Reading French 11 :
Applications: Business, Science and Technology

© 2015, Greg Lessard

Introduction and caveats

We are now entering the final phase of the course, two modules designed to help you apply what you have learned so far to specific areas: the language of business, science and technology in this module, and the language of the humanities and social sciences in the next.

If you have worked carefully, you now know quite a lot about how to read a text in French. You are now ready to begin to apply this knowledge to a richer range of texts. However, that being said, there are several caveats you should keep in mind in what follows. They will provide a guide and help to prevent discouragement. After all, these are still early days, and you should not expect to read like a native speaker just yet. Here they are:

So, with those caveats, let us begin.

The languages of business

The field of business is a vast one, covering many domains, including:

These fields are far too varied to permit any in-depth coverage. What is presented here should be seen as an initial point of contact with some typical texts in each of these three areas, with some general principles which might help if you read further after this course.

A financial overview

It is typical for organizations to produce regular reports (annual or quarterly) on their activities of the previous period, including accomplishments, risks, and plans for the future. These annual reports are often divided into three major components: a general overview and review of the year, some detailed financial reports, often in tabular format, and typically very detailed notes to the financial statements, including the results of an external audit. To understand them in detail requires specialized training. We will limit ourselves to several texts designed to give a flavour of what such reports contain.

The typical overview

The typical overview may vary depending on how the organization has done, but it often includes a restatement of the organization's goals, the challenges they have faced, the results they have attained, and the strategies in play for the future. As an illustration of that sort of document, consider the following excerpts from the Bombardier financial report for 2014. Use the reading strategies we have seen to determine the meaning of these passages, then mouse over the bar labelled Translation to check your understanding.

En 2014, Bombardier a continué de mener L’évolution de la mobilité avec de nouveaux produits, de nouvelles commandes, de nouvelles livraisons et de nouveaux marchés géographiques. Ce fut une année de changements doublés d’une attention plus grande portée à nos clients et une exécution rentable. Cela nous a amenés à restructurer nos activités aéronautiques et de transport sur rail. Aujourd’hui, alors que nos nouveaux produits approchent de leur mise en service, notre essor gagne en vigueur ainsi que notre détermination et nos efforts axés sur le respect de nos engagements, comme promis.


In 2014, Bombardier continued to drive The Evolution of Mobility with new products, orders, deliveries and geographic markets. It was a year of change coupled with a sharper focus on customers and profitable execution. This led to a restructuring of both our aerospace and rail transportation businesses. Today as our new products approach entry-into-service, momentum is building. So is our determination and our focus on delivering as promised.

Note the use of positive language (essor, the repetition of nouveaux/nouvelles) and language dealing with planning and execution of projects (changements/évolution/détermination/efforts). Such language is frequent in reports of the sort.

We will now see a passage from the same document which offers a bit more detail. It uses a question and answer format, where Q stands for question and R for réponse. As before, do your best to establish the gist of the passage, and then mouse over the Translation bar to check your understanding.

Q. Qu’est-ce qui a marqué 2014 selon vous ?

R. Deux choses me viennent immédiatement à l’esprit : nos produits et la réorganisation de nos activités aéronautiques et de transport sur rail. Nos activités ont continué d’évoluer avec de formidables nouveaux produits sur le point de passer en production. Notre portefeuille de produits existants nous ouvre de nouveaux marchés prometteurs. Enfin, avec notre structure allégée, nous devenons une entreprise plus agile et axée sur l’essentiel : nos clients et le respect des jalons de nos projets.

Nous nous sommes structurés autour de quatre principes directeurs — mettre davantage l’accent sur nos clients, être agile, penser mondial et être imputable, tout cela dans notre quête incessante de création de valeur. Aujourd’hui, chez Bombardier, il y a un objectif qui prime sur tous les autres : mieux exécuter et améliorer nos marges, autrement dit devenir une entreprise hautement performante à tout point de vue et en tout temps.


Q. Looking back at 2014, what stands out for you?
A. Two areas are top of mind for me: our products and our reorganization in aerospace and rail transportation. Our businesses continued to evolve with exciting new products about to come on line and our existing portfolio taking us into promising new markets. With our streamlined structure, we’re becoming a more agile organization that’s focused on what counts: the people who buy our products and delivering on our project milestones.
We’ve aligned ourselves around four guiding principles —a focus on customer impact, agility, a global mindset and accountability—all in the relentless pursuit of value creation. Today there is one overriding objective at Bombardier: execute better and improve margins, in other words, become a true high performance organization.

Some financial data

The concepts and language of accounting are both complex and precise. It is not the objective of this module to provide more than a taste of their format in French. That being said, we will provide two examples here. As you will see, one of the advantages of accounting documents is the repetition of identical or similar elements.

Here is a first example, a summary of Bombardier's activities in the one of its areas of focus. See if you can determine which one, then try to guess the meaning of each of the lines in the table. To help you, note that the acronym RAII stands for Résultat avant charges de financement, revenus de financement et impôts sur le résultat.

When you have come to a conclusion about the meaning of the table, mouse over the middle of the translation block to see the English equivalent from Bombardier. Use these comparisons to create a mini bilingual dictionary. You will use this dictionary in a moment.


Now, use what the dictionary you have just created to establish the meaning of the following table, which describes the corporation's second area of focus. As before, mouse over the middle of the translation block to check your understanding.


Auditors' statement

Each financial report includes a statement from the auditors who have examined the statement to determine whether it is an accurate representation of the enterprise's financial situation. These auditors' statements tend to follow a similar model in each case. They also use some of the terms we have just established. Look at the example below and see if you can determine this model, then mouse over the translation to check your understanding.


Nous avons effectué l’audit des états financiers consolidés ci-joints de Bombardier Inc., qui comprennent les états de la situation financière consolidés aux 31 décembre 2014 et 2013 et au 1er janvier 2013, et les états consolidés du résultat, du résultat global, des variations des capitaux propres et des flux de trésorerie pour les exercices clos les 31 décembre 2014 et 2013, ainsi qu’un résumé des principales méthodes comptables et d’autres informations explicatives.


À notre avis, les états financiers consolidés donnent, dans tous leurs aspects significatifs, une image fidèle de la situation financière de Bombardier Inc. aux 31 décembre 2014 et 2013 et au 1er janvier 2013, ainsi que de sa performance financière et de ses flux de trésorerie pour les exercices clos les 31 décembre 2014 et 2013 conformément aux Normes internationales d’information financière, publiées par l’International Accounting Standards Board.


We have audited the accompanying consolidated financial statements of Bombardier Inc. which comprise the consolidated statements of financial position as at December 31, 2014, 2013 and January 1, 2013, and the consolidated statements of income, comprehensive income, changes in equity and cash flows for fiscal years ended December 31, 2014 and 2013, and a summary of significant accounting policies and other explanatory information.
In our opinion, the consolidated financial statements present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of Bombardier Inc. as at December 31, 2014, 2013 and January 1, 2013, and its financial performance and its cash flows for fiscal years ended December 31, 2014 and 2013 in accordance with International Financial Reporting Standards, as issued by the International Accounting Standards Board.

Management and the memo

One of the central documents used in managing an enterprise is the memo. Sometimes written to a single individual, sometimes to a group, and sometimes to all members of an organization, the memo provides a means of disseminating information and requesting behaviour. In French, a document like this is called a une note or une note de service. A typical note de service will include information on who is sending it, to whom it is addressed, what it is about, and usually a date and a signature.

Here is a typical example of a note de service (source: Banque de dépannage linguistique: Office québécois de la langue française). Try to determine its meaning, then mouse over the Translation bar to check your understanding.


DESTINATAIRE : Le personnel professionnel

EXPÉDITRICE : Sophie Morin, adjointe au directeur

DATE : Le 16 mai 2016

OBJET : Rappel concernant la prise de congés annuels

Je vous rappelle que les congés annuels doivent faire l’objet d’une planification à l’intérieur de chaque service, ainsi que d’une autorisation individuelle préalable.

Vous pouvez vous reporter à votre convention collective et à la directive générale qui en traite pour obtenir plus de détails sur les règles des congés.

Toute demande particulière doit être soumise au ou à la gestionnaire du service et recevoir ensuite l’approbation de la Direction des ressources humaines.

Merci de votre collaboration.

Sophie Morin


TO: Professional staff
FROM: Sophie Morin, Assistant to the Director
DATE: May 16, 2016
RE: Reminder concerning annual vacations
I would like to remind you that annual vacations must be planned within each service, including prior individual authorizations.
You may consult your collective agreement and the general policies on the issue to obtain more details on the rules that apply to vacations.
Any exceptional request must be submitted to the service manager and be approved by the Human Relations Director.
Thank you for your assistance.
Sophie Morin

Advertising language

The objective is advertising is to attract the attention of potential customers, in the hope that they will purchase some product. Advertising uses a variety of devices, including humour and striking images and situations. The use of humorous language often means that an advertisement which contains it must be read at several levels simultaneously. The following example illustrates this:


Look at this ad and try to think about what the words in the main title could mean. When you have finished thinking about it, mouse over the Explanation bar below to see some detailed comments.


The French word for lipstick is le rouge à lèvres. Red is also the colour associated with Ferrari race cars, while yellow is the colour associated with Renault. The word dépassé means 'outmoded', but in the field of racing, it also means 'passed', as when one car overtakes another. So the ad is saying that Ferrari has been overtaken by Renault and is outmoded. The small print at the bottom of the ad spells this out in more detail: Renault captured the F1 racing title ahead of Ferrari. (A note: the English version of this ad used the expression Red is dead, which fails to capture the richness of the French.)

The language of science

Scientific language is composed of three main components: general scientific words to describe the processes of scientific study, specialized terminology particular to each field, and a syntax designed to remove the personal element from a text by replacing personal pronouns like I and we with more neutral forms. The following image illustrates this interrelationship of the three factors.


Consider, for example, the following short passage about treating materials containing clay (source: Thiry et al., 2013) Note the differences in colour of various seequences of the text. Sequences in blue are elements of general scientific language that might be found in many different areas of study, from minerology to psychology. Sequences in orange are terms specific to this specific domain being described here, including particular actions and instruments. Finally, sequences in pink are syntactic structures designed to avoid naming the person doing the work. They include the infinitive (il faut procéder), pronominal verbs (cette opération se fait) and use of subjects which are not the people involved in the operation, but rather the elements in play (l'échantillon peut être broyé).

After you have spent some time studying the passage, mouse over the Translation bar to see its meaning in English.

Broyage préliminaire

Pour les échantillons durs, il faut procéder à un broyage énergétique qui réduit l’échantillon en fragments millimétriques. Cette opération se fait avantageusement dans un broyeur à mâchoires qui réduit l’échantillon en fragments millimétriques. Après cette opération, l’échantillon peut être broyé pendant quelques minutes dans un broyeur à mortier... (Fig. 1).


Initial pulverization
For harder samples, it is necessary to begin by energetic pulverization to reduce the sample into millimetre-size fragments. This operation is best performed in a clamp grinder which reduces the sample into millimetre-sized fragments. After this operation, the sample may be pulverized for several minutes in a mechanical mortar mill... (Fig. 1)

Remember, this is specialized language. The goal here is not to turn you into a geologist, but rather to help you see the variety of elements in a scientific text. Don't be discouraged if the text isn't entirely clear.

It should also be clear that at least for the technical terms, you will need a good dictionary. One of the best free online sources is the Termium Plus terminology database managed by the Canadian Translation Bureau. Click on the link and enter some of the terms in blue to see what you get as translations into English. Notice that the translations are divided into domains, so make sure you look for the equivalent in the proper domain.

Summing up

You should now have the sense that you are beginning to understand the following elements of the language of business and science in French:

Use this knowledge to explore additional texts in French. A number of these documents will exist in both French and English. Notable examples include:

In the next module, we will turn to the language of the humanities and social sciences.