English has become the common language of global academics. All of the major journals publish in English, even though they contain research from across the globe. Despite seeing a surge in the number of non-native English speakers, the industry is dominated by powerhouses in English-speaking countries and as a result, English research dominates across all fields, especially in scientific and technical fields.
A recent Cambridge study estimated that a third or more of new scientific reports are published in languages other than English. They believe the result is that findings are often overlooked and biases can begin to become a problem. The research included a call to scientific journals to consider beginning publishing the key findings from studies in multiple languages.
There is no shortage of documentation detailing the challenges English-as-a-second-language (ESL) researchers and students when submitting to English language journals in writing for submission to English language journals. Besides submission issues, there are also problems with keeping up the literature, finding the right research, communicating with editors and interpreting the comments of reviews and the public. There’s also the issue of time-sensitive data, and making it accessible to wider research community. Something which currently is difficult to do when institutions focus on publishing research in only one language.
And there’s clear reason to believe that ignoring research published in a foreign language can be detrimental to the academic research community. Take for example issues with research-access surrounding H5N1, more commonly known as bird flu. After it had begun decimating Asia’s avian populations, Chinese scientists reported that pigs could also be infected. thirteen years ago. This was an important and worrying development, since infection in pigs could potentially allow the virus to jump to humans. The scientists highlighted that the issue required urgent attention in their study, however because it was published in Chinese in a nationally based veterinary research journal. They had made a ground-breaking discovery, but it would take several months to make its way into the international forum, and by that point swine flu was already spreading.
In academia, writing in English is increasingly becoming essential to visibility of authors and the chances their submission will be accepted. This doesn’t make it easy when trying to publish their work in English peer-reviewed journals internationally, many of which hold the keys to successful professional careers in academia. English post-graduate students or academic researchers who go to Germany or Norway for instance, have plenty of options for institutions they can study at or work for, and they can write and submit their dissertation or thesis, without having to gain the ability to write in the native language at the academic level.
This is because proficiency in academic writing is acquired through years of tertiary study. Undergraduate essays, or even an early post-grad writing assignment will rarely be at a standard deemed publishable by journals. University research training is designed to teach not only the quantitative skills for conducting professional research, but also the creative skills necessary to communicate findings in way that is engaging and easily digested. There are many native English speakers who could never successfully produce a paper or essay to academic standards, simply because they’ve never been trained.
According to one Chinese graduate, the best solution to the problem is to write the manuscript yourself. In his case he was writing his first scientific paper in English while still at University. According to him, he could read and understand English at an academic level, and had been using textbooks written in English at his University in Beijing. However, challenge came when trying to find the right words, or when expressing his scientific or creative thinking in English. In his experience, this decision paid off, with an academic journal publishing his final manuscript.
Indonesian students and researcher, and even academics have recently had to come face to face with the problem of publishing in English language journals thanks to recent changes in Government law which have made publication of even an undergraduate’s final thesis mandatory. Academics across the country have spoken out about the difficulties of writing research in English at the level expected by top-tier international journals. But the problem is far wider spread.
While a researcher or academic could hire a company to provide them with translation services or enlist an essay writing service. But this service does not come cheap. The problem is, outsourcing the hard work doesn’t provide the necessary training to allow writers to continue to publish without them. Which can be to the authors detriment in terms of money and time. Additional complications arise from the complaints levelled against these industries. These come from concerns about students cheating on assignments, thanks to the ability to buy a custom paper from an essay-mill website, or the proliferation of fake medical news appearing online, thanks to the poor vetting procedures of alternative and locally-based publishers.
Judith Hertog an ESL specialist at the Institute for Writing at Rhetoric at Dartmouth College’s New Hampshire campus agrees that the best route is writing your own essay or paper. “My most basic advice is to look for models of well-written papers,”
The main areas ESL researchers and academics struggle with are issues of syntax and flow, and the proper way to use a specific term or turn of phrase. Things like stilted sentence construction, run on sentences impact the readability of research, especially when it’s topic is very dry. Reading the work of English writers who are considered influential can help with some of the grammatical peculiarities and problems of academic language.
Established journals and publishers need to begin reaching out to researchers in regions where English is not the first language, and providing guidance and services to help make it easier to publish their research in English language journals.
Scholarly publishing is a billion-dollar industry. Massive names like Elseiver, John Wiley & Sons operate on a business model that’s built on acquiring free content from private or government or funded research. Then, having academics peer-review the papers for free, which they proceed to sell back to academic libraries and research institutes at a high-price. This leaves little room for ESL researchers to participate without additional costs in either funds or time. When it comes to ESL researchers and academics, there’s more than some truth to the tale of arriving at the gates of knowledge only, to find them shut.