Monkey Forest Tales: Language barriers in science

Today’s post we are going to talk about language barriers in science. I know it looks a bit odd as I’m not a native English speaker but I’m writing in English. A recent paper in Nature talking about the barriers that Latin- American researchers have when doing science make me think about my own experiences. Although I agreed with all the points made by the authors on that paper. I also think there are some points we need to address as Latin Americans, especially in terms of the ways English is teach in our countries, especially in Colombia. English is seen in many schools, public and private, as something to be afraid of, which put even more barriers in how we learn it and how we feel when we are faced to use it in all its forms: written, spoken, and listened.

I grow up with certain advantages, I had taken English classes since I was a kid, although I neve studied in a bilingual school, so in some ways my ears had been exposed to English since a young age. One factor that I think is important to the process of learning any language. However, as most of not native- English speakers, I have a strong accent and I still make grammar mistakes while writing and speaking English. However, when I must live in an English-speaking country, I have to face all my fears and shame of speaking bad English in order to live. One thing that help me was to understand that English was my second language and as such it was ok to make mistakes. It was a learning process, so as a friend told me, some years back, I shouldn’t be ashamed of that, and I always can improve.

However, I think part of the problem, why it is so difficult to publish in English for not- native speakers, apart from prejudices and preconceptions from native English speakers that are real, and we all face them. It is our own fears to misinterpretation and shame of reading and writing in English. As well as some laziness from younger students, especially to read and write in English. Yes, I know it is difficult to learn it but one of the problems I notice in my students is some laziness to read in English and even in Spanish, something that for me is a requirement for being able to write, in English or Spanish.

So, in my experience some of the things that are helpful to write in English is just to do it, practice daily, practice to write anything, have a journal of your thoughts in English, read English every day, listen to music and watch movies in English every day. I will say that can be applied to any language, although in my experience, it doesn’t work well when I was trying to learn Japanese…may be because of the different written symbols…But works with languages such as Portuguese, French, and Italian.

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