Pardon my French

The French for some reason get a lot of crap about their English. Ok, it’s got a little ring to it but that’s not really anything to write home about.

Accents are charming. Period.

What’s not charming, however, is limited market reach – which you unfortunately get if you’re going to limit yourself to a non-English language. I can’t even count the number of times I have discussed the topic – if you want to go global in today’s world, you kind of have to speak English, too. Duh.

Dictionary bilingue.

I actually think that French start-ups understand that they need to be bilingual. France has made remarkable progress, linguistically – and the TechCrunch Paris event that was held entirely in English last week goes to prove it. Plus, I think I’ve brought up before that there are numerous local start-ups, like Silentale, that don’t even have French on their websites.

I still, however, stand by Deezer’s French Twitter account – which was attacked by Robert Scoble last year at LeWeb. Seriously, would Deezer have 11 million users if their Twitter didn’t address the local population? Don’t think so. I sound like a broken record…

Unpronouncable.com

So while French start-ups are definitely beginning to think more global – they should also make sure their company name doesn’t handicap them. After a conversation I had earlier with someone at Advent Venture Partners (funded French companies like DailyMotion), it became more than apparent that French companies may also be limiting their growth by selecting English-unfriendly names. And yes, English speakers are particularly good at butchering beautiful French names – like Vente-Privée, or anything with a “privée” in it for that matter. But on the flip side, this type of name may work in the luxury industry, as French names carry a certain marketing weight that English names never will.

But hey, this isn’t specific to France. Another example of a company that may eventually have a pronounciation identity crisis is Germany’s Qype – or even Xing (can we not just put a “z” in it already?).

Dismoiou (Tellmewhere) is one of the few French companies that I’ve seen that has actually gone out and translated its name for the respective markets. I find this to be another interesting approach that Dismoiou has actually executed very well.

Shame on you, Steve Jobs.

And no – American companies are not fool-proof either when it comes to internationalization and language. I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked how to correctly pronounce “Linkedin” in France (it’s leenkt-in).

But one thing that really shocked me was the iPhone (yes, I dare to criticize the almighty Empire) – which is surprisingly French-unfriendly given its particularly wide adoption in France. Ok, so it’s no secret that typing on the iPhone keyboard requires ridiculous talent. But for French speakers wanting to include accents in their emails or texts, it’s essentially game over. It may seem minor but the devil is in the details. I don’t know what lousy or malicious engineers designed that layout for Apple – but they surely weren’t French.

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