I'm a non-French-speaking mathematician submitting an English paper to a French journal that requires a French abstract (but publishes papers in English). I don't think I know anyone I'd be comfortable asking for help.

I took at stab at a translation using a combination of Google Translate and phrases found actual French papers. I think my attempt is probably not so far from the mark, but would be no doubt cringe-inducing for an actual Frenchman.

Should I submit with no abstract and hope for the best, submit with the bad one, or is it important to find somebody to help me with a proper translation?

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    Comptes Rendus? If so, I imagine they are used to this, and would get someone to make small changes to the French during the editing process if this is necessary
    – Yemon Choi
    Commented May 25, 2016 at 17:16
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    Does your university have a foreign language department with French being offered? Or just fire off an email on the faculty listserv. We get two or three of those a year on it asking if anyone speaks X language (not necessary for abstracts per se, but similar enough) Commented May 25, 2016 at 17:49
  • Try this: find some paper with an abstract in French, run it through google translate, and see if the result is any good. (If you can, try to find an abstract written by a native French speaker, because an English speaker will probably use sentence structures closer to English.) I think it will be eye-opening.
    – user9646
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 9:37
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    Absolutely no Google translate, unless expressly mentioned, IMO (they are awful, most of the times). The better option is certainly to find some help among the community. Commented Jun 22, 2016 at 17:03

2 Answers 2


I would not use Google Translate for this. I recently moved to France and I needed to do this a few times, and when I did a Google Translate (even a 'nice' one*) it still sounded bad to the native French people around. In that particular experience, a French person editing my 3 page document took about 1.5 hours. GT leaves much to be desired. Even when things are technically correct, it will be obviously non-French, which can have a bad effect on the initial reception of the document.

One would think this isn't relevant to the scientific content, but in France, things like this are considered to be culturally important (which is why an English language journal requires a French abstract - PhD theses have the same requirement). I think your paper would have a better reception with a linguistically correct abstract, both from the people considering the submission and the people eventually reading and citing it.

There are services online which offer translations for a small sum of money. I'm not sure if I can link to some without it being considered spam, but they're easy to find. So based on my experience, this is what I recommend. They charge per-word so an abstract should be fairly inexpensive.

Like the commenter guifa suggested, speaking with your foreign language department would be another way to accomplish this without having to pay a translator.

*If you HAVE to use Google Translate (which I don't recommend), I would translate the result back into English to make sure that words haven't been misinterpreted. I would also check with a good online French-English dictionary. My chosen one is Linguee. This is the most effective if you write your sentences very simplistically and concisely.

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    I just had to write an abstract for my thesis in German. My supervisor put it absolutely clearly: "the abstract is NOT the place to be sloppy". +1
    – LLlAMnYP
    Commented May 25, 2016 at 23:56
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    As a side note for hiring translators, depending on the language complexity / topic and combinations, translators will run you USD 0.08-0.15 a word. For an abstract, it's likely you won't even run up against a translator's minimum fee which are generally in the realm of USD 30-100. Commented May 26, 2016 at 2:02

My guess is rather different from what has been suggested/observed in la femme cosmique's answer; it comes with the caveat that I have not worked in France, although I did live in Quebec for a couple of years. On the other hand, I have passing familiarity as a reader with French mathematical journals.

Based on what I see published in journals such as Ann Inst Fourier, I think that as long as you make a decent attempt at providing an abstract in French, flaws in the language will not be held against you, and would not prejudice the journal against the paper. There is a decent chance that the referee's preferred language, if not their first language, will be English; and ultimately the referee and the editors will be concerned about the mathematics, not the quality of language in the abstract.

If one had to write the whole article in French, that would be another matter, because then the referee would have to be a fluent French reader and then might well get distracted or irritated by flaws in the use of language. But no respectable referee (or, dare I say it, journal) in mathematics would reject or accept a paper based on its abstract.

The worst that can happen is that if the paper is accepted, the editors will request that you improve the quality of French in the abstract before they formally accept the paper.


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