How to Present Foreign Terms in Your Writing
  • 4-minute read
  • 6th July 2022

How to Present Foreign Terms in Your Writing

Using foreign terms in your writing and formatting them correctly can be tricky.

You might want to use one because there isn’t an English equivalent to a word you need, you might want to add flair and style, or you might want to quote another text or person.

The correct way to present foreign terms isn’t generally taught at school, so it’s no surprise that many people struggle with it.

By the end of this guide, you should have a good understanding of when and how to present foreign terms.

What Is a Foreign Term?

First, we need to define what a foreign term actually is.

If a word or phrase from a language other than English isn’t in mainstream American English dictionaries, you can consider it a foreign term.

Faux pas, for example, is a term that originates from French, but it can be found in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, so it’s widely considered to be an American English term as well. Therefore, Faux pas isn’t a foreign term.

Hwligan is a word from the Welsh language that isn’t featured in the mainstream American English dictionaries, so it’s a foreign term.

If you’re not sure whether you’re dealing with a foreign term, look for it in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, and Webster’s New World College Dictionary.

Presenting Foreign Terms

There are a number of ways to properly introduce foreign terms in your writing. The method you choose will depend on what you’re writing.

If you’re writing an essay or report for college and your school prefers students to follow the Chicago, APA, AP, or MLA style guides (detailed below), then choose whichever method best suits your school’s guidelines. If you don’t have to stick to a specific style guide, choose whichever one best suits your preference.

Chicago Style

The Chicago Manual of Style (aka Chicago style) recommends italicizing foreign terms in non-fiction writing. If you’re going to be using the foreign term throughout the document, only italicize it when it’s first used. But if you’ll be using it sparingly, italicize it every time you use it.

Jones referred to Powell as a hwligan.

APA Style

When you’re following The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (aka APA style), you should only italicize the foreign term the first time you use it.

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Jones referred to Powell as a hwligan. Powell was offended by being called a hwligan.

AP Style

The Associated Press Style Book (aka AP style) recommends using quotation marks around foreign terms. It also encourages giving readers a translation.

Jones called Powell a “hwligan,” which, in the Welsh language, means hooligan.

MLA Style

The MLA Style Center recommends italicizing foreign terms throughout your writing unless they’re proper nouns, direct quotations, or foreign titles of works published within larger works.

Tips for General Writing

If you don’t need to follow particular formatting rules in your writing (e.g., a blog post, fiction writing, or a social media post), you have free reign. But, we do have some tips.

●  Think about your audience. Will they need a definition of the foreign term? If yes, consider giving them one.

●  Use foreign terms accurately. Online translation tools can be really helpful, but you should check and double-check multiple sources to make sure the words you’re using are correct.

●  Make sure the context is clear. However you choose to present foreign terms, it should be apparent to your reader that it’s a foreign term and fits in with the wider context of the text.

●  If you’re not sure whether your use of foreign terms is correct or clear, check with someone knowledgeable on the topic. It’s always helpful to have an extra pair of eyes look over your work.

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