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I would like to translate a name of a course "Initiation à la programmation" in French to English. The course aims at presenting students with the very basic concepts of programming and make them get started.

Does anyone know which way is the best?

  • initiation into programming
  • initiation to programming
  • initiation of programming
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  • If English is not your native language you are going to have a hard time translating into it. Using what appears to be the equivalent word to the French “initiation” is your problem. Look at the titles of books on Amazon, for example. A gerund from an Anglo-Saxon verb is more natural — starting or beginning — without a preposition. (But you will probably find the preposition that is used with initiation there too.) Please do some research before posting. The other trick with translation is to search with your translated phrase to see if and how it is used. Bon chance!
    – David
    Nov 25, 2022 at 9:04
  • "Bonne chance"... I did do a research. And there is an english word "initiation". Since the title is important, I would like to know how english speakers translate it.
    – Thomas
    Nov 25, 2022 at 9:08
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    Initiation can just mean 'beginning' in English, but it has overtones of the other meaning a special ceremony or responsibility that signals the acceptance of someone into a group (Cambridge Dictionary). "Programming for beginners" might be a more idiomatic translation. Nov 25, 2022 at 9:21
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    "Introduction to ..." is a common format for beginner material. "Initiation", although a word that exists in English, is not a natural way of expressing this concept.
    – dubious
    Nov 25, 2022 at 9:37
  • Even in French, the primary meanings of initiation revolve around religious secrets or secret societies (Admission de quelqu'un au culte d'une divinité, à la connaissance de ses mystères. Admission d'un nouveau membre, d'un nouvel adepte d'une religion, d'une secte, d'une société secrète, de la société.) so if you genuinely want this meaning then initiation is the English word. For usage, see a dictionary.
    – Stuart F
    Nov 25, 2022 at 9:50

1 Answer 1

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Translating set phrases

The French phrase seems to be a set phrase referring to instruction in computing, but while the word “initiation” is also a word in English, it does not have that exact meaning hear, and so it is not a good translation of the idea you want to convey.

Instead, I’d suggest two options, both of which are set-phrases in English for basic instruction in a subject.

Option 1. “Foundations of ~”

  • foundation n: Basic fact. An idea or fact that something is based on

In British usage, the name foundation course is used for exactly the same sort of course as your “initiation à l’informatique”.

Option 2. “Fundamentals of ~”

  • fundamentals n (plural): the main or most important rules or parts
    • “It's important for children to be taught the fundamentals of science.”

le mot (pas toute à faite) juste - beware of cognates

In 2018, President Emmanuel Macron of France, on a state visit to Australia, described the wife of the Australian Prime Minister as “delicious”. He actually meant “delightful” (déliceuse), and yes, the English word does come from French, but it lost the meaning of “delightful” a long time ago, and now it only means “tasty”.

Just because a word is common across a language, it does not mean that all of its meanings are!

Because of the conquest of England by the Normans, English has a lot of words that entered the language from French. (In that sentence alone, there are four: “because”, “conquest”, “entered” and “language”). Some of these common words, or cognates, have kept the same meaning over the years, but for others, that meaning has diverged to the point where they are “false friends”. There are so many between English and French that you really have to be very careful when translating between them.

Professional translation companies prefer to hire translators who are “in-country” for this reason. Ideally, translations into any language should be done by someone who speaks the language fluently with native-speakers every day. That last part, daily use, is important: a French person who learned English to a high level and has lived and worked in London for a long time will be able to provide you with better English translations than an English person who has lived and worked in Paris for years and mostly speaks French.

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