Found in Translation

From product packaging to technical manuals, WordFrog Inc. helps firms
talk business in the Quebec market

Photo: Mélanie Bernier

MÉLANIE BERNIER WAS only 18 years old when she leapt into self-employment as a French/English translator. At the time, she was looking for a flexible way to earn extra money while she studied broadcast journalism at Fanshawe College.

“I put an ad on Kijiji offering translation services,” says Bernier, a native francophone who attended London’s Monseigneur-Bruyère French first-language high school. Her first contract was translating a website about cats.

Now 28, Bernier has been operating WordFrog Inc. ­full-time since 2012, providing French translation services to a wide range of industries. Although she still works with websites and other marketing materials, most clients come to her with technical translation projects, including product manuals, packaging and specifications. Bernier returned to Fanshawe College in 2009 to complete a technical writing certificate and is currently a candidate for certification with the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Ontario (ATIO).

“You need to look like you’ve taken the time to care about the francophone consumer. They are a big part of the Canadian market” —Mélanie Bernier

Close to 80 per cent of WordFrog clients are Canadian companies with facilities in Quebec, or those who want to enter the Quebec market. “The content and type of documents that I translate depends on the client, but generally they are medium-sized businesses, mostly manufacturers,” Bernier says.

“If you have a local product, you may not need translation services,” she notes. “But once you start thinking about national distribution it’s time to start thinking about French translation, both for your presentations and packaging.”

Delivering effective and compliant content involves more than just replacing English words with their French ­equivalents. “Depending on what you are selling, there are certain parts of the packaging that need to be translated, and some that don’t,” Bernier explains. “You may not have translated everything you need to, or you may have translated things that you don’t need to and your packaging looks cluttered. People can waste a lot of money on graphic design if they don’t do the translation properly. It’s best to do it right the first time.”

And of course, it’s important to speak the same language as your target audience. Quebec French is different from European French, notes Bernier, who works with a team of Quebec-based proofreaders to ensure she nails the linguistic nuances.

“If you have French on your marketing materials or ­packaging that isn’t done correctly, it really reflects poorly on your business,” she says. “You need to look like you’ve taken the time to care about the francophone consumer. They are a big part of the Canadian market.”

As one of the few French/English translators in London, Bernier has been able to grow WordFrog Inc. largely through word-of-mouth.
She is able to compete with large translation agencies by offering rates that enable smaller businesses to afford translation services, while large companies appreciate the consistency that comes from working directly with the same translator across many projects.

“An agency typically works with hundreds of freelancers, so you may end up with two people who translate very ­similar documents in a totally different way,” she explains.

After a decade in the field, Bernier is ready to take WordFrog Inc. to the next level. “Over the past year I’ve been able to identify my ideal customers,” she says. “I am looking to develop my client base and target certain industries so that I can maximize my time.”

She is also using her extensive technical writing skills to launch a document download website that provides ­affordable access to an online library of turnkey contracts.

Called DocuLauncher, Bernier says her new venture is a natural extension of her translation business. “These are the type of documents I work with all the time. I saw an ­opportunity to create some original, easy-to-fill-out forms that many small business owners don’t have.”  Nicole Laidler