Sunday, November 1, 2015

English for Scientists

This is a blog about English, especially when used by scientists. The inspiration for the blog comes from years of listening to papers given at international scientific conferences and to comments in the hallways outside of rooms before and after paper presentations. What was apparent was that many non-native English-speaking scientists were forced to speak at these international gatherings in a language that was foreign to them, both culturally and linguistically. Their experiences were often not wonderful.

In some cases, the results were "fatal" for speakers whose pronunciation made most of what they were saying opaque. I once saw 75% of an audience get up and file out of a room in the middle of a paper being delivered (i.e., read) by a French-speaking anthropologist. I stayed in the audience out of kindness because his talk was a waste of my time, too. In truth, he would have been better off doing a poster presentation. No one wanted to listen to his thick French pronunciation and monotonous reading. In another incident, a colleague wrote and had a commentary published about the international language being "broken" English, not English. I think he hit the nail on the head. That would have been the name of this blog had Broken English not already been taken as a blog name.

I invite readers to comment and raise questions about usages of English that make presentations in English and discussions at conferences stressful and unproductive. In fact, is there a way to make English more transparent to non-native English-speaking scientists? Are there ways to make non-native English-speakers more comprehensible to native English speakers?  These are themes of this blog.