Accents, officially referenced as diacritic or diacritical marks, are signs added to letters in order to indicate a change or inflection in pronunciation. An accent affects the accent, as it were.
Accents are quite common in French and Spanish. However, the use of diacritical marks in English is uncommon; accents in written English invariably appear in words that have been assimilated from other languages, French and Spanish for the most part. The French expression "raison d'être" is a case in point (note the circumflex on the 'e'). One very common word, though often spelled (incorrectly) without accents in English, is the word résumé. Think of how you pronounce the word and you immediately get the idea of how accents affect pronunciation. Enough said.
The challenge in translation is to make sure that accents are being used and used correctly. Though uncommon for native language speakers, accent errors do happen, usually mistakes of omission. Errors occur more frequently in texts produced by non-native language writers. An omitted accent or, worse yet, an accent on the wrong letter, simply screams out for attention to a native language reader. Not good, that!
Accents are one of the big reasons why a non-native language French speaker should not be proofreading material in French. The same rule would generally apply to non-native language translators.
I could go on ad nauseam on this topic, but the subject is well covered in minute detail on Wikipedia if you're inclined to delve into it further. On the very same page (at the bottom) there's also a useful review of typography terminology.
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