Language barrier is still a problem in science community

Knowing foreign languages is extremely beneficial – it is essential part of our education. However, regardless of how smart you are, you cannot learn every single language on Earth and that is a problem. Scientists say that language barrier is still a huge problem in scientific community because every year they cannot access a large portion of new information.

A lot of valuable information might be overlooked just because it is not in English. Image credit: Kasharp via Wikimedia, CC-BY-SA-4.0

It is widely accepted that English is the language of science, but many institutions are still publishing important scientific research in other languages only. Scientists from the University of Cambridge took a better look at the problem and it turns out that over a third of new scientific reports are published in languages other than English. It means that some important discoveries may simply be overlooked by many scientists from across the globe. However, scientists do not argue for English language monopoly in the community – they say that using any one language creates unnecessary barriers for scientific advancements.

What scientists are calling for is short summaries in multiple languages. Outlining main ideas of the research in a short paragraph in multiple languages would be extremely beneficial for scientists across the globe. In some cases, such as environmental science, disturbances in knowledge transfer through translations are a big problem. And, of course, in some places English is not so common – scientists in Spain said that language barrier is a major difficulty for them to access the latest knowledge. In fact, majority non-English scientific papers were found to be in Spanish (12.6%) or Portuguese (10.3%).

Furthermore, only around half of non-English documents also included titles or abstracts in English. This can lead to a variety of problems, but mostly it means that a large portion of information is simply overlooked when searching for English key words. Dr Tatsuya Amano, lead author of the study, said: “The real problem of language barriers in science is that few people have tried to solve it. Native English speakers tend to assume that all the important information is available in English. But this is not true, as we show in our study”. Researchers say that scientists should be encouraged to provide translations of the summaries of their papers and publication institutions should pay more attention to this problem too.

And it is a large problem, because most of the reviews are done by searching English keywords. Science is built upon itself – researchers have to base their studies on information created before them. Something might be missing just because it was in a different language.