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Episode 13: Financial Translation Tips and Tricks with Amanda Williams
Angela Benoit: Hello, and welcome to the continuing education series, a podcast produced by the French Language Division of the American Translators Association as a benefit for our members and those interested in joining us. Our series strives to offer educational content about the craft of French-to-English and English-to-French translation and about our division. I’m your host, Angela Benoit, and it is my pleasure today to welcome Amanda Williams of Mirror Image Translations. Amanda is an ATA-certified French-to-English translator. She specializes in corporate communications, accounting, finance, and international trade. And, as a bonus, Amanda and I are recording this podcast together over a cup of tea in beautiful Annecy. Amanda, welcome!
Amanda Williams: Thank you so much for having me!
AB: Thank you so much for being here! So, we are going to discuss this series of financial terms that all have one thing in common. Their translation is not what a lay person would have expected it to be, and I believe we are going to see just incollable Amanda is at financial terminology. Now, before we get started, would you like to tell us a little bit about the universe of a financial translator?
AW: Yeah, so, when Angela first reached out to me to ask me to do this podcast, I started thinking about what I wanted to talk about, and it turns out what I originally had put together was not what you talk about on this podcast.
AB: Uh oh! [laughter].
AW: But Angela was super nice and said, “Hey! Why don’t we just throw that into the introduction? So, we’re going to start by going over something a little different, and it’s really what I like to call “How to Do Financial Translation Right.” Instead of pitfalls and tricks, I want to going to talk about how to do it right.
AB: And that is super important. You do want to do it right. [laughter]
AW: How to be better, okay?
AB: Yes, yes.
AW: So, just so I don’t waste all that original work I put together.
AB: Oh, no, no, no! It was great! We just had to bring the nerdiness back, but we’ll get there.
AW: Alright, so, I want to talk about some tips. Consistency, as a financial translator, is essential. Sometimes we get so focused on the section we’re doing, and sometimes, you know, if you’re translating a document de référence or a document de base, or shareholder meeting notices, CSR reports, you know these huge reports that can be five or six hundred pages long, and you’re working on a 50,000-word section, it might seem like you’re doing the whole thing, but you’re not. You’re only doing a small section, and you might be consistent in that one section you’re doing, but you’ve got to think about the whole big picture. So, consistency, both in what you’re working on and the big picture, is just key. And then, also, client terminology is more important than you think. We all have our favorite words, words that we like more than others, but what we like isn’t important. What the client likes is what is important.
AW: So, we have to make sure that, as translators, we understand what our client’s corporate voice and corporate culture is, and that we are accurately transmitting that into what we’re writing. And then, this seems basic, but I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen the opposite in, you know, reviewing, revising, and just looking at other reports over time. Little things like dialects, not being consistent through a report, not only with spelling but tiny little things like the UK says “as at” with the date, and we say “as of” instead of “as at,” things like that.
AB: Which I tripped over in the preparation of this podcast. I thought it was a typo.
AW: Yeah, you know, I didn’t like it when I first saw it, but I had to get over it. “As at 31 December,” they just say that, okay.
AB: There you go.
AW: But you’ve got to keep those things consistent and keep them in mind, not just for your section, but the entire report, right?
AW: And, not getting caught up in translating everything exactly how it is in the French. Yes, we’re crunching through a lot of volume, but you still have to translate things like they’re supposed to be translated. You know, we put verbs with the rest of the clause. We don’t break things up as much as they do in French. You know, you rearrange sentences, as needed.
AW: So, it’s important to remember to do those type things even if you’re crunching out 3,000-plus words a day, and, if you don’t have any experience in business, accounting, or finance, then don’t translate about business, accounting, or finance. And we’ll go over that in a little bit more detail later on. [laughter]
AB: We’re going to find out exactly how it’s possible to trip up and make mistakes, just for lack of knowledge and lack of experience, and, you know, it’s… we need great financial translators, but we need those financial translators to go out and gain that experience, I think.
AW: Yes, yes.
AB: In the real world, before they attempt to do the very difficult exercise that we’re going to be doing now. And I get the easy job. I’m so lucky. I’m going to throw out some financial terms, which I did not find. Amanda found them for me. I’m going to throw them into the air, and Amanda’s going to tell us what they mean, and how we translate them, and also how we do not translate them. So, I think our first one is relatively easy. Are we ready to get started?
AW: Yeah, let’s do it.
AB: Okay, here we go. Let’s talk about “les procédures de contrôle interne.”
AW: It’s funny, because you’d think that the knee-jerk translation would be to translate it as it looks, but it’s not. What I see all the time is that people translate this as “internal audit procedures,” but you really actually should translate this as “internal control procedures.” Sarbanes–Oxley is the reason why. And what that means is the SEC started requiring small companies to document their internal control procedures over financial reporting back in 2007. And, so, companies are required now to put together internal control procedures showing that they have control over their financial reporting, and the term “internal control procedures,” in fact, has kind of leaped over into other domains as well. Back in my prior career as a trade compliance manager, I had to create and implement internal control procedures for customs compliance as well.
AW: So, it is a term that you use in industry, and it’s not, nine times out of ten, it’s not going to be audit, it’s going to be internal control.
AW: But we think of “contrôle” being “audit,” and, generally speaking, it’s not.
AB: No. Is this because the “contrôle,” the control procedures happen inside the company and the audit would be from an external party coming in and auditing?
AW: Yeah, and sometimes companies do internal audits as well, but in this context, they’re talking about control. Like, do you know what’s going on in your company. Do you have procedures in place that show and document how you handle and manage risk, how you handle and manage your reporting, you know, and your finances, things like that.
AB: And, as translators, we’re told so many times that “control” is not “contrôle” and “contrôle” is not “control.”
AB: You’re almost tempted to go and find something else just to not use it, and this is the one time.
AB: This is the one time.
AB: Yup, very tricky. Alright, next up. We actually have a small family of terms that go together. Now in preparing for this episode, Amanda mentioned to me the IFRS. And I had to sheepishly go look it up, because I had no idea what she meant. I didn’t want to admit that to her. It stands for “International Financial Reporting Standards,” and we’ll put that up on the website for those of you who are interested and going to look it up so you don’t have to scramble for a pen just right now. So, let’s take a look at a few IFRS terms. We’re going to start with “secteur opérationnel.” What is this, and what do we do with it?
AW: So, this is just one of those terms, you know, you’re not going to use the word “sector,” you’re going to call this an “operating segment.”
AB: Okay then. I would have had no idea.
AW: It’s what it is.
AB: I would not have known to look at the IFRS for lack of knowing of their existence. Okay, next up we have “participation ne donnant pas de contrôle.”
AW: That’s called a “noncontrolling interest.” It used to be called a “minority interest,” but a few years ago the IFRS said, “Nope, we’ve changed our mind. We don’t want to call it minority interest anymore, we’re going to start calling it “noncontrolling interest,” so, over the past few years, we’ve had to start pushing clients who have been reluctant to change from “minority interest” to “noncontrolling interest,” and say, “Alright, guys, IFRS doesn’t want us to use this word anymore. We’re going to have to start using “noncontrolling interest.” So, little by little, we have to get customers on board with the correct terminology.
AB: And this is the translator pushing the client to use their own industry-specific terminology.
AB: That’s amazing.
AW: If you want to be a good translator, you go, you go…
AB: …the extra mileage. You have to know that before your client even knows it.
AB: That’s outstanding. The next one, it sounds simple, but wait until you hear the proper way to translate it: “immobilisation corporelle.” What happens here?
AW: So, I see this a fair amount of time. The term in translation for “immobilisation incorporelle” is “intangible asset.”
AW: So, one would think that “immobilisation corporelle” is “tangible asset.”
AW: But, the good old IFRS says that this should really be “property, plant, and equipment.” That’s the proper accounting term for this word in French.
AB: And if you are not intimately familiar with the IFRS, you would completely… that one would fly over my head. I would have not gotten that right in a million years.
AB: And then, you take an English–French translator, and… “propriété, plante et équipement…”? Euh, pardon, “propriété, usine et équipement.” [laughter] You have to be able to figure that one out in either direction. That one’s amazing. I can’t believe I just said “propriété et plante.” And we can’t go back and erase that. It’s immortalized. It’s not immobilized, but it’s immortalized.
AB: Our next term is right up there with the “contrôlé/control” question. We hear it everywhere, to say everything, but in the financial universe, “activité” means something very specific.
AW: Yeah, this one’s fun. And it doesn’t help that French clients really love this word, and I think they prefer just a straight, literal translation into English, but it drives me crazy because we do not use this word in English much. We just don’t. If you go and you look at the annual reports of Facebook, of Pfizer, of Amazon, of Google, of Proctor & Gamble, you’re not going to see the word “activity” hardly at all because it’s just not something we say. Yet, if you go to the annual reports of a French company that’s been translated into English, you’re going to see it 5,000 times.
AW: This word is usually going to be “business.”
AW: Sometimes, it can be “operations,” especially in an industrial context, if you’re talking about a company that has manufacturing processes or industrial services, like logistics or something like that, then you very well in some contexts say “operations,” but “business” a lot of times can replace “activity.” I urge all of you, every time you see “activité” to think, “Could ‘business’ or ‘operations’ go here?” And if your client argues about it, try to fight it.
AB: Yeah, yeah. Provide some examples.
AB: With texts written directly in English, there’s no “activities” in them at all.
AW: Yeah, I’ve had this fight before, and I have won. It can be done, you guys, I promise.
AB: Amazing. We’ve got another one that sounds simple. What should be aware of when we run into “conformité”?
AW: I see “conformity” all the time, and I don’t get it, you guys, I just don’t. It’s going to be “compliance.”
AW: “Compliance,” “noncompliance,” and then, sometimes “en conformité avec” or whatever, that’s going to be “in accordance with,” too, not “in conformity with.”
AW” Or “pursuant to.”
AW: You know, but yeah. Let’s stay away from the “conformity.”
AB: Okay, no “conformity.” Interestingly, in the other direction, because I translate in the other direction, “compliance” naturally becomes “conformité,” we’d never think twice about it.
AB: But that’s because we don’t have the option of another strange word hanging out there, like the “conformity” you just mentioned, but yeah, a pitfall in one direction. Great one.
AB: Okay, so that was part 1 of our episode. Now we’re going to do, we’re going to segue to part 2, and we’re going to turn our attention to some full sentences, as opposed to just terms or expressions. We’re going to look at a French text or French sentence. We’re going to look at how to make a complete mess of the translation, and then we’re going to do things the right way, with Amanda’s help. So, I’m going to start with the first French sentence. Here it is: “Le 31 décembre 2014, elles sont essentiellement composées de créances de TVA, 3,4 million d’euros, de charges constatées d’avance, 2,7 million d’ euros, et d’avances et acomptes fournisseurs, 6,3 million euros.” Now, would you like to read the problematic English, or should I go for it?
AW: I’ll do it.
AW: Let me preface by saying that this was UK English, so we’ve got that lovely little starter “As at…” “As at 31 December 2014, they essentially consist of VAT receivables, 3.4 million, charges recorded in advance 2.7 million, and supplier prepayments 6.3 million.”
AB: Now, before I got into that, I just want to say that that sounds perfectly fine ot me. [laughter] I don’t see the problem. But I’m a lay person, so I’m going to let Amanda take this one home and tell me exactly how I’m wrong.
AW: Okay, “the charges recorded in advance” is a literal translation that should not be there, basically. So, the correct way to say this would be, “As at 31 December 2014, they essentially consist of VAT receivables, 3.4 million, prepaid expenses for 2.7 million, and supplier prepayments for 6.3 million.”
AB: I think this a perfect example of how the expert eye can pick up the problem, and everybody else…
AB: …is just, I would have never seen that. That’s a great example. Thank you, Amanda.
AW: You’re welcome.
AB: On to the next one! The French version is, “toute re…” oh, excuse me, “toutes les autres dépenses sont comptabilisées directement en charges dès qu’encourues,” and the terrible English—I’ll go for it this time—“All other expenditure is recorded directly as a charge as soon as incurred.” Okay, what’s wrong here?
AW: “Charge,” basically.
AW: We have two ways of fixing this. We could either say “All other expenditure is reported directly as an expense as soon as incurred,” or, you could make it even easier and say “All other expenditure is expensed as soon as it’s incurred.”
AB: Okay. And do you mind me asking what the problem with “charge” is?
AB: I’m just curious
AW: Yeah, this is an income statement thing. So, when you’re in accounting, and you’re running a company’s accounting, every action that the company does is going to be either recorded as income or as an expense.
AW: So, basically, they’re not using the correct terminology. So, if you take a company, and you sell it, …
AW: You’ve just made income. So, you would record the sale of that business as income on your income statement. But then let’s say you were sued by a company for a million dollars because you did something terrible.
AB: Oh, no.
AW: Alright. That would be an expense.
AB: Okay. And you know what, the minute I asked you that question I… something came to mind. You charge your customers.
AB: That’s where that word goes.
AB: I was charged this morning when I went shopping.
AB: But I’m an individual not a company with an income statement.
AB: That makes a lot of sense.
AB: Alright. Next one. “Les opérations entre l’entité et une participation ne donnant pas de contrôle sont traitées comme des opérations portant sur les capitaux propres.” I’m not sure what I just read. [laughter] Do you want to give us the bad English?
AW: Sure. “Transactions between an entity and equity interest that do not provide control are considered equity transactions.”
AB: Okay. And what is wrong, and what should we say?
AW: The problem is “that do not provide control.” That’s just a very long, roundabout way of saying what you need to say.
AW: The correct way would be “Transactions between an entity and noncontrolling interests are considered equity transactions.”
AB: Okay. I just noticed something with this one. Obviously, the “do not provide control” came from “ne donnant pas…
AB: …for to give,” and, in the corrected English, we got rid of the verb, which is so unusual, like, we usually add verbs in English, and this time, we whisked him away with very elegant “noncontrolling interests,” which I’ve actually heard before. I think I know what it means.
AB: And strangely, the correct version starts to make sense to me, even as a nonfinancial person.
AW: Sometimes you don’t need more verbs and words.
AB: Yeah, you just need more clarity.
AB: Amazing. [laughter] Okay, next one. “En application de la norme IAS 19R, la société comptabilise les écarts actuariels, en moins des capitaux propres, en autres éléments du résultat global, net d’impôts différés.” Okay, let’s take a sip of tea [laughter], while Amanda reads us the bad one. Or would you like me to read the bad English?
AW: I can do it.
AW: “In application of IAS 19R, the company recorded actuarial differences as a reduction of equity under ‘other overall income’, net of differed taxes.” Alright.
AW: So, we’ve got a couple issues here. The “application” drives me a little bit bonkers, and it’s not “overall income.” We call that “comprehensive income.”
AW: So, my sense is, “In accordance with IAS 19R, the company recorded actuarial differences as a reduction of equity under ‘other comprehensive income,’ net of differed taxes.”
AB: Wow. I was not sure what happened to this company? What did happen to this company? But this is another perfect illustration of “you need to know what you’re talking about” because, even in, like, general life, the difference between “overall” and “comprehensive,” I mean, they sound like two great synonyms, but they’re not.
AW: Yeah, “comprehensive income” is just, it’s a term that’s widely recognized, and you want to make sure that you use the term that all accountants are going to know…
AW: …and understand.
AB: Absolutely. You don’t want to send them on a journey to try to figure out what you would have said, what you should have said.
AW: Right. With translation, that’s what you’re supposed to do, is make it to where they understand what you’re saying, you know, they’re not supposed to have to interpret what you wrote.
AB: Exactly. Okay, next one. “Autorisation à donner au directoire en vue de l’achat par la société de ses propres actions (27ème résolution). The incorrect version: “Authorization to be given to the executive board in view of the company’s purchase of its own shares (27th resolution),” and I’m kind of excited to say that when I originally read that, without reading the correction, I sort of sensed what was wrong with “of its own shares,” but I will let Amanda tell us more.
AW: What I did is—“purchase of its own shares,” that’s just a mouthful, right?
AW: In English, we have share buybacks, so the correct translation would be “Authorization to be given to the executive board for the company’s share buyback.” And you’ll notice, I got rid of “in view of.” “For” is good enough. You don’t have to be fancy.
AB: Nope, this is more straightforward.
AB: And you’re not attracting attention to the wrong things.
AB: “Share buyback.” I’ve read about that in the news, and it kind of jumped at me. I was mildly proud, for two minutes.
AW: Yay! [laughter] Hurray!
AB: And, we have one more. It’s the last one for today. “Opérations avec apparentés.” First of all, what is an “apparenté”?
AW: It’s a “related party.”
AB: [laughter] I had no idea!
AW: Yeah, when a company has subsidiaries
AW: Yeah, those subsidiaries are “apparentés.”
AB: Oh, okay.
AW: Alright, so, this is the incorrect version, it’s called “Operations with related parties.”
AW: And, the correct is “Related-party transactions.”
AW: A lot of times, “operations” should be translated as “transactions” in financial translation.
AW: Not all the time, but definitely, you know, look at the context. If you’re talking about a purchase, a disposal, any kind of…
AB: Money’s changing hands?
AW: Yes, yeah, any time money’s changing hands, it’s going to be transaction, not operation.
AB: Yes. “Operation” almost sounds surgical.
AB: We don’t want that. “Transactions.” Which, why do we even use “opérations” in French? We have “transactions,” but “opérations” is better.
AW: They always use “opérations.”
AB: Yup. For some reason. Amanda, we did it!
AB: We survived financial terminology. Well, I survived, you did awesome. [laughter]
AW: Thank you.
AB: Thank you for these examples. Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with me today, on this beautiful afternoon.
AB: It was a pleasure to have you.
AW: Thank you so much! It was a pleasure to be here!
AB: This concludes our episode for today. Our podcast is produced by the French Language Division of the American Translators Association. Our current administrator is Eve Bodeux. Our current assistant administrator is Jen Mercer. You can subscribe to the continuing education series podcast on Soundcloud at soundcloud.com/ata-fld, or on iTunes by searching for the words “continuing education series” in the iTunes store. You can contact the FLD at divisionfld [at] atanet [dot] org, or visit our website at www.ata-divisions.org/FLD, and make sure to put those last three letters in capital. In uppercase. You can also get in touch with us on social media. This is Angela Benoit signing off. Thanks for listening, and à bientôt !
Amanda N. Williams is an ATA-certified French to English translator specialized in business, international trade and financial translation. Prior to becoming a translator, she had a career in international trade where she held roles in sales, operations and trade compliance management.
Amanda currently serves as assistant administrator for the ATA’s Literary Division. She also served six years on the Board of Directors of the Atlanta Association of Interpreters and Translators (the Georgia Chapter of the ATA). You can find her on Twitter as the Adorkable Translator (@Adorkable_Trans), on her website at www.mirrorimagetranslations.com or you can reach her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Transcribed by Joan Wallace. She has been a full-time freelance translator for nearly 30 years. She holds ATA certification from French to English and Spanish to English, and also translates from Thai to English. She works primarily in medical and pharmaceutical translation, although she occasionally wanders further afield, including an ongoing collaboration with a historian involving French-English translation of 19th-century handwritten documents. She is based in Madison, Wisconsin. You can connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/joanwallace