French is Alive and Well and (Even) Living in English

By Jacques Saleh

For all the relentless drumbeat, if not frenzied alarm, in the French-speaking world (as often witnessed on numerous French-speaking talk shows), to counter or curtail the seemingly inexorable onward and forward march of English worldwide, and for all the alarmed French and Francophile luminaries, grandees and pundits who feel that the French language is under siege by the Anglo-Saxon (or Anglo-American) linguistic onslaught, it behooves us to reassure those rearguard French and Francophonie defenders that all is not lost, and that in the spirit of cross-cultural comity and cross-linguistic camaraderie, French is still alive and well and living in English.

Perhaps it hasn’t seeped into the foundational structure of English as much as Frisian and other Germanic offshoots such as Dutch, Scandinavian or German, but English still seems to have more clearly recognizable Gallic terms in its lexicon than other Germanic languages, which over the years have morphed away—in often unrecognizable fashion—from their Teutonic roots. If, for instance, you join the British or U.S. military (militaires) or army (armée), at whichever echelon (echelon), from the humble soldier (soldat) to the sergeant, colonel, general, or admiral, you may think you have joined the ranks of the French military.

And to add a bit of bonhomie to the whole competitive linguistic shebang, the French and Germanic or Proto-Germanic languages have peacefully coexisted in an ongoing détente within English, with English providing the basis for this ideal and idyllic rapprochement. In other words, English may have accomplished the near-utopian feat of making the French and Teutons gentle bedfellows, at least linguistically.

By italicizing French-rooted or French-influenced words in English below, we will notice more vividly how French is intrinsically ingrained in the English language. And if we review the text above, a French-speaking sleuth a bit versed in etymology (NB: while Greek, the word “etymology” took this form through the French “étymologie”) could easily count more than a few dozen words with French ancestry, influence or affinity. Some (including frenzied, counter, curtail, march, vigorously, defend, languages, rearguard, competitive, peacefully, accomplished, feat, gentle, instance, and join) represent different alteration degrees of the French words frénésie, contrer, tailler, marche, vigoureusement, défendre, langues, arrière-garde (itself an alteration of the Old French rereguarde), compétitif, fait, gentil, instance, and joindre. Others are plucked wholesale and with seemingly little compunction from French, e.g., words like détente, camaraderie, bonhomie, rapprochement and the like.

This article is not meant to give a statistical or scientific representation of French within English, especially with a limited textual sample (Old French “essample”), but to show that one can write English using a copious dose of French-influenced or French-originated words, even if their semantic and formal iterations have deviated from current or even Old French. But this would be no different from Canadian French using French terms that are uncommon in France, or modern French in France being quite different from Old French but still influenced by, or derived from, it. Languages do not remain static, and whether the French words that seeped into English were quite different semantically and formally from their modern configuration does not negate the fact that their origin is French and that English has a solid French linguistic identity in conjunction with its Teutonic one.

If the Anglo-Saxons resent this “foreign” influence, they would then be using a French-rooted word (“ressentiment”) to express their feelings, or they could hate it, in which case they would be using a German-rooted or Dutch-rooted term (“hassen” or “haten”). It will be up to them to express any xenophobic or perhaps bigoted sentiments against this reality, but if their resentment pushes them to extirpate only French-rooted words from the English language, English would become so different as to become another language and would no longer qualify as English. As things stand, it won’t be an easy task to extricate English from French encroachment, or for that matter, from its Teutonic manifestations. If it were, English would have a major identity crisis and would cease to exist. To prune the Teutonic-Gallic branches and roots from the English tree will be akin to uprooting and killing that tree. Ergo, RIP English.

While the nuts and bolts of English are infused with Teutonic-originated terms, which permeate its building blocks of prepositions, adverbs, conjunctions and pronouns, French suffuses its superstructure, so to speak, including many terms used in the military, law, economy, finance, religion, and politics, among others.

And speaking of the military, the Brits conquered a good chunk of global real estate and built their empire with plenty of help from the French—that is, French words. They had these French-rooted terms to help advance their colonizing or expansionist ambitions: the army and navy, along with their assortment of generals, colonels, admirals, lieutenants, sergeants, corporals, and soldiers. And to this end they used troops, the infantry, and cavalry, in addition to the artillery. They also used battalions, brigades, and squadrons. 

And to advance their objectives and promote and consolidate their newly established regime, the occupiers did not hesitate to use search and destroy missions to tame any recalcitrant elements of the populace, nor did they fail to use surveillance, reconnaissance missions, espionage intrigues, spies, guards, sieges, and logistics, all the way down to the lowly latrine.

After setting their expansionist designs on a region, they applied or established their laws and rules, again with much help from the French language, introducing in the process French-rooted terms like contracts, felonies, crimes, courts, tribunals, judges, jury, bailiffs, plaintiffs, defendants, attorneys, cases, bails, paroles, summons, claims, complaints, pleas, pleadings, petitions, motions, briefs, requests, appeals, jails, and prisons, among many terms that could almost fill an English legal dictionary. This gave the illegitimate presence of the colonizers a semblance of normalcy and legality that might have helped them further subdue and control the local populace by instilling a whiff of legitimacy, accompanied by a firm dose of law and order, to their conquest.

Naturally, for further appeasement and other self-serving purposes, the new victors probably wanted their newly vanquished communities and societies to enjoy a humming economy. Such economy would assist those victors in better managing their own affairs while profiting even more from the existing spoils by rendering the latter more productive than from the simple plunder of limited or unsustainable resources. 

With such a symbiotic or collaborative arrangement with the indigenous peoples, the victors’ ruling classes and elites, along with their acolytes, would theoretically enjoy a greater level of prosperity and riches, some of which is allowed to trickle down to appease the oppressed masses by easing their economic and financial burdens, hence inducing them into continuing collaborative comportment. In this instance, the reasoning of the conquerors might be that the robust economy should serve as the opium of the politically oppressed people in the way religion played that role for those who championed the cause of the proletariat.

The above examples should suffice for now to give sufficient credence to the present thesis and, by extrapolation, should point to the clear etymological and historical evidence that seems overlooked by all those alarmist French language Cassandras and other linguistic doomsayers who think that languages, especially theirs, are or should be immutable.

Instead, the Gallic doomsters might as well stop panicking and stressing over this issue, and for that matter they might as well vicariously enjoy the English language (French-Teutonic to a large extent) triumphs without undue compunction, mindful of the fact that the English language’s French ancestry is well-established. They should also be mindful of the humbling fact that, for all intents and purposes, all present living languages will eventually sink into Latin-like or ancient Greek obsolescence and will succumb to the inevitable and dire fate of linguistic extinction.

Thus, the Gallic doom and gloom merchants and sundry linguistic fearmongers could join the ranks of those who take a grander and more relativistic and historical view regarding the transience of languages, or of life for that matter, and they could in particular tone down a notch their strident anti-Albion protests once they realize that French will be riding on the coattails of the English juggernaut for the foreseeable future.

In this case, it bears repeating that those with French predilection who are still contesting the current linguistic status quo might as well vicariously enjoy the English language advances, as they should be comforted by the fact that English has historically and to a large degree embraced, assimilated and absorbed French, which played, along with Teutonic linguistic offshoots and to some extent Latin, a predominant role in its inception.

Therefore, once we consider that English has a distinct, significant, recognizable, and manifest French identity, the relationship between the two languages should no longer be regarded as a zero-sum game, as some alarmist Francophile pundits would like us to think, but rather one of lineage and pedigree, or of parentage and identity, which in turn entails that French is not only alive and well for the French-speaking people, but also living in English. Thus, French can legitimately share in the successes of English and celebrate its triumphs.    

[Editor’s Note: What are your thoughts on the influence of English on the French language, and vice versa? Any amateur (or professional!) etymologists out there? Please join the conversation by liking or sharing this article along with your comments on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.]


Jacques Saleh, PhD is an ATA-certified Arabic-to-English translator with more than 20 years of experience translating from Arabic to English and French to English. He holds a doctorate degree in philosophy from the City University of New York and a BS and MBA from New York University. He has taught translation, philosophy, and humanities courses both in the United States and abroad. You can find him on Twitter at @textoubli or contact him through his website.

Traduction rédactionnelle : repenser les partis-pris, oser le naturel

« Challenging Assumptions: Avoid a Stilted Style »

Invité à endosser un rôle de rédacteur, le traducteur ne saurait se cantonner dans la littéralité. C’est l’appel à l’action qu’a lancé Marc Lambert, traducteur-réviseur à CPA Canada (Montréal) aux congressistes de l’ATA, réunis à La Nouvelle-Orléans en octobre 2018. 

Par Marc Lambert

Rester traducteur, prudemment, ou devenir rédacteur ? Voilà la question que j’ai posée au dernier rendez-vous de l’ATA à La Nouvelle-Orléans, en octobre 2018. J’y proposais de jeter aux orties la méthode classique, qui veut qu’on se plie aux contraintes d’un suivi attentif – voire maniaque – de la syntaxe de départ, de l’ordre des idées, des moindres détails de l’original. Je nous invitais tous à plutôt prendre du recul afin d’aborder le travail sous l’angle de l’adaptation notionnelle, conceptuelle, en situation de communication.

Bref, là où le contexte l’autorise, repensons la démarche et osons l’optique rédactionnelle. Un geste qui passe par une prise de risque. Il faut s’approprier le texte, se dire : si j’avais moi-même eu à formuler ce message, dans ma propre langue, dans ce contexte, qu’aurais-je écrit? Quels éléments aurais-je ajoutés, retranchés? Comment m’y serais-je pris pour exprimer l’essentiel, sans tourner autour du mot, pour convaincre, renseigner, mobiliser?

Je vous propose ici de passer en revue trois exemples. Je vous soumets un fragment anglais, suivi d’une traduction correcte et fidèle. C’est déjà quelque chose, direz-vous. Quoique. Et le rythme, la fluidité, la vigueur? J’ai donc remanié la version d’origine pour viser la concision, l’allégement, la fonctionnalité.

Voyons le premier cas problème. Pour « New Study Shows Entrepreneurs Are at Risk of Fraud », on lisait : « Une nouvelle étude montre que les entrepreneurs risquent d’être victimes de fraude ». Traduction impeccable, qui saura réjouir les insomniaques, charmés par sa verbosité soporifique. C’est un titre d’article ! Tout de même. Alors, plongeons : « Fraude : l’entrepreneur, proie facile ». Et de un.

Aventurons-nous dans un autre registre : « During your stay in Boston, we will be here to help you with any needs, concerns or questions you might have. » Vite, sortons nos dictionnaires. Appliquons-nous, crispés sur notre clavier : « Pendant votre séjour à Boston, nous serons là pour vous aider en cas de besoin ou pour répondre à vos préoccupations ou questions. » Soupir. Entre superflu et superfétatoire, mon cœur balance. Faut-il vraiment en dire autant? Proposons : « Pendant votre séjour, nous serons à votre entière disposition. » C’est largement suffisant. Et de deux.

Pour conclure : « Out of a job? Job seekers need to learn how to be innovative and creative, and think outside the box. » Derechef, pusillanimes, on colle, on courbe l’échine, on s’asservit : « Vous êtes à la recherche d’un travail? Les demandeurs d’emploi doivent apprendre à faire preuve d’innovation et de créativité, et savoir sortir des sentiers battus. » Il faut de l’inspiration, du talent, que dis-je, du génie pour réussir à délayer autant. Biffons, raturons sans merci : « En recherche d’emploi? Innovez, sortez des sentiers battus. » Et de trois.

En conclusion, je suis convaincu que vous aurez trouvé l’exercice salutaire, pour redécouvrir la rédactrice – le rédacteur – qui sommeille en vous, histoire de mieux vous outiller. Arrêtez, je sais, nous n’aurons pas toujours la latitude voulue pour prendre un libre envol, bridés sous le carcan de mille et une nécessités. Mais je nous invite quand même à oser. Et à repartir, la plume légère, pour éviter lourdeurs et maladresses.


Marc Lambert est traducteur-réviseur à CPA Canada (Comptables professionnels agréés du Canada) à Montréal (Québec). Il enseigne à l’école Magistrad et a participé aux congrès « On traduit à… » (Canada, France, Royaume-Uni).

Proust Questionnaire – feat. Ben Karl

ata-fld-newsletter-logo[Editor’s note: This is my last post as the editor of À Propos. I am stepping down in order to focus on my upcoming duties as Assistant Administrator of the French Language Division. The FLD is proud to announce that Ben Karl will be taking over as editor-in-chief as of our Annual Division Meeting on Thursday, October 25 at 12:30 PM, held as part of the ATA conference in New Orleans. Welcome to the team, Ben! –Andie Ho]


Ben Karl, MBA, CT is a French and Mandarin to English translator based in Reno, Nevada who specializes in marketing, financial, and creative content. Visit his blog, Ben Translates, or connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

How did you get involved in translation?

I knew I wanted to be a translator even as a teenager. I pursued an undergraduate degree in lettres et traduction françaises, which was very well rounded in terms of theory and stylistics, but not so useful in terms of real, practical application (my instructors never once mentioned CAT tools, for example). I also studied Chinese, so I moved to China after university and continued my language studies there for two years before moving back to the US. I found work as a project manager at one of the top three LSPs, and just over five years ago, I transitioned to freelancing. I haven’t looked back!

What subject areas do you translate?

I focus on financial, corporate communications, and marketing. Three years ago, I decided that I wanted to up my game and my subject-matter expertise, so I went back to school for an MBA. It was a really invaluable experience for me, not only as a translator, but also as a business owner. Most of us are not business-minded people (we’re language people!), so learning about business in such a rigorous environment was really eye-opening and useful.

What’s your favorite word or phrase in French or English?

I’ve always loved the expression Il ne faut pas mettre le doigt entre l’arbre et l’écorce. I find it elicits such a beautiful image. My favorite English words are cahoots (back when I was little, I would always picture two owls talking secretively to each other) and slough (i.e. the verb slʌf, not the noun slu), which has a great sound and also elicits a great mental picture, especially when used figuratively.

Do you have a favorite French or English book?

My favorite book of all time is The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov (I love the Pevear–Volokhonsky translation), but it’s neither an English nor a French book! When I try to think of my favorite books or movies, my mind always seems to settle on something I’ve seen or read recently. I was very shaken and moved by En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule by Edouard Louis and have also really enjoyed Joël Dicker’s page-turners La Vérité sur l’affaire Harry Quebert and Le livre des Baltimore. Reading about an America imagined by a Swiss author is fascinating and very entertaining! Translating a book like that would definitely be my dream project.

Tell us something surprising about yourself.

I have a twin sister! Not only that, we were among the first IVF babies born in the United States and were featured in the New York Times as infants. She also speaks Danish, which I’ve always thought is really cool.

FLD Continuing Education Series – Episode 14: State of the FLD Fall 2018

Welcome to the 14th episode of the French Language Division’s Continuing Education Series. In today’s episode, Eve Bodeux, Jenn Mercer and Andie Ho join Angela Benoit for the annual State of the FLD episode. Listen to the latest updates about the FLD at the upcoming ATA conference in New Orleans and hear from our newly elected Administrator and Assistant Administrator about their vision for the Division.


SOUNDCLOUD: You may access Episode 14 and other podcast episodes on SoundCloud here. On SoundCloud, you can listen to the episode in your browser or download a copy of this episode directly to your computer.

ITUNES: This episode, and our previous episodes are available on iTunes here. You can subscribe or listen online.

International Translation Day 2018: You’re Invited!

ata-fld-newsletter-logoThe following is a reprint of an email blast sent out by Jamie Hartz at Tilde Language and Molly Yurick at Yurick Translations.

Let’s make this year’s International Translation Day all about reaching out and raising awareness of our professions. We can change the way the world views translators and interpreters, but we need your help to do it!

What’s the plan?

On Friday, September 28, the American Translators Association (ATA) will be unveiling a series of six infographics intended to answer frequently asked questions about translation and interpreting. From the difference between translation and interpreting to why it’s important to use a professional for language service needs, the infographics will help get the word out about our profession.

I’m in. What do I need to do?

Follow ATA on social media and share, retweet, and repin their posts throughout the day on Friday, September 28 [ Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn | Instagram | Pinterest ]

Fellow translators and interpreters may wish to find out if your local ATA Chapter or affiliated group will be hosting a gathering to celebrate translators and interpreters; if not, consider hosting one yourself! ITD is also a great opportunity to schedule a School Outreach presentation. Now is the time to teach the next generation of translators and interpreters about our exciting and growing profession. Materials and inspiration can be found at the School Outreach webpage.

What’s the big deal?

Our goal is to use the platform of ITD 2018 to raise awareness for the profession within our personal networks using this social media blitz. We have an incredible opportunity to change the way the world views translators and interpreters just by sharing more about our jobs. Answering these simple questions and debunking misunderstandings about translation and interpreting will help pave the way for a better future for our profession, and it can start right here in our own backyards. So mark your calendars, follow ATA on social media, and help spread the word by participating in the blitz on Friday, September 28, 2018!


Jamie Hartz and Molly Yurick

Sessions by FLD Members at ATA59

The FLD will be well represented when it comes to speakers at this year’s ATA conference in New Orleans. Here are the FLD members that will be speaking:

Congratulations all!

FLD “Meet Up” at the ATA Conference in New Orleans 2018

The FLD will have an informal “meet up” at the 55 Fahrenheit bar in the conference hotel, the New Orleans Marriott, at 8:30 pm on Thursday night, October 25. This is a chance to have a drink or snack and relax with other FLD members. No need to RSVP, just show up and order what you wish. We hope to see you there!

When: Thursday, October 25, 2018, at 8:30 pm

Where: 55 Fahrenheit, the bar at the conference hotel: New Orleans Marriott, 555 Canal Street, New Orleans, LA 70130

Excerpt from “Un bonbon sur la langue”

ata-fld-newsletter-logoBy Muriel Gilbert

The following is an excerpt from the soon-to-be-released Un bonbon sur la langue by Muriel Gilbert, the FLD’s Distinguished Speaker at the upcoming ATA conference in New Orleans. Her new book comes out this month.

Quand une colère verte retombe soi-disant comme un soufflet

Les expressions, c’est une de mes marottes : les bras m’en tombent, les yeux plus gros que le ventre, tout ça. Ces images sont le sel de la langue. On les appelle « expressions idiomatiques », non parce qu’elles sont idiotes, comme leur nom semble l’indiquer, mais parce qu’elles sont caractéristiques d’un idiome, d’une langue. L’une de leurs particularités étant qu’il est impossible de les traduire littéralement de l’une à l’autre. Si vous dites à un Grand-Breton : « You’ve got a spider on your ceiling » (littéralement : « Vous avez une araignée au plafond »), c’est vous qu’il va prendre pour un fou – ou, dans le meilleur des cas, il va sortir son balai pour faire le ménage, parce que chez lui, cette expression se traduit par « avoir des chauves-souris dans le clocher » (to have bats in the belfry), ou « avoir une abeille dans le bonnet » (to have a bee in the bonnet), ou encore « avoir perdu ses billes » (to have lost one’s marbles) – parmi mille autres possibilités, la langue anglaise étant remarquablement fertile pour imager l’agitation du bocal.

Mais, y compris lorsque l’on n’essaie pas de les traduire, l’usage des expressions est très précis. Il s’agit de formules figées. On dira : « Muriel est dans une colère noire », ou « Elle est rouge de colère », mais jamais elle ne sera « noire de colère » ou « verte de colère ». La colère, en français, est rouge ou noire. Un point c’est tout. En revanche, on dit : « Bernard est vert de rage. » La rage française est verte.

Bien souvent, les idiotismes génèrent des erreurs… Cette semaine, j’ai corrigé deux fois des événements « retombés comme des soufflets ». L’expression exacte est bien entendu : « retomber comme un soufflé », cette délicieuse spécialité au fromage, pas comme un soufflet destiné à attiser le feu dans la cheminée… ou comme la gifle à l’ancienne des Petites Filles modèles.

On espère aussi souvent le « retour de l’enfant prodige »… Un enfant prodige est un lardon surdoué, tandis que l’enfant prodigue – par allusion à une parabole de l’Evangile –, c’est celui qui revient au domicile paternel après avoir dilapidé son bien, l’adjectif prodigue signifiant, précise Larousse, « qui dépense follement, sans retenue ».

J’ai encore entendu récemment : « Dustin Hoffman est dans l’œil du cyclone. » L’œil du cyclone, c’est justement cet instant de répit, cette zone de calme au cœur de la tempête, donc un splendide contresens quand on veut parler de quelqu’un qui traverse une mauvaise passe.

Allez, un rappel en bonus. On évite d’affirmer qu’« il y a deux alternatives », à moins d’avoir quatre solutions à proposer, car une alternative, ce sont déjà deux options.

Moins connu, peut-être, le piège de soi-disant. Soi-disant signifie « qui se prétend », ou « qui se dit ». N’évoquons donc pas un « soi-disant château », ou d’une « soi-disant bonne affaire », puisque le château ou la bonne affaire sont bien incapables de « dire » quoi que ce soit. On peut en revanche parler d’un « soi-disant érudit », d’une « soi-disant actrice », puisqu’ils sont doués de parole. Pour les objets, on dira : « un prétendu château », « une prétendue bonne affaire ».

© Vuibert, August 2018.

Tour à tour traductrice de presse et d’édition, secrétaire de rédaction et journaliste, Muriel Gilbert est aujourd’hui correctrice au quotidien Le Monde et chroniqueuse « langue française » sur RTL, la première radio française. Elle est l’auteure de :

  • Un bonbon sur la langue (La Librairie Vuibert-RTL septembre 2018)
  • Quand le pou éternuera – Expressions des peuples, génie des langues (Ateliers Henry Dougier, 2018)
  • Au bonheur des fautes – Confessions d’une dompteuse de mots (La Librairie Vuibert, 2017)
  • Que votre moustache pousse comme la broussaille ! – Expressions des peuples, génie des langues (Ateliers Henry Dougier, 2016)

International Trade as a Translation Specialization

ata-fld-newsletter-logoBy Amanda Williams

International trade and logistics translation bears a striking resemblance to scientific translation. Sound crazy? Bear with me a second.

Colleagues instinctively know not everyone has the subject matter expertise to translate chemistry-related texts. Although the same cannot necessarily be said for logistics company websites and shipping documents, that doesn’t make it any less true.

After giving a presentation on translation opportunities in the area of import/export in Colorado at the Colorado Translators Association’s Annual Conference in April 2018, a fellow FLD member approached me afterward to tell me she enjoyed my presentation and wanted to chat about how eerily similar her field of chemistry was to my field of international logistics and supply chain. We did a comparison:

Chemistry Translation International Logistics Translation
Highly specialized terminology
Has its own degree programs (undergrad through post-grad levels)
Prior experience in field preferred for translators
Highly government-regulated industry
Subject matter continuing education required

I believe international trade is a fascinating and complex area of specialization for a translator. And it is an area that offers substantial opportunities for those willing to put in the work to convince them of our value.

Finding My Niche

Ask some translators how they “picked” a specialization, and nine times out of ten, I bet they’d tell you their specialization picked them. That’s what happened to me. My experience in international trade didn’t come from a university. It came from working for one of the top 100 largest ocean importers into the United States. I was recruited to work there after college. I spent a couple years in sales, traveled to Chile to tour mills and see the manufacturing process, then I moved to the operations department where I managed imports into various regions in the US, oversaw third-party logistics provider (3PL) service levels, and handled any US customs issues that happened to pop up. Then one day, US customs came knocking on the door and announced their intention to conduct a focused assessment (the most intensive form of US customs audit) on the company. That was the “lucky” moment I was promoted to trade compliance manager and handed a nice big audit as a congratulatory gift. I spent the next two years working very closely with US customs auditors digging deep into several years of the company’s general ledgers, profit and loss statements and balance sheets to prove the legality of the company’s related-party transactions and their eligibility for the Chile Free Trade Agreement (CLFTA) and Generalized System of Preferences (another FTA).

As you can see from my varied experience, there’s a lot to this thing called international trade.

What Is International Trade?

Translators tend to think about the before and after of international trade – we think about translating the marketing materials, the websites where orders can be placed, the financial reporting after products are sold, but we often forget about what it takes to physically move cargo from one country to another, and there are mountains of paperwork and opportunities for translators during this phase of a product’s lifecycle.

Buying, selling and shipping and receiving goods across borders is not something you can just snap your fingers and do. It requires many partners (3PLs, a customs broker, maybe a freight forwarder, or a steam ship line contract if you’re not using a freight forwarder). Before you even start the physical process of importing goods, the seller and buyer have to define who will be responsible for each stage of the export and import process. An easy way to do that is agreeing on an Incoterm. Incoterms are rules created by the International Chamber of Commerce to facilitate the sale of goods. The terms were originally created in 1923, first published in 1936 and have been updated a handful of times since. You can buy a book explaining the incoterms from the ICC business bookstore. The latest update was released and published in 2010 and contains 11 different options that divide up which party is responsible for paying for each part of the export/import process. Below is an example of two different incoterms for illustration purposes:

CIF = Cost, Insurance and Freight
DDP = Delivery Duties Paid

Incoterm CIF DDP
Loading on truck Seller Seller
Export Customs Seller Seller
Transport to port of export Seller Seller
Unloading at port of export Seller Seller
Vessel loading at port of export Seller Seller
SSL fees (carriage fees) Seller Seller
Insurance Seller Seller
Vessel unloading Buyer Seller
Loading on truck at port of import Buyer Seller
Transport to dest. Buyer Seller
Import customs Buyer Seller
Import duties Buyer Seller

These terms have to be decided on no matter what type of relationship you have with the exporter. You could be buying and importing product from a random company, or you could be importing product from a subsidiary – either way, agreements and terms need to be negotiated on and drawn up, which creates contracts in another language that need to be translated.

How It Works

Below is a flowchart illustrating a simple import:

Remember — once cargo arrives to the United States, that’s not the end of its journey, but rather the beginning of a whole new supply chain journey over here that will most likely include distribution centers (DCs), smaller warehouses and either truck or rail shipments across the US.

Exporting is very similar to importing, but backwards. One difference is that US customs can hold and inspect your shipments before they leave the US, and then they also have to go through customs at the foreign destination. Customs wants to inspect outgoing cargo to make sure that no threats to national security are leaving the country.

Now that we’ve seen how to physically move cargo from one country to another, let’s take a look at the documentation US Customs and Border Protection requires each shipment to have in order to clear customs and enter the United States. Keep in mind that all of this documentation needs to be either translated or originally written in English. All of these documents come from the exporter:

And if an importer is lucky enough to be selected for a focused assessment, that list of documents required by CBP increases exponentially:

Other Opportunities in the Supply Chain

Most translation opportunities would come from the importer or exporter, but they are not the only parties involved in the process. There may be opportunities with some of the other parties involved in importing – especially with customs brokers and freight forwarders, because some importers and exporters are less knowledgeable than others and outsource the entire process to a freight forwarder or customs broker. Here is a list of all the different organizations that either create, process or review multilingual documents:

That being said, out of all the parties mentioned above, US Customs and Border Protection and other government entities that work alongside customs are the parties that will insist on quality translations when needed.

What Is US Customs and Border Protection?

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is the largest federal law enforcement agency in the US. Its primary objective is to prevent terrorists and weapons of mass destruction from entering the United States and it is also responsible for border patrol, regulating imports and exports, collecting duties, transportation checks, trade enforcement and trade facilitation.

When could CBP ask for translations?

  • During Quick Response Audits (very specific audits focusing on one single item)
  • During Focused Assessments
  • If an importer is working with CBP to join the Importer Self-Assessment Program (ISA)

In addition to Customs, the US government has other agencies that are responsible for enforcing trade laws and consumer protection laws, so these agencies work with customs during the import and clearance process as well:

Want to Learn More?

If you really want to go deep, several universities offer international logistics/supply chain programs. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan State, Penn State and the University of Tennessee all have distinguished programs. There are also a lot of MOOCs related to international trade, import/export, etc. Check out Coursera and Springboard. Large customs brokers and international trade law firms offer online and in-person courses. Sandler and Travis (STTAS) offers webinars all the time. CBP, some customs brokers and some international trade law firms offer free newsletters you can sign up for. Check out the census bureau and CBP, Census Bureau, the Bureau of Industry and Security and other government entities offer abundant resources. Lastly, you can get certified – IIEI, the World Academy and other organizations offer various international trade certification courses (links are below).

Training Resources

Amanda N. Williams is an ATA-certified French to English translator specialized in business, international trade and financial translation. You can find her on Twitter as the Adorkable Translator (@Adorkable_Trans), on her website at or reach her via email at

Review of Translation Workshop: French to English (Organized by Corinne McKay)

ata-fld-newsletter-logoBy Beth Smith

When I learned that Corinne McKay was going to set up a translation skills class rather than a business-oriented class, I was intrigued. How would it be set up? Who would the instructors be? Then when I saw the details, I knew immediately that I had to try it, even though the first time around with a new course risks some bumps in the road and hiccups. I don’t know about how it looked from the instructor side, but from my point of view, it was hiccup-free.

The course ran for eight weeks, starting on April 23. There were four instructors in four different specializations, each of whom taught for two weeks, starting with Michèle Hansen for medical, then Karen Tkaczyk for science and technology, Judy Lyons for financial, and finally, Tom West for legal. There were two live (online) sessions per week. On Mondays, the instructors did PowerPoint “lectures,” presenting information about their specialties, such as types of texts involved in the specialization, specific issues or problems you might encounter, and resources. Then the Wednesday editions were more informal question and answer sessions, where they answered questions students had posted in the class’s Google Group as well as anything else that came up along the way. Some of these questions were about the week’s homework assignment, but the instructors were very willing to answer more general questions about how they work, what they personally work on the most, and more.

All of the instructors had a different presentation style and emphasized different things, but I enjoyed every single recorded session. It was clear that they had all spent lot of time preparing for their sessions (or if they didn’t, they were really good at winging it). Even though Corinne wasn’t actually teaching the content of the workshop, she played a vital role during the live sessions, as she acted as a host/facilitator, asked questions, and discussed various issues with the instructors. So as a student, I never had the feeling that the instructor was just droning along while showing PowerPoint slides. I wasn’t able to attend the live sessions due to prior commitments (like teaching my 3rd-period class!), but the sessions were recorded, so I had no trouble watching them later (and even re-watching, especially when I was trying to follow everything Tom was saying about various legal concepts).

The main reason I signed up for the course was for the chance to do a weekly translation assignment and get feedback on my work, but as soon as I had actually registered, I started panicking about that very thing. My main goal throughout the class was to not humiliate myself in front of any of the expert translators.  I’m going to refrain from asking any direct questions about my performance, but my feedback was generally pretty good. Since this wasn’t a college class, we didn’t receive letter grades for each assignment; instead, the instructors rated them as outstanding, good, acceptable, fair, or poor. Each of these ratings was accompanied by a brief description. For example, the description of a “good” translation was, “A translation that would probably be acceptable to a professional translation client with a reasonable or expected amount of editing, that displays a strong command of the passage’s subject matter, and that is very solid in terms of accuracy, style, and flow.” In addition, the translation review sheet included instructor comments about overall impression, typos, accuracy, and stylistic quality. Plus the instructors also made comments and corrections on the translations themselves. As for the actual texts, they included part of a patient record, a product data sheet for an adhesive, an excerpt from an annual report, and definitions from a legal dictionary. The texts weren’t impossibly long; I believe they were all under 400 words. But they were definitely chosen to contain as much tricky vocabulary as possible, or so it seemed. There were times when I spent half an hour researching a single term. Then again, if everything were easy and obvious, there wouldn’t be much point in taking the class.

I was very happy with the course, from the way it was set up to the instructor feedback. I don’t specialize in any of the four areas, so for me, it was not only an excellent opportunity to get feedback from top-level translators in various fields and to learn as much as possible about each specialization, but also to test the waters to see if I should think about working in any of those areas. I discovered that I’m better at medical and technical than I thought, but in most cases, I should leave the financial and legal translation to someone else. Okay, I actually suspected that about legal and financial, but this class confirmed what I thought. But if I should need to translate any financial or legal texts, I now have a ton of resources I didn’t have before, and as I said earlier, I enjoyed those online sessions. It just turns out that if I have to spend a bunch of time researching something, I’d prefer it to be a medical procedure or a thingamajig described in a product description than legal or financial terminology.

For someone who already specializes in one of the four areas, it might still be worth considering the class, as we got tons of information and resources. Some of my fellow students had extensive backgrounds in finance, but they still seemed very happy with the course. If you work in a completely different field and have no interest in exploring any of the ones covered in the class, then this course might not be for you. But if you are a generalist or if you work in any of the four specializations, you might want to check out the course if it’s offered again. I would definitely be interested in taking another translation workshop class in the future.

Beth Smith is a French to English translator specializing in tourism, advertising/marketing, and the psychology of happiness (an accidental specialization developed when translating the book The Finance of Happiness by Renaud Gaucher). She currently serves as the FLD’s Facebook page moderator.