English is the language of science — but precision is tough as a non-native speaker

I thought that this group might have some valuable insight or refinements of the points made in this Nature News feature, which would seem to suggest that our translation and mentoring communities are (or ought to be) even closer than we’ve appreciated.

Junior researchers who are not native anglophones will greatly boost their career prospects by finding a good language mentor, and hiring them for important jobs. It’s worth every penny, and it’s a learning experience each time.

How should this affect our approach to translation? to mentoring?

cc: @mraymond @dschigel @larussell @Maheva @dnoesgaard

Thanks for sharing the paper, Kyle. I am not sure I see a good link to mentoring: data and capacity mentoring seems to keep us busy enough. The paper reveals some deep cracks in how global science (and data systems) work linguistically. English is a international connector yes, but if your school or university does not provide you with EN training, including academic writing and presentation, you need to look for self-education possibilities - but again, there should be enough location / wealth / opportunity luck in where you are to be able to compensate this way. In many cases these opportunities are not in place, yet people have the need / right to have access to key information in own language. Many countries cultivate the myth of national science, which translate in linguistic handicaps, and likely also affecting mindsets of the graduates. I hope auto-translations will improve, but at the moment, for the explainers (and training) inputs from our volunteer community is very important and should expand our reach to new publishers and users (can we measure it?). We had very good discussions of that with @pzermoglio last TDWG. However, I think, non-EN language versions this effectively only smoothen entry or use of basic functions. We have examples of publishers, and likely also users that can work without English. Maybe they get some help. But if you want to become active part of the community, to work in task groups, join committees, write papers, contribute to code or standard development, English will be very difficult to avoid, or discourse will start to separate into language clubs. I think building individual basic English skills will likely remain outside our mentoring; applying good written and oral English e.g. for competitive data related proposals or advocacy could be part of networks’ internal professional development. I have no idea how to stimulate or to coordinate this, and I can recognize the plateau in the paper very well. Many things link to this, incl. glossaries, formal documents etc. How many grammar mistakes that is, @kcopas?

Feeling like to chime in. My observation of our groups of trainers, mentors and translators is that they are extraordinarily patient and forgiving. Probably because what we do in training is still relatively novel to some groups of audiences hence the introductory plainness, and hands-on is always an effective validator of our verbal activities. I personally have benefited from it along the way by playing different roles, though I admit quite often I struggle to be concise, while at times I actually enjoy English being so creatively used by our community of vast diversity. However, in engagement when the language barrier is so high, we have to accept that we may not reach our goal. As a native of Chinese language I appreciate people who make efforts to write/speak with better command of it, because communication happened at that level is actually quite satisfying, and I can relate that to my counterparts in other languages. Can we more effectively achieve in training and mentoring by promoting the use of English training, as suggested in the article? I think so, especially those who don’t speak Spanish, French or a language that hasn’t got a good translator in GBIF. The level of precision is probably most critical for document translators, as little chances exist for interactive refinements. Finally, although “we can’t expect our native English-speaking colleagues and co-authors to be our language coaches”, occasional usage corrections are always appreciated and absolutely no offence taken!