Translated Accounting

Last week, I took an accounting test at a firm where I’d applied for a few positions. English is the primary language for the particular position I’m a candidate for, and since this is Québec, it was only a small surprise that the test was written in French. I blithely told my contact that this was no problem.

My French has never gotten much better than “comme une vache espagnole,” hence the featured image for this post (giggles and thanks to zipfslaw1). So I hit up our friend Google Translate. Our quirky friend Google Translate.

Actually, Google, I had French in mind… (“bilan” means balance sheet in French)

In the end, it was fine. Better than fine, even. The six questions were fairly straightforward: creating financial reports from a list of accounts and their balances; creating a bank reconciliation report from two different listings of transactions; writing off bad debt and booking reimbursements that included taxes that had to be treated in specific ways; and recording a paycheck and its withholdings. Just in a different language from the one I learned the techniques in, but numbers are numbers and techniques are techniques, right?

The test took me well over an hour! I spent the first twenty minutes discovering all the hidden acts of translation I was going to have to perform, accidentally restarting the computer, and managing the resultant anxiety.

  • Google Translate is not good at many things, and technical terms are high on the list. Just reading the questions required my accounting knowledge as much as my French vocabulary.
  • Of course the acronyms for payroll taxes are different in different languages! Now what would RRQ be in English? Searching in a web browser with French as the default language complicates finding an answer.
  • So does working in French Excel. I tried for a while to rely on the mathematical operator signs for what I needed, but they weren’t enough. My guesses at the equivalent of “SUM” all failed (pas MONTANT, pas ADDITION, pas TOTAL). Another web search led me to “SOMME,” in a handy table of common formulas.
  • Numbers are not just numbers, because different cultures format them differently. Would the regular keyboard comma work for a decimal “point,” assuming I could even find it on the French keyboard? NUM LOCK and the number pad came to my rescue.
  • Speaking of keyboards, the laptop provided was a PC, and I’ve been working on Macs for a couple of years. Muscle memory doesn’t want to be contradicted.

Once I was able to dig into my first question, though—to get some traction, solve pieces of the puzzle, and set myself an agenda for the rest, with all the necessary tools at hand—the anxiety subsided, and I was delighted with the challenge. I was doing something I am very experienced and very good at, but on a whole new level. While I was ostensibly demonstrating routine work, I was also learning intensely and applying what I’d learned immediately. I really wanted someone to notice what an amazing thing I was doing, so now I am sharing it with you.

Illustration of an analog numeric typewriter, superimposed on a paper chart of printed numbers.

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