. Andres Heuberger September 9, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    I find it fascinating how often the writing and translation of menus is sloppy.
    I’m sure that somebody can be a culinary expert without knowing how to spell but as a restaurateur wouldn’t you want to put your best foot forward? Is it that they don’t know, don’t care, or can’t afford better?

  16. céline September 10, 2009 at 8:49 am

    It can’t be that they can’t afford it. Monsieur Blanc is highly successful and the translation of his menus would be nothing to his empire’s budget. I think it just says a lot about the general disregard for language. In other words, they don’t know and they don’t care.

  17. Mandm September 16, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    I’m reminded of a Fr –> Eng ‘translation’ I once saw on a rstaurant menu in the Alps, where “assiette fraîcheur” was rendered “plate of freshness”!

  18. Emma September 23, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    I feel the same frustration every time I read an English ‘translation’ of a French menu here in France. Restaurant owners don’t seem to understand that foreign diners are scared to order things that sound really wierd. In one Japanese restaurant, “maki avocat” was listed as “Lawyer maki”, I kid you not.

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