English serves as a convenient, common language for science. However, this practice presents insurmountable obstacles to those whose first language is not English—the majority of people around the world.
According to research published on July 18 in the open access journal PLoS Biologyled by Dr. Tatsuya Amano of the University of Queensland, Australia, the disadvantages of being a non-native English speaker in science range from difficulty in reading and writing papers to reduced participation in international conferences.
Few studies to date have quantified the substantial costs of being a non-native English speaker in science. Dr. Amano and his team surveyed 908 environmental scientists from eight countries with different linguistic and economic backgrounds, and compared the amount of effort required by individual researchers to conduct different scientific activities in English.
The survey revealed clear and substantial disadvantages for non-native English speakers. Compared to native English speakers, non-native English speakers need up to twice as much time to read and write papers and prepare presentations in English. Papers written by non-native English speakers are 2.5 times more likely to be rejected and 12.5 times more likely to receive a request for revision, just because of written English. Many of them have also stopped attending and presenting at international conferences because they are not confident in communicating in English.
These findings have important implications for global efforts to create a more inclusive academy where anyone can thrive and shine. The authors found that these disabilities disproportionately affect those in early career stages and from low-income countries. Unless we break down these barriers, the authors argue, we cannot achieve equal participation for non-native speakers of English in science, nor can we expect scientific contributions from those whose first language is is a language other than English.
“I was shocked to see the results,” said Dr. Amano. “As a non-native English speaker myself, I have experienced the struggles firsthand, and know that these are common issues among us non-native English speakers, but I didn’t realize how high each individual barrier compared to native English speakers. .” Researchers point out that countless people have had to give up their careers in science because of language barriers.
“The real, bigger-picture issue is that we’re doing almost nothing as a community, and instead relying on the self-efforts of individuals to solve this problem,” Amano said. With this in mind, the paper also suggests potential solutions, which range from supervisors recognizing the difficulties their students face, to journals providing free English editing, and funder that offers financial support to efforts that work to overcome language barriers.
“Right now, mastering English is a ticket to enter the world of academia,” Amano said. “We must abandon this old system. Anyone in any part of the world must be able to participate in science and contribute to the accumulation of knowledge of mankind.”
Amano T, Ramírez-Castañeda V, Berdejo-Espinola V, Borokini I, Chowdhury S, Golivets M, et al. The high cost of being a non-native English speaker in science, PLoS Biology (2023). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3002184. journals.plos.org/plosbiology/ … journal.pbio.3002184
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Citation: The cost of being a non-native English speaker in science (2023, July 18) retrieved 18 July 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-07-non-native-english-speaker-science.html
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