How Do You Translate “Animer”?

Montreal Translation SyllabusIn English, when I hear the word “animate,” the first thing that comes to mind are cartoons. And yet this term worms its way into many a translation—even my own if I’m not careful.

The French term “animer” looks seductively similar to the English term “animate,” when in reality, the two couldn’t be further apart.

First off, “animate” is rarely used as a verb in common English, unless you work for Pixar. More often than not, it shows up as an adjective in the form of “animated,” as in “lively” or “full of life,” like “an animated conversation.” Even then, it’s not the first word I’d reach for.

The French verb “animer” is often best translated in English as “host,” “lead,” or “facilitate” in the context of an event, show, workshop or other organized activity. A phrase like “animer des jeunes” can also be flipped into noun form, as in “youth leader” or “camp counsellor” (if it’s for a summer or day camp), instead of an awkward “animate young people.” Likewise, we can talk about a “TV host” for “animer une émission.”

Whenever I find my fingers typing the word “animate,” I stop and ask myself if there isn’t a better, more idiomatic word I could use. And sure enough, there always is!

How do you translate this tricky term?

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