October 22, 2009 6:21 AM   Subscribe

The Canadian Government’s Translation Bureau recently made its French/English/Spanish technical terminology database, Termium, free to access after over a decade as a subscription-based service. While off-the-cuff translations are often available from free services like BabelFish, Termium focuses on technical terminology such as scientific, medical and legal terms.

Of equal interest to the core service are other tools like The Canadian Style, the government’s official rules for how to write "Canadian" (an odd hybrid of British and American styles), HyperGrammar 2, a series of educational grammar modules developed for self-directed learning, and Word Tailoring, an attempt to create a translation database for idiomatic French words and expressions that don't necessarily offer a single literal translation.

There are also a wealth of French-language tools for learning grammar, improving your writing style, and seeking alternate terms for common verbs and expressions.

Also worthy of note is the always-free Grand Dictionnaire, the product of the Quebec government's Office de la langue française, which is far less robust than Termium but has a stronger focus on "proper" language for Quebec. And, if you're struggling to improve your French writing skills, Bon Patron is a (frequently slow-loading) Java-powered tool that will check your French spelling and grammar and offer correction suggestions in real time.
posted by Shepherd (35 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
I use Termium all the time to help me with some of the more obscure words* I come across in e-mails etc - it's incredibly comprehensive and interesting. In fact when I noticed it was being opened up to all I considered posting it here as well, but you've done it far better justice than I could have managed!

* (ok and some not so obscure - yesterday I needed it to convince some colleagues that the word 'hopper' was not some arcane anglicism I'd picked up in the UK!)
posted by Flashman at 6:32 AM on October 22, 2009

THANK YOU for posting this. I suspect I'm going to wind up using Termium constantly. And Canadian Style will also make my job easier. :)
posted by zarq at 6:32 AM on October 22, 2009

Love the post title as much as the post content. And I'm fiddling with some translations this morning, so this is absolutely perfect timing.

The Termium site says "Canadians now have FREE access to TERMIUM Plus® and its writing tools", so I'm not sure whether or not they're blocking foreign computers. Can non-Canucks verify that you can actually get in?
posted by maudlin at 7:01 AM on October 22, 2009

I can get in from The Netherlands. Can't find "hopper" though.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:09 AM on October 22, 2009

Yup, fine from NYC. Much faster via my (Canadian) work proxy though.

(Funny, that. Traffic shaping?)
posted by rokusan at 7:10 AM on October 22, 2009

Re. "hopper" -- your search terms are probably set to "French only." I didn't think user tips were top-level enough to include in the FPP, but it's important to click on "My TERMIUM" and set your search terms accordingly. "All Terms" is a good 'un.
posted by Shepherd at 7:14 AM on October 22, 2009

Can't find "hopper" though.

Here you go.

Click on "Search Keys" first to select which language you're translating from/to.
posted by Kabanos at 7:18 AM on October 22, 2009

your search terms are probably set to "French only."

Ah, le duh. Naturellement. Thanks!

posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:32 AM on October 22, 2009

Now I can do my translations for fr_CA without even knowing French!
posted by smackfu at 7:35 AM on October 22, 2009

Termium is a fabulous resource, but bear in mind its translations can often be specific to the Canadian government and its lingo. That being said, when I worked in government, I would often undertake an ad hoc translation of a text (with Termium to help me) as a way to practice my French. Triple C, dudes! It works!
posted by LN at 7:57 AM on October 22, 2009

Why do French-speakers work so diligently to micromanage their language?
posted by jefficator at 8:00 AM on October 22, 2009

posted by blue_beetle at 8:15 AM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


With a slight trill on the final "tre," like you're starting to say the word "tricked" and terminating with an "uh" sound.

Followed by a robust "Hon-hon-hoooonnnnn!" laugh if you really want to do it up proper.
posted by Shepherd at 8:43 AM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Termium is a god send. And trying to stump that thing is great fun.
posted by aclevername at 9:07 AM on October 22, 2009

I think the syllabic emphasis should be clarified, and I'm going to throw in a schwa because I love schwas.


(Sorry, what was that about micromanaging?)
posted by maudlin at 9:08 AM on October 22, 2009

Re: 'hopper' - I was trying to use the word as a metaphor but the 2 co-workers I was meeting with, one anglo and one franco, claimed to have no idea what a 'hopper' was.
And yes, if there's one thing kind of dumb about it, it's that it's not as clear and simple as it should be to switch between French & English terms.
posted by Flashman at 9:22 AM on October 22, 2009

Why is my first impulse always to try joual sacre on these things? Termium shouldn't even know profanity. Although it recognizes hostie in its above-ground context.
posted by ardgedee at 9:30 AM on October 22, 2009

Why do French-speakers work so diligently to micromanage their language?

because theyve scene what happens when descriptivsm runs amuck like in english lol
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:42 AM on October 22, 2009

On the subject of translation: my current favorite translation website is WordReference.com. I use the dictionary part and the forums a lot at work.
posted by bentley at 9:53 AM on October 22, 2009

Excellent. I work for the Canadian government but due to my laziness I didn't ever bookmark Termium so I always had to refind it every time I wanted to use it. It's also great for figuring out government-speak word in the other official language. It will also be nice to be able to use it from home.
posted by urbanlenny at 10:25 AM on October 22, 2009

Quel utile !

This might replace my current habit of googling for "site:gc.ca English term" and then flipping to the French side of whatever government site comes up!
posted by sadmadglad at 10:31 AM on October 22, 2009

Super, un outil excellent et très utile, je sens que je vais m'y référer souvent ! (Great, an excellent and very useful tool, I can tell I'm going to refer to it often!)

It's interesting someone sees it as French speakers micromanaging, since, y'know, it's also for English and Spanish. I get that few people understand that the Académie Française doesn't actually have any power and really is more like a centralized dictionary service (quote, "Its rulings [...] are only advisory; not binding on either the public or the government"), plus it's French, not Canadian (don't confuse France with Québec!), and causes controversy even in France, but seriously, reference works for languages are a good thing.
posted by fraula at 10:38 AM on October 22, 2009

It's interesting someone sees it as French speakers micromanaging, since, y'know, it's also for English and Spanish.

So I guess the theory is that if you look up a term and it's not found in English, you're not supposed to use it?
posted by smackfu at 10:41 AM on October 22, 2009

Ha, sadmadglad, I use that method sometimes as well!
posted by aclevername at 12:05 PM on October 22, 2009

I see the actively dangerous and counterfactual Canadian Style has been made easier to read than ever! It is among numerous denialist sources that claims there is no such thing as Canadian spelling. “[T]o this day, there is no clearly established Canadian standard,” it asserts, even though there is such a standard. All Canadian Style shows you is British vs. American spelling, which may be useful for pedants but doesn’t tell you what to do.

In case you’re wondering why I care, my second book was about Canadian spelling and I had breathed a sigh of relief when I found the print Canadian Style and assumed it would merely gather dust. I guess not.
posted by joeclark at 2:36 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm hella buying that book, Joe!

I don't mind C-Style for that sort of thing -- it's better than the Gage, which is egregiously wrong about putting the American spellings first, even for things like "colour."

In my profession, I frequently have to make snap decisions about what is "right" and "wrong" for a language that doesn't have very many formal rules, just... strong opinions (in contrast to the abovementioned Académie Française). C-Style is handy for at least being able to point at it and say "we use this contraction for this word and put a space between the numeral and the measurement because it says so right here."
posted by Shepherd at 3:59 PM on October 22, 2009

My 'Canadian Style' is basically this: use British spelling, but use 'z' instead of 's' in words like 'authorize', because 's' just looks kinda weird; plus 'tire' instead of 'tyre', ditto.
posted by Flashman at 5:03 PM on October 22, 2009

Ah, but how do you pronounce "schedule"?
posted by ODiV at 5:23 PM on October 22, 2009

Flashman, that advice won’t serve you in good stead. Did you pay by cheque at the tire centre before you focussed your attention on getting your licence renewed? (They’re using colour printers now, I hear.)
posted by joeclark at 5:24 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ah, but how do you pronounce "schedule"?

Depends, are you on CBC Radio?
posted by ssg at 7:24 PM on October 22, 2009

French learners & speakers will be interested in Jacques Beauchesne's Dictionnaire des coocurrences, which lists which verbs and adjectives "go well" with a certain name. e.g.:

affriolante, démoniaque, échevelée, effrénée, élégante, endiablée, expressive, extravagante, folle, frénétique, gracieuse, grave, grotesque, langoureuse, lascive, légère, lente, lourde, pure, rythmique, sautillante, trépidante, voluptueuse.

Attaquer, conduire, (savoir) danser, exécuter, interpréter, pratiquer une ~; inviter à une ~; être rompu à la ~; raffoler de la ~; faire de la ~. Une ~ languit, recommence, reprend.
Jacques Dubé's Lexique analogique is fun, because not only does in offer translations from English into French, but during the passage, governement jargon often become more comprehensible: our good friend "gumption" can become "initiative, esprit d’initiative, dynamisme, vitalité, ardeur, allant, tonus".

As for the Juridictionnaire, let's just look at the entry for chantage / diffamation / extorquer / extorsion / maître-chanteur / maître-chanteuse.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:35 PM on October 22, 2009 [4 favorites]

Fantastic resource, top post.
posted by Wolof at 9:27 PM on October 22, 2009

Two things:
"I love schwas" and "Ah, but how do you pronounce "schedule"?".
I _love_ MetaFilter.
Also, thanks a lot to Flashman and everyone else. You've made my day. Great resources!
Allons-y, au travail mantenant...
posted by MessageInABottle at 3:00 AM on October 23, 2009

I just came back to say that I actually managed to stump Termium yesterday.
I needed a translation for 'sunroom' or 'sun room' and it had zero results. Even for 'solarium' (ugh) it suggested only 'bronzarium'.
In the end on the advice of a colleague I went with solarium as the French equivalent.
Thanks MessageIAB, though I don't think I contributed much useful information here!
posted by Flashman at 9:57 AM on October 24, 2009

Termium pretty much only includes terms that are of interest for the Federal Government of Canada (this is a pretty vast domain, admittedly). The Grand dictionnaire terminologique (linked in the post) has a more general mission, and tends to include more "everyday" terms (including "sunroom").
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:01 PM on October 24, 2009

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