English-only websites – are you breaking the Toubon Law?

As an entrepreneur in France I have my own business website which is currently only available in English, and my service offerings include a comprehensive website review. So I can only apologise because I have only recently found out about Toubon Law, and how it impacts business website owners. 

Even though I didn’t find anything when I searched on ‘Do I need a French version of my website?’, a native French web designer has pointed out my error. So I am now frantically trying to squeeze in translating my complete website, in between my client work. Because I live and work in France I need my business to be totally legal and compliant, so I’m not worrying about the internet police.

It might take me some time to translate the blogs, so unless one specifically advertises my services, I will do them as and when. A bit like this particular article, which has now been added to my ever-growing ‘To Do’ List.

Sign saying Wait paint instead of wet paint Translation Toubon Law
Make sure someone checks your translation

What is Toubon Law?

Although the law does not explicitly mention websites as an example, it does state that French must be used for publicly displayed advertising. The reason for the law was partly to protect the French language from the increasing use of Anglicised terms in marketing publications, for example ‘le web’ or ‘le marketing’. It’s also to ensure that French customers fully understand all the commercial advertising jargon that they see. So I can understand why this would be important, especially if there is no French definition for a particular word or phrase.

… a law of the French government mandating the use of the French language in official government publications, in all advertisements, in all workplaces, in commercial contracts, in some other commercial communication contexts, ….

Toubon Law – Wikipedia

Toubon Law or ‘Loi Toubon’ was named after the Minister of Culture at the time the law was passed in August 1994. But it also has the nickname ‘Loi Allgood’ (All good – tout bon) which shows the French do have a sense of humour.

Does this impact all websites in France?

If your business is registered in France then yes, the law applies to your business website. It doesn’t apply to personal sites, such as blogs though. So if you are not selling or promoting something on your personal website, then you can keep it non-French. 

“l’emploi du français est requis dans le cas où une entreprise présente, sur quelque support que ce soit, des biens ou des services dans le but de les commercialiser sur le territoire français”

Translating your website

If you already have a website in English, the page layout, content, images, meta descriptions, etc. are already there. And it doesn’t need to cost a lot of money to have a French version of your existing web pages. Your website manager should be able to recommend and install a good translation plug-in. The actual plug-in or app shouldn’t cost a fortune either. Most of them are free, but if manual translation is required then it’s worth employing a native French speaker. I would definitely not recommend using Google Translate unless you really have to, because it translates literally and using old-fashioned terminology. It’s fine if you need to get directions to your favourite restaurant – ah, those were the days! – but not so good if you want to professionally promote your products and services to French consumers. 

If you can’t afford an official translator then why not ask a French friend or neighbour if they can help you out? Or translate it using DeepL or any tool other than Google Translate, and then ask them to review it for you. You’ll be surprised how many anomalies they will find. Personally, I get my French teacher to check my business translations as part of my language course. It’s a win/win situation – she is paid to review my site and teach me French. At the same time, I’m learning the correct business lingo to promote my services.

Boost your business

Toubon Law is not all bad news and you should look on the positive side. If your website is in French and English you are potentially increasing your customer base and boosting your sales. Now isn’t that a good enough reason to get your website translation completed tout de suite ?

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions about this, or any other article please get in touch.

Shirley Atkinson

Website Usability Testing & Content Writing Services

 

Location

Shirley Atkinson

SAA IT Test Consultant

79120, Sainte Soline, France

SIRET – 835 373 515 00013

Contact

Need some advice? 

saa.it.testing@gmail.com

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