From what I gather, translating into your native tongue does not always mean picking apart, word-for-word, what is being said in the source language and transposing that into a destination language. Rather, to me, it's sometimes about understanding the nuances of both languages well enough to capture the essence of what is being communicated in the source language (French, in this case) and finding an equivalent meaning in the destination language (English).
There have been a couple of times that if I were to have translated verbatim from French to English, it would have sounded absolutely absurd. How do you guys approach the "translations" section? Thoughts?
I completely agree. Oftentimes my translations will just barely pass enough to get points because I will go to great lengths to make sure that my translation is comprehensive and conveys the exact sense of (what I think is) the meaning of the sentence in French as opposed to a word for word verbatim matchup. In all honesty, I think there are really two skills we are all learning here: 1.) How to read/write/speak better French and 2.) How to translate. I will often look at the original article and sometimes (if it is shorter) read the whole thing through before I begin translating so I can get the gist of it and try to make it as readable and thorough as possible in English. I don't think that it is cheating to go to an original website on, say the Lachrymal System on English Wikipedia for the "Larme" article, for example, in order to make sure that spell words correctly and that what you are conveying is true to the meaning of the article in French.
I'm also much more likely to upvote a translation for its accuracy in meaning rather than its accuracy in verbatim translation.
I think it's not the nuances per se, but the entire phrase. You need to read the entire sentence, get an essence of its meaning and then convert it to English.
The most important thing in translation is to remember how you as a native English speaker would say something, and not be shackled to each word that appears in French.
What I quite often do is propose a more literal translation to start with just so it gets past Duolingo, and then edit it to make it sound more natural in English. I definitely agree that translation isn't just about swapping out a French word for the equivalent English word, but about trying to capture the meaning and the sense of the foreign sentence in English. At the moment Duolingo does seem a bit of a compromise between literal word-for-word machine translation and more accurate but less literal human translation (i.e. you can't stray too far from the literal translation or you get marked down) - it'll be interesting to see how things develop once there are more human translations to choose from.
I don't always get points for the translations I propose, especially if I'm among the first, and especially if I take liberties and divert from the word-by-word approach, like you say. I like to think it's an idiosyncrasy of the Duolingo approach, rather than a weakness of my comprehension/translation skills...
I try to translate the meaning as best I can, which often means rearranging and not using the direct translations of words. Sure, you occasionally don't get the points that you would with a word-for-word translation, but I figure if everyone does it this way then the final translation will be much better.