Do Language Barriers to Research Impede Scientific Advancement?

Language barriers to research interfere with scientific progress which is in turn highly dependent on international research collaboration. The role of language in science and research collaboration is undeniable, and increased globalization has created a greater need to translate scientific research and provide access to larger international audiences. By employing professional translators and interpreters, linguistic barriers to research can effectively be overcome.

Globalization of Science and Language Barriers to Research

globalization of scientific researchThe globalization of science and technology has resulted in a reduction of U.S. scientific activity; increased the number of foreign-born scientists at U.S. universities; and allowed for greater international scientific collaboration, in the U.S. as well as Western Europe. Greater government investments in R&D in some countries, such as China, has also created more incentive to form international partnerships. But this has been impeded by both cultural and language barriers to research, which interfere with potentially beneficial international scientific collaboration and partnerships, and ultimately hinder progress. The role of language in science is undeniable – in order for ideas to be shared by some of the brightest minds, they need to be able to understand each other.

International Research Collaboration Suffers

One clear example of the negative impact of language barriers to research is a case study which compared the interactions between scientists from two different parts of the globe: one team from a European research  laboratory and their counterparts at a prominent Korean biotech company. Communication, which was primarily in English, between the two companies was seriously hindered by language barriers.

korean-pharmaScientists at the Korean company reported that their professional identity was compromised due to the fact that they were expected to communicate in a language other than their native language. Unfortunately, a professional interpreter was not employed as the assumption was that communicating in a common language such as English would not pose any problems.

Professional Korean translation of research materials and other scientific documents, such as data analysis, reports, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and Certificate of Analysis (COAs), would have greatly benefited the Korean scientists who felt that their limited English proficiency put them at a disadvantage. The fact that scientific collaboration is hindered by linguistic differences is of course nothing new – the role of language in science is a popular, and much discussed topic – especially in the realm of teaching science. However, in this case, the cultural factors which developed proved to further exacerbate the situation. The study showed that not only was scientific collaboration compromised because of these barriers to research, but it changed the professional status of some of its members in the face of the international community. Awareness of the role of language in science, and the effect cultural barriers have on collaboration can greatly enhance progress.


Language Barriers and Climate Change in the Congo

congoAnother group of scientists proposed that translation of scientific research can not only facilitate collaboration but also enhance research funding. Research on climate change, for example, in the Congo was largely limited due to the fact that publications were available primarily in French language journals. By creating bilingual French – English language versions, information became more accessible to international researchers in the field. While much research has been published in English about climate change in the Amazon, most research on the Congo is available only in French language journals. Translation of  these findings from French into English has thus allowed more scientists to be included, helped to increase awareness, and in turn participation and funding.

Shared research via translation helps to promote efforts across the scientific community in a specific area. Local researchers also benefit from connecting with scientists in their field that are conducting research in other parts of the world. Moreover, professional translation and interpreting facilitate the role of language in science and research sharing – allowing for international communication, thereby allowing for more funding which inevitably improves research in areas with limited resources.

Implementing bilingual programs, and employing professional translation and interpretation experts are crucial to overcoming language barriers to research and international collaboration for scientific progress. This is especially important for research conducted in areas limited by both economic and language differences.



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Language Connections is a language service provider.  We specialize in technical, medical and legal translation, simultaneous and consecutive interpreting, website and software localization, and corporate language programs and interpreter training. We provide certified, professional translation in 100+ languages including Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, German, and French. With over 20 years of experience, we have expertise in all major industries including the life sciences, patent and immigration law, international business, global education, and advanced technology. We offer cost-efficient interpreting and conference solutions that will meet your multilingual needs for all types of international events – business meetings, conferences, lectures or presentations.

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