The civil engineering industry in France

What does your industry look like in France ? Today: the civil engineering and sustainability sector

The building and civil engineering industry, often know in France by its acronym BTP (Bâtiment et Travaux Publics), is a large and healthy sector of French economy. Encompassing the conception, construction and promotion of private and public buildings, and with a total national turn-over exceeding 170 billion euros in 2017, this vast and confusing world weighs heavily in the French GDP. Snap-shot of the French BTP market, players and concerns.

Healthy and steady growth
According to Deloitte 14th study of the European Powers of Construction, the last few years saw the French BTP sector kick the recession into touch for good, with an overall growth figure of 0.4% in 2016 and 1.3% in 2017. The construction sector alone employed 20,000 new people in 2017 and boasted a 4.3% growth.
Not satisfied with being the European market leader and with being home to some of Europe’s largest corporations such as Vinci, Bouygues et Eiffage groups, France’s healthy building industry employs over 1.4 millions people across 536,000 businesses.

Public Sector
As expected, a large slice of this particular cake goes to the public sector. All upcoming government tenders have to be published on the Marchés Publics listings. If you are considering bidding on French tenders, I suggest you find yourself a French translator who is used to working in a civil engineering environment as they’ll not only be helping you with the tender bid and all contractual documents but eventually with all reports and drawing submissions, too.

Sustainability : a major concern of the French BTP sector
A strong contender of this formidable market is the renewable and sustainable energy sector which is not only a part of most residential projects but is also the object of growing interest from business and industrial property developers. This side of the BTP industry is responsible for an optimistic 4.8% growth forecast by Deloitte.

The energy-hungry civil engineering industry is in the spotlight of 3 major, current, European debates : climate change, resources crisis, and sustainability, leading the French government to show support to a large number of real estate projects focussing on energy efficiencies. The French thermal efficiency regulation, the RT2012 (soon to be replaced with the upgraded RT2020), leads the way by imposing limits on factors such as carbon footprint and energy production. The ultimate objective is to build BEPOS (known in English as Energy-Plus buildings) ie buildings deemed to have a neutral or even positive energy impact not only during their construction but also in terms of longevity and maintenance.


The rise of Googlisms

My thoughts on automated translation

Since I swapped a comfortable in-house translator’s seat for the altogether more wobbly one of a freelance translator a few years ago, I have had to be a lot more involved in the sales and marketing function of my own business.  This hasn’t been an uninteresting path and, amongst other new challenges, implied spending a lot more time researching potential clients’ branding and marketing. It was during one of these browsing journeys that I met a new competitor and growing stakeholder of our industry: Google translate.


Of course I was already aware of its existence and its, well… prowess! I’d always conveniently dismissed it as irrelevant and unimportant. “Decent companies”, I foolishly thought, “see right through it. They know the importance of a proper translation because they respect their foreign audience”.


My recent discovery doesn’t therefore reside in the outrageous results produced by automatic translation systems, or even in being introduced to GT’s fellow fraud: the “French speaker in the office” (capable of equally unintelligible content). No, the terrifying new fact for me was the realisation that, not only do some businesses consider automated translations a real alternative to professional ones, but worse, readers are willing to accept such abysmal wording as a perfectly acceptable language and may even learn from it and incorporate the new syntax in their day-to-day speech.


The first time I heard a fellow French expat refer to the fact that “il devait s’asseoir avec son patron” (literally, “sit down with his boss”), I thought it thoroughly unfrench, yet funny. The second time a French waiter at a local pub found himself “occupé à mopper le floor” (“busy mopping the floor”, with the English word declined according to French grammar!), I kind of half-smiled.


Coming across “la côte Poole belle”, however, threw in a different kind of spanner in the works. It seems think it sufficient to simply direct any foreign traffic to Google translate, who will promptly and automatically regurgitate the entire website in Franco-gibberish.  Amongst the resulting rubbish (excuse the pun), French locals and tourists alike have grown accustomed to modifying GT’s grammatically incorrect translation of “the beautiful Poole coast”, jokingly turning it into “la cote poubelle” (the dustbin coast). I have tried contacting Poole tourism about it but, in line with the rest of the service, a beautifully automated answer phone has been informing me that “there is nobody available to take your call”…


Give it a proper go!
My recent discovery doesn’t therefore relate to the outrageous results produced by automatic translation systems, or even to being introduced to Google Translate’s bedfellow, the “French speaker in the office” (capable of equally unintelligible content). No, the terrifying realisation for me was that, not only do some businesses consider these translations a real alternative to professional ones, but  they are then quite satisfied that their attempt at international marketing was sufficiently conclusive to dismiss foreign markets’ potentially large revenue on that single basis.


If you rely on a British saying involving peanuts and monkeys, Google Translate is top-ape. Admittedly, the fact that it is seemingly free is an appealing factor in the current recession. But consider this: if you have spent time, effort and often copious amounts of money on your branding, advertising and PR (and I’m not even counting your staff’s precious hours whilst they fiddle with the Google Translate interface!), can you really run the risk of it being mistranslated? Let’s imagine that you have made a large investment in a five-star chef, a modern kitchen and fresh ingredients in order to put together an amazing menu for your guests. Would you then hire volunteer and untrained staff to serve it to them?


Is Google boss ?

Part of the problem lies in the confirmation that Google itself gives of the existence of a term it has created, by incorporating it to other websites translated in the same way.  How many times can you question “press folder” (literal translation of “press pack”), before you accept that you, along with most marketing professionals and as many dictionaries, are just suffering from acute memory loss and start using it with your fellow PR specialists? And will they follow suite and start using it in turn?


I’m sure I speak for most translators when I report my puzzlement after searching for a term in my target language, only to find that the mistranslation is taking over the net to the point where it is near impossible to determine which one is correct. And at that stage, is it still a mistranslation, or does it become acceptable?


Of course we will all agree that a language must evolve and adapt, and some might even argue that if an expression, be it a mistranslation, is commonly accepted and used, then it becomes correct (not unlike the world famous Tarte Tatin became a delicacy after it was a cooking error). But upon further investigation, it seems it takes a particularly good error to make it in the dictionary. In the meantime, only human brains are capable of realising that the New Forest should not be translated as “la nouvelle forêt”.


I find this conclusion reassuring as it should mean that machines won’t take over for some time yet and that Google is, contrarily to some online announcements, definitely not God. At the risk of enriching our vocabulary with a new word, our translation community, as well as the multi-lingual business world, should consider the following question: we were always warned against the dreaded “faux-amis”, should we now beware the somewhat sneakier “googlisms”?



FRENCH and back:
> Google Translate est la transformation de langues?
> Google Translate is the transformation of languages?
SPANISH and back:
> ¿Está Google Traductor transformar idiomas?
> Is Google Language Translator transform?
GERMAN and back:
> Ist Google Translate Umwandlung Sprachen?
> Is Google Translate transformation languages?