Crappy English as a Scientific Language

Over at Sign and Sight, Stephan Klein notes that the current wisdom in Germany is that conferences have to take place in English to really "matter," and makes a plea for academic conferences held in Germany to be held in German:

[W]ill we soon reach a point where we no longer can discuss the results of new research in German because we can’t find the vocabulary? Society is threatening to split: On one side will be those who employ an elite language, and on the other, all those who miss out on the latest developments. So the issue of whether German remains a language for science is not merely a question of national pride. It has to do with something far more momentous: democracy.

Anyone who only encounters scientific research in a foreign language pays a heavy price, even if he is a master of the idiom. "We are dumber in English" – this was the conclusion that researchers came to in Sweden and the Netherlands, where children were introduced to English on their first day of school. Lectures in English are part of every subject, but nevertheless, the test results are about ten percent lower on average than in courses taught in the mother tongue. In English seminars, students ask and answer fewer questions; they give the overall impression of being somewhat more helpless. Neither students nor teachers are generally aware of the problem, because they all overestimate their expertise in English.

Well, I’m off on vacation tomorrow, but things will still be happening on the site, I promise!

44 thoughts on “Crappy English as a Scientific Language

  1. What does that mean “Will we soon reach a point where we no longer can discuss the results of new research in German because we can’t find the vocabulary”.

    We ARE already at that point. The simple truth is: You have to publish in English or you perish.
    Even PhD-Theses in our departement here in Germany are always written in english. We all know that we’ll probably write crappy english but everyone does it, so you have to do it as well. And I realized a while ago that I find it extremly difficult to use the German terminology in my own field. Sometimes there even does not exist a proper german translation.

    Interestingly enough, I noticed a little while back that in contrast many french scientist still write their PhD-theses in French – which means I can’t read them because I’m by far not firm enough in french and my understanding of technical french is even poorer. (yeah, I could by a technical dictionary French-German for the thesis, but in most cases it’s not worth the effort).

    So, this is essentially the problem. In a scientific world where you have to collaborate with scientists of various countries – which is actually one of the greatest merits of scientific life – you have to communicate your work in a common language. Otherwise you spend most of your time trying to translate scientific papers from a foreign languages, which is simply too cumnbersome.

    So, we stick to english. There is simply no alternative. On the other hand, it is somewhat strange if talks presented on a German conference i.e. Tagungen der Deutschen Physikalischen Gesellschaft are held in English. We really should be more self-confident in that respect and many talks would improve significantly

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  2. What does that mean “Will we soon reach a point where we no longer can discuss the results of new research in German because we can’t find the vocabulary”.

    We ARE already at that point. The simple truth is: You have to publish in English or you perish.
    Even PhD-Theses in our departement here in Germany are always written in english. We all know that we’ll probably write crappy english but everyone does it, so you have to do it as well. And I realized a while ago that I find it extremly difficult to use the German terminology in my own field. Sometimes there even does not exist a proper german translation.

    Interestingly enough, I noticed a little while back that in contrast many french scientist still write their PhD-theses in French – which means I can’t read them because I’m by far not firm enough in french and my understanding of technical french is even poorer. (yeah, I could by a technical dictionary French-German for the thesis, but in most cases it’s not worth the effort).

    So, this is essentially the problem. In a scientific world where you have to collaborate with scientists of various countries – which is actually one of the greatest merits of scientific life – you have to communicate your work in a common language. Otherwise you spend most of your time trying to translate scientific papers from a foreign languages, which is simply too cumnbersome.

    So, we stick to english. There is simply no alternative. On the other hand, it is somewhat strange if talks presented on a German conference i.e. Tagungen der Deutschen Physikalischen Gesellschaft are held in English. We really should be more self-confident in that respect and many talks would improve significantly

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  3. I have written my thesis in German for the exact reason that I noticed it would take me around 25% longer to write it in English (I started to do so because I thought then it would be easier to copy&paste from my papers).

    And yes, it is true that everything is easier in the scientific community if everybody speaks and writes his form of Pidgin-English. On the other hand, my husband, a mathematician, keeps lamenting the intellectual lazyness of the native English speakers in his field. Not so many decades ago it was quite normal that a mathematician had a certain mastery of German since so many important Mathematicians pubished in this language. Today, they expect the whole world to publish in their native language. And yes, native speakers have a considerable advantage because of that!

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  4. I have written my thesis in German for the exact reason that I noticed it would take me around 25% longer to write it in English (I started to do so because I thought then it would be easier to copy&paste from my papers).

    And yes, it is true that everything is easier in the scientific community if everybody speaks and writes his form of Pidgin-English. On the other hand, my husband, a mathematician, keeps lamenting the intellectual lazyness of the native English speakers in his field. Not so many decades ago it was quite normal that a mathematician had a certain mastery of German since so many important Mathematicians pubished in this language. Today, they expect the whole world to publish in their native language. And yes, native speakers have a considerable advantage because of that!

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  5. Interesting topic from a German perspective.

    Most of my friends who are studying, regardless whether they are in the Humanities (Germanists aside, of course) or in science, particularly in medicine, always tell me that most or all stuff they have to read is in English. Yet from what I get, I would rate the English skills of some as poor to mediocre. I still like them though. Yet, you wonder how they gain anything out of their studies if they don’t really understand what they are reading about. That is effectively reducing the skills a graduate has in those fields.

    Law seems to be the last bastion of native tongue learning. Though that might soon change, too.

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  6. Interesting topic from a German perspective.

    Most of my friends who are studying, regardless whether they are in the Humanities (Germanists aside, of course) or in science, particularly in medicine, always tell me that most or all stuff they have to read is in English. Yet from what I get, I would rate the English skills of some as poor to mediocre. I still like them though. Yet, you wonder how they gain anything out of their studies if they don’t really understand what they are reading about. That is effectively reducing the skills a graduate has in those fields.

    Law seems to be the last bastion of native tongue learning. Though that might soon change, too.

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  7. My English skills have also been quite mediocre when I started publishing in English. I remember a reviewer of my very first paper commenting on the English as “basically good, but rather unidiomatic”. I remember that I was really pissed off by this comment (by a native speaker of course) because I imagined this bastard being utterly monolingual but expecting all the world to write not only good, but also idiomatic English 😉

    Funnily, I had a training in giving presentations in English lately where the trainer remarked that you should avoid speaking too idiomatic bacuse then it would be likely that half your audience doesn’t understand you. I also had a business partner from Britain who showed a certain sensitivity towards the pains all the world has doing business in English because his girl friend came from Italy. He was very concerned to avoid overly idiomatic phrases and phrasal verbs. But this is rare, the more frequent case is that the native speakers expect you to understand everything perfectly that comes out of their mouth. Probably because they never tried to have a conversation in another language than English …

    Today I work in a company where my day-to-day work contacts are mainly Belgian, Portuguese, and Finnish. I even write in English to a exclusively German audience, because if at some point in time you have to forward the stuff to somebody else, it can easily be the case that he or she doesn’t understand German.

    Through all this practice and since I read also fiction almost exclusively in English and watch movies and DVDs in the o.v. since 15 years now I reached some fluency, but 10 years ago it was still a nuisance to write in English.

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  8. My English skills have also been quite mediocre when I started publishing in English. I remember a reviewer of my very first paper commenting on the English as “basically good, but rather unidiomatic”. I remember that I was really pissed off by this comment (by a native speaker of course) because I imagined this bastard being utterly monolingual but expecting all the world to write not only good, but also idiomatic English 😉

    Funnily, I had a training in giving presentations in English lately where the trainer remarked that you should avoid speaking too idiomatic bacuse then it would be likely that half your audience doesn’t understand you. I also had a business partner from Britain who showed a certain sensitivity towards the pains all the world has doing business in English because his girl friend came from Italy. He was very concerned to avoid overly idiomatic phrases and phrasal verbs. But this is rare, the more frequent case is that the native speakers expect you to understand everything perfectly that comes out of their mouth. Probably because they never tried to have a conversation in another language than English …

    Today I work in a company where my day-to-day work contacts are mainly Belgian, Portuguese, and Finnish. I even write in English to a exclusively German audience, because if at some point in time you have to forward the stuff to somebody else, it can easily be the case that he or she doesn’t understand German.

    Through all this practice and since I read also fiction almost exclusively in English and watch movies and DVDs in the o.v. since 15 years now I reached some fluency, but 10 years ago it was still a nuisance to write in English.

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  9. From the article:… an elite language … miss out on the latest developments …There is a term for people that after 8 years of state-sponsored English lessons still “miss out on the latest developments”: Arrogant dumb fucks.

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  10. From the article:… an elite language … miss out on the latest developments …There is a term for people that after 8 years of state-sponsored English lessons still “miss out on the latest developments”: Arrogant dumb fucks.

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  11. martin:
    had been, Madam … _Madam_
    That reminds me of something I experienced some 20 years ago. I was in Munich, Marienplatz, waiting for the S-Bahn when a Lady approached me and asked me (in English) whether I knew which trains went to the main station. I answered “On this platform, every train”, and she replied “each train”.

    Mein Blick sprach wohl Bände, denn sie hat sich sofort tausendmal entschuldigt. Die Dreistigkeit, jemanden im Ausland in einer Fremdsprache um eine Auskunft zu bitten, sie zu bekommen und dann den Auskunftgeber auch noch zu korrigieren bevor man Danke sagt, muss ihr wohl irgendwie bewußt geworden sein.

    Martin, wenn jemand wie Du anscheinend meint, nach 8 Jahren Schulunterricht müsse einem das Englisch sowas wie eine zweite Muttersprache geworden sein, kann er eigentlich selbst keine Fremdsprache auf diesem Weg gelernt haben. Wie Du selbst siehst mache ich z.B. trotz 9 Jahren Englisch in der Schule und 15 Jahren ständiger Exposition dieser Sprache gegenüber noch genug Fehler. Und dabei habe ich vor 2 Jahren in einem TEOFL-Test die volle Punktzahl erreicht. Ich spreche auch noch Italienisch und Französisch, allerdings bedeutend schlechter. Letzteres habe ich auch in der Schule gelernt, war ihm danach aber nie wieder großartig ausgesetzt und kann mich jetzt gerade mal so im Urlaub in Frankreich durchschlagen, wenn die Franzosen guten Willens sind und langsam sprechen.

    In einer Fremdsprache zu arbeiten ist immer ineffizienter als dies in der Muttersprache zu tun, und zwar genau so lange bis man irgendwann mal an den Punkt kommt wo man der Muttersprache praktisch gar nicht mehr ausgesetzt ist, was wohl kaum der Fall ist wenn man als Deutscher in Deutschland arbeitet. Leute, die auf diesen Fakt hinweisen, als arrogante Dummbeutel zu bezeichnen bedeutet eigentlich bloß, dass man selber ein dummdreister Idiot ist.

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  12. martin:
    had been, Madam … _Madam_
    That reminds me of something I experienced some 20 years ago. I was in Munich, Marienplatz, waiting for the S-Bahn when a Lady approached me and asked me (in English) whether I knew which trains went to the main station. I answered “On this platform, every train”, and she replied “each train”.

    Mein Blick sprach wohl Bände, denn sie hat sich sofort tausendmal entschuldigt. Die Dreistigkeit, jemanden im Ausland in einer Fremdsprache um eine Auskunft zu bitten, sie zu bekommen und dann den Auskunftgeber auch noch zu korrigieren bevor man Danke sagt, muss ihr wohl irgendwie bewußt geworden sein.

    Martin, wenn jemand wie Du anscheinend meint, nach 8 Jahren Schulunterricht müsse einem das Englisch sowas wie eine zweite Muttersprache geworden sein, kann er eigentlich selbst keine Fremdsprache auf diesem Weg gelernt haben. Wie Du selbst siehst mache ich z.B. trotz 9 Jahren Englisch in der Schule und 15 Jahren ständiger Exposition dieser Sprache gegenüber noch genug Fehler. Und dabei habe ich vor 2 Jahren in einem TEOFL-Test die volle Punktzahl erreicht. Ich spreche auch noch Italienisch und Französisch, allerdings bedeutend schlechter. Letzteres habe ich auch in der Schule gelernt, war ihm danach aber nie wieder großartig ausgesetzt und kann mich jetzt gerade mal so im Urlaub in Frankreich durchschlagen, wenn die Franzosen guten Willens sind und langsam sprechen.

    In einer Fremdsprache zu arbeiten ist immer ineffizienter als dies in der Muttersprache zu tun, und zwar genau so lange bis man irgendwann mal an den Punkt kommt wo man der Muttersprache praktisch gar nicht mehr ausgesetzt ist, was wohl kaum der Fall ist wenn man als Deutscher in Deutschland arbeitet. Leute, die auf diesen Fakt hinweisen, als arrogante Dummbeutel zu bezeichnen bedeutet eigentlich bloß, dass man selber ein dummdreister Idiot ist.

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  13. @AlexDesolee madame, mais la partie de l’article citee constatait tres clairement que pour la pluspart des gens leurs niveau d’anglais ne suffisait meme pas pour <>. La, il s’agit d’un completement different niveau que le niveau <> donc vous parlez. C’est clair que, malgre n’importe quel nombre d’ans quelqu’un apprent une langue etrangere, il ne sera jamais bilingue. Mais pour <> on pensait qu’une periode the huit ans de formation suffisera vraiment. Ansi, pendent que c’est vrai qu’il y a un vaste nombre d’allemands qui malgre son baccaleaureat ne peuvent meme pas comprendre, disons, un article de la New York times ou un debat sur le changement du climat dans Scientific American, c’est pas un probleme de formation ou d’opportunite, c’est un probleme d’atitude, d’accord? Soyez donc confident, madame, comme vous evidemment comprenez ce blog ici pratiquement sans probleme, que vous ne faites pas partie de cette groupe <> (dumb fucks).Abgesehen davon:… kann er eigentlich selbst keine Fremdsprache auf diesem Weg gelernt haben …Wenn Du wuesstest, wieviele Fremdsprachen ich auf diesem Weg gelernt habe, wuerdest Du mit den Ohren schlackern.Cheers.

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  14. @AlexDesolee madame, mais la partie de l’article citee constatait tres clairement que pour la pluspart des gens leurs niveau d’anglais ne suffisait meme pas pour <>. La, il s’agit d’un completement different niveau que le niveau <> donc vous parlez. C’est clair que, malgre n’importe quel nombre d’ans quelqu’un apprent une langue etrangere, il ne sera jamais bilingue. Mais pour <> on pensait qu’une periode the huit ans de formation suffisera vraiment. Ansi, pendent que c’est vrai qu’il y a un vaste nombre d’allemands qui malgre son baccaleaureat ne peuvent meme pas comprendre, disons, un article de la New York times ou un debat sur le changement du climat dans Scientific American, c’est pas un probleme de formation ou d’opportunite, c’est un probleme d’atitude, d’accord? Soyez donc confident, madame, comme vous evidemment comprenez ce blog ici pratiquement sans probleme, que vous ne faites pas partie de cette groupe <> (dumb fucks).Abgesehen davon:… kann er eigentlich selbst keine Fremdsprache auf diesem Weg gelernt haben …Wenn Du wuesstest, wieviele Fremdsprachen ich auf diesem Weg gelernt habe, wuerdest Du mit den Ohren schlackern.Cheers.

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  15. martin: Chapeau 🙂
    Tutto che posso dire io è che è molto difficile imparare una lingua solamente dalla schuola … io non sono finita ad un livello dell’Inglese che trovevo sufficente per lavorare efficientemente.

    And I disagree that it’s simply a question of attitude. You are also utterly mistaken if you think that everybody in this country has been treated to 8 years English lessons by the state. IIRC the “Gymnasialquote” is around 35% here. And, IMO, this is what is meant by elite language, people not being able to follow and this English-only being an undemocratic development. Of course it doesn’t exclude people with Abitur, higher education and enough time or a vital interest anyway to maintain their English skills, but the big rest. (All the other detrimental effects of having to work creatively in a foreign language left aside, of course …)

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  16. martin: Chapeau 🙂
    Tutto che posso dire io è che è molto difficile imparare una lingua solamente dalla schuola … io non sono finita ad un livello dell’Inglese che trovevo sufficente per lavorare efficientemente.

    And I disagree that it’s simply a question of attitude. You are also utterly mistaken if you think that everybody in this country has been treated to 8 years English lessons by the state. IIRC the “Gymnasialquote” is around 35% here. And, IMO, this is what is meant by elite language, people not being able to follow and this English-only being an undemocratic development. Of course it doesn’t exclude people with Abitur, higher education and enough time or a vital interest anyway to maintain their English skills, but the big rest. (All the other detrimental effects of having to work creatively in a foreign language left aside, of course …)

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  17. @Alex>the “Gymnasialquote” is around 35% hereLast time I checked, Hauptschule, Realschule and Berufsschule were all teaching English. There is a legal minimum of 12 years of schooling for everyone and it includes English from year 5.>it doesn’t exclude people with … a vital interestSince English skills are important enough to keep a democrary alive, there I do agree, I’d say that everyone has a vital interest.As for the attitude, just look at abovementioned countries like the Scandinavian ones or the Netherlands, they don’t have that attitude problem and their citizens’ English skills are great, all the way to the ‘lowliest’ bus driver. The quoted 10% or so that they are missing from the the level of a native speaker won’t keep them from ‘missing out of the latest developments’ or having their democracy threatened.The attitude problem becomes all the clearer when you go to France, a country that has the same attitude problem, only it’s even more pronounced. France, like Germany, was a country that had made great intellectual contributions to the arts and sciences a couple of centuries ago. French high school students these days are made to drool over this intellectual legacy to no end to instill the impression that any of this still matters.The truth is that since after the war, at the very latest, these countries have been intellectual wastelands, with a populace of sheep, their minds gone blank and therefore their language having become irrelevant. The French’s “Language Police” that watches over radio quotas and other silly things is along the same bullshit lines as Germany’s government-funded public art installations or whatever. Someone needs to pass them the cluestick that everyone with a brain has long since left for America and English is therefore the language to learn these days.

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  18. @Alex>the “Gymnasialquote” is around 35% hereLast time I checked, Hauptschule, Realschule and Berufsschule were all teaching English. There is a legal minimum of 12 years of schooling for everyone and it includes English from year 5.>it doesn’t exclude people with … a vital interestSince English skills are important enough to keep a democrary alive, there I do agree, I’d say that everyone has a vital interest.As for the attitude, just look at abovementioned countries like the Scandinavian ones or the Netherlands, they don’t have that attitude problem and their citizens’ English skills are great, all the way to the ‘lowliest’ bus driver. The quoted 10% or so that they are missing from the the level of a native speaker won’t keep them from ‘missing out of the latest developments’ or having their democracy threatened.The attitude problem becomes all the clearer when you go to France, a country that has the same attitude problem, only it’s even more pronounced. France, like Germany, was a country that had made great intellectual contributions to the arts and sciences a couple of centuries ago. French high school students these days are made to drool over this intellectual legacy to no end to instill the impression that any of this still matters.The truth is that since after the war, at the very latest, these countries have been intellectual wastelands, with a populace of sheep, their minds gone blank and therefore their language having become irrelevant. The French’s “Language Police” that watches over radio quotas and other silly things is along the same bullshit lines as Germany’s government-funded public art installations or whatever. Someone needs to pass them the cluestick that everyone with a brain has long since left for America and English is therefore the language to learn these days.

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  19. The English skills in the Scandinavian countries have less to do with attitude, but very much with Hollywood and the fact that all these Scandinavian languages are spoken by only 5-15 Mio people each. There simply is no market for dubbing movies and since most of them come in English nowadays, these people are constantly exposed to English. And this is exactly what I mean when I say that for most people it’s not possible to acquire good English skills from 3 school hrs a week and maintain them later on. You seem to be a remarkable exception.

    And, intellectual laziness left aside, I think each country should have an interest to preserve their own language because different languages are also a cultural richness and I wouldn’t want to live in a world where everybody just speaks crappy English.

    You are also a bit mistaken if you think that Germans don’t make contributions to the advancement of science anymore, the sad thing is just they don’t do it so much in Germany. But this is clearly not an attititude problem either but more a problem of fundamentally flawed policy in science and education. I know many Germans doing research at US universities who would actually prefer doing the same in Germany if they had the opportunity.

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  20. The English skills in the Scandinavian countries have less to do with attitude, but very much with Hollywood and the fact that all these Scandinavian languages are spoken by only 5-15 Mio people each. There simply is no market for dubbing movies and since most of them come in English nowadays, these people are constantly exposed to English. And this is exactly what I mean when I say that for most people it’s not possible to acquire good English skills from 3 school hrs a week and maintain them later on. You seem to be a remarkable exception.

    And, intellectual laziness left aside, I think each country should have an interest to preserve their own language because different languages are also a cultural richness and I wouldn’t want to live in a world where everybody just speaks crappy English.

    You are also a bit mistaken if you think that Germans don’t make contributions to the advancement of science anymore, the sad thing is just they don’t do it so much in Germany. But this is clearly not an attititude problem either but more a problem of fundamentally flawed policy in science and education. I know many Germans doing research at US universities who would actually prefer doing the same in Germany if they had the opportunity.

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  21. And, btw, there should be no democracy whatsoever where skills in a foreign language for everyone should be vital to keep democracy alive. On the contrary it’s vital for any democracy that even the uneducatest individual can take part in it.

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  22. And, btw, there should be no democracy whatsoever where skills in a foreign language for everyone should be vital to keep democracy alive. On the contrary it’s vital for any democracy that even the uneducatest individual can take part in it.

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  23. @Alex
    >in Sweden … there simply is no market for dubbing moviesAh bollocks, I don’t buy this argument about the cost of dubbing them being too high. I’ve seen fricking TV shows dubbed in quirky little languages like Greek, Portuguese, Czech and even Albanian. And mind you, a the airing of a single TV show is a much less lucrative enterprise than the release of a silver screen movie.It is not surprising of course that the cost-of-dubbing myth persists in Germany, as it is, in one category with Anti-Americanism, yet another convenient excuse for yet another shortcoming.Now onto this here:>it’s vital for any democracy that even the uneducatest individual can take part in itNo it isn’t, that’s almost a contradiction in terms, as it is vital that everyone is educated to a certain level, and this is precisely the reason why free schooling exists in the first place. Now what exactly this “certain level” is may change with the times and may, in these global days, include proficiency in English, whether you like it or not. I also think that there were some people back in the day in Germany who realized that that was either already the case back then or would be the case one day and hence put 8 free years of English lessons up for grabs for anyone interested.Those 8 years, I repeat again, are enough for any interested native speaker of one European language to be proficient enough in English to ‘follow the latest developments’ and maintain democracy. Germans should really be glad that they had the luck to be spoon fed one of the more difficult languages at baby time and later only have to cope with the comparatively easy English, the other way around is much harder. If delusions of grandeur get in the way of getting your head wrapped around something foreign though, no one can help you.

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  24. @Alex
    >in Sweden … there simply is no market for dubbing moviesAh bollocks, I don’t buy this argument about the cost of dubbing them being too high. I’ve seen fricking TV shows dubbed in quirky little languages like Greek, Portuguese, Czech and even Albanian. And mind you, a the airing of a single TV show is a much less lucrative enterprise than the release of a silver screen movie.It is not surprising of course that the cost-of-dubbing myth persists in Germany, as it is, in one category with Anti-Americanism, yet another convenient excuse for yet another shortcoming.Now onto this here:>it’s vital for any democracy that even the uneducatest individual can take part in itNo it isn’t, that’s almost a contradiction in terms, as it is vital that everyone is educated to a certain level, and this is precisely the reason why free schooling exists in the first place. Now what exactly this “certain level” is may change with the times and may, in these global days, include proficiency in English, whether you like it or not. I also think that there were some people back in the day in Germany who realized that that was either already the case back then or would be the case one day and hence put 8 free years of English lessons up for grabs for anyone interested.Those 8 years, I repeat again, are enough for any interested native speaker of one European language to be proficient enough in English to ‘follow the latest developments’ and maintain democracy. Germans should really be glad that they had the luck to be spoon fed one of the more difficult languages at baby time and later only have to cope with the comparatively easy English, the other way around is much harder. If delusions of grandeur get in the way of getting your head wrapped around something foreign though, no one can help you.

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  25. I would fain propose that a right and legitimate reason for publishing scientific work in English, and for convening conferences in this most expressive and beauteous tongue, is so that those who speak and read English as a SECOND language have access to scientific developments.

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  26. I would fain propose that a right and legitimate reason for publishing scientific work in English, and for convening conferences in this most expressive and beauteous tongue, is so that those who speak and read English as a SECOND language have access to scientific developments.

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  27. There is a legal minimum of 12 years of schooling

    The legal minimum is 9 or 10 years, depending on the state.

    the airing of a single TV show is a much less lucrative enterprise than the release of a silver screen movie

    If the movie is a success, yes. Most movies aren’t, though. A TV show is a much safer bet, economically, which is why they are more likely to be dubbed (in Poland and other Eastern European countries they’re not even dubbed, they will simply have a single narrator translating every line of dialogue). Dubbing a movie costs about 80.000 euros, and even pretty big Hollywood films like “300” start with less than 100 copies in the Netherlands. A single copy costs about 2000 Euros. Dubbing a film would add another 1000 Euros on top of that.

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  28. There is a legal minimum of 12 years of schooling

    The legal minimum is 9 or 10 years, depending on the state.

    the airing of a single TV show is a much less lucrative enterprise than the release of a silver screen movie

    If the movie is a success, yes. Most movies aren’t, though. A TV show is a much safer bet, economically, which is why they are more likely to be dubbed (in Poland and other Eastern European countries they’re not even dubbed, they will simply have a single narrator translating every line of dialogue). Dubbing a movie costs about 80.000 euros, and even pretty big Hollywood films like “300” start with less than 100 copies in the Netherlands. A single copy costs about 2000 Euros. Dubbing a film would add another 1000 Euros on top of that.

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  29. james rytting:
    Nobody is opposed to publishing and confering in English, there simply is no alternative. The only question is, would it do the scientific education of the public good if there would be more good science writing in German. And in this point I follow the author.
    martin:
    “delusions of grandeur”, very funny, you are almost the only human being I know that manages to trigger a patriotic reflex in silly old me :-)=)

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  30. james rytting:
    Nobody is opposed to publishing and confering in English, there simply is no alternative. The only question is, would it do the scientific education of the public good if there would be more good science writing in German. And in this point I follow the author.
    martin:
    “delusions of grandeur”, very funny, you are almost the only human being I know that manages to trigger a patriotic reflex in silly old me :-)=)

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  31. Martin::” Someone needs to pass them the cluestick that everyone with a brain has long since left for America and English is therefore the language to learn these days.”

    Posted by: martin | July 15, 2007 at 05:39 AM

    Which indeed begs the question, Why are YOU here then?

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  32. Martin::” Someone needs to pass them the cluestick that everyone with a brain has long since left for America and English is therefore the language to learn these days.”

    Posted by: martin | July 15, 2007 at 05:39 AM

    Which indeed begs the question, Why are YOU here then?

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  33. >Which indeed begs the question, Why are YOU here then?Here?, Where, “here”? On the Intenet? On planet Earth? There is no time and space on them thar internets.

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  34. >Which indeed begs the question, Why are YOU here then?Here?, Where, “here”? On the Intenet? On planet Earth? There is no time and space on them thar internets.

    Like

  35. Let’s come back to the topic. Stefan Klein has identified correctly an problem in (german) society but I think he has named the wrong culprit.

    He fears that german society will be left out of important scientific developments if scientists only use english all the time. BUT what would be gained if lectures and papers would be translated word by word to german? I’d say nothing at all.

    In that case you would get a paper in scientific German which the majority of “the people” still cannot understand because they simply lack the underlying knowledge to understand scientific terms. (Trust me on this one, I have worked and am still working apart from my reasearch work in the area of scientific public outreach.). Quick: Tell me what “Ionisierung, Bremsstrahlung and Potentialniveau” means. These are german words, still most people won’t understand them either just because they are in their own language.

    Scientists have to understand that in order to be understood by the general public – which after all sustains our work by paying taxes – they have to communicate in layman terms AND in German of course. The people who understand the “Fachsprache” will also understand the english paper because this is simply part of their education as well.

    So the message should rather be: Talk to the public and keep it simply without using scientific words and without boring the public to the death with details which are maybe highly fascinating to you as a scientist but which ordinary people simply don’t have any interest in.

    @Martin: I must confess, even after 8 years of English in elite Gymnasium, when I dropped out of school, I realized very soon that not only was I unable to conduct small-talk for lack of vocabulary, I also could not understand a single Hollywood-movie or TV-show nor could I read a single book without keeping a dictionary nearby. Scientific english was also much harder to master than “layman” English.

    AND I was raised bilingual, so in principle it should have been easier for me to learn English. Many colleagues tell the same story.

    So what does this mean? Are we all stupid? Or is the English education in our country simply too bad.

    Still, we all got by eventually with more or less success.

    Like

  36. Let’s come back to the topic. Stefan Klein has identified correctly an problem in (german) society but I think he has named the wrong culprit.

    He fears that german society will be left out of important scientific developments if scientists only use english all the time. BUT what would be gained if lectures and papers would be translated word by word to german? I’d say nothing at all.

    In that case you would get a paper in scientific German which the majority of “the people” still cannot understand because they simply lack the underlying knowledge to understand scientific terms. (Trust me on this one, I have worked and am still working apart from my reasearch work in the area of scientific public outreach.). Quick: Tell me what “Ionisierung, Bremsstrahlung and Potentialniveau” means. These are german words, still most people won’t understand them either just because they are in their own language.

    Scientists have to understand that in order to be understood by the general public – which after all sustains our work by paying taxes – they have to communicate in layman terms AND in German of course. The people who understand the “Fachsprache” will also understand the english paper because this is simply part of their education as well.

    So the message should rather be: Talk to the public and keep it simply without using scientific words and without boring the public to the death with details which are maybe highly fascinating to you as a scientist but which ordinary people simply don’t have any interest in.

    @Martin: I must confess, even after 8 years of English in elite Gymnasium, when I dropped out of school, I realized very soon that not only was I unable to conduct small-talk for lack of vocabulary, I also could not understand a single Hollywood-movie or TV-show nor could I read a single book without keeping a dictionary nearby. Scientific english was also much harder to master than “layman” English.

    AND I was raised bilingual, so in principle it should have been easier for me to learn English. Many colleagues tell the same story.

    So what does this mean? Are we all stupid? Or is the English education in our country simply too bad.

    Still, we all got by eventually with more or less success.

    Like

  37. Planetologist:
    So the message should rather be: Talk to the public and keep it simply without using scientific words and without boring the public to the death with details which are maybe highly fascinating to you as a scientist but which ordinary people simply don’t have any interest in.

    But isn’t that exactly what Klein advocates for when he wants incentives for the best scientists to write? We don’t have a strong tradition in Germany to make science accessible to the public, so in my book it would make sense to encourage popular science writing more.

    Like

  38. Planetologist:
    So the message should rather be: Talk to the public and keep it simply without using scientific words and without boring the public to the death with details which are maybe highly fascinating to you as a scientist but which ordinary people simply don’t have any interest in.

    But isn’t that exactly what Klein advocates for when he wants incentives for the best scientists to write? We don’t have a strong tradition in Germany to make science accessible to the public, so in my book it would make sense to encourage popular science writing more.

    Like

  39. I just finished teaching a course on scientific English. My impression is that the challenges are not just vocabulary, but that the style of writing is quite different in German than in English. German scientific (and other) writing seems to have longer sentences and paragraphs than English writing, and of course it also features the famous verb at the end of the sentence. Maybe writing in German trains a person’s short-term memory more than English does?

    The vocabulary issue is interesing though. France is making efforts to create new vocabulary to replace the use of English for new technologgy, for example. But does a country then need a Ministry for the Creation of New Vocabulary? My field (experimental psychology) has many German vocabulary words because the field was founded in Germany and later Germans had a big impact on my field, too (Gestalt perception). Now English is the primary language–but will it last?

    Like

  40. I just finished teaching a course on scientific English. My impression is that the challenges are not just vocabulary, but that the style of writing is quite different in German than in English. German scientific (and other) writing seems to have longer sentences and paragraphs than English writing, and of course it also features the famous verb at the end of the sentence. Maybe writing in German trains a person’s short-term memory more than English does?

    The vocabulary issue is interesing though. France is making efforts to create new vocabulary to replace the use of English for new technologgy, for example. But does a country then need a Ministry for the Creation of New Vocabulary? My field (experimental psychology) has many German vocabulary words because the field was founded in Germany and later Germans had a big impact on my field, too (Gestalt perception). Now English is the primary language–but will it last?

    Like

  41. @Alex: “We don’t have a strong tradition in Germany to make science accessible to the public, so in my book it would make sense to encourage popular science writing more.”

    Of course, I completly agree with you.

    But Klein also says that in order to do we have to use German as academic language. I do not follow this argumentation. I think he mixes here two different problems.

    Students should be teached in German. Because it is already hard enough to understand the science, but if at the same time they have to learn a foreign language, the learning get’s even harder.

    Later at the end of the study one should also try to read the latest papers which are in English. I also advocate the introduction of language courses and workshops for advanced students. They do not have to learn to write like Hemingway. But at least, they should be taught basic principles. Currently, students are approaching english writing with a trial and error approach.

    The other problem about the science outreach has nothing to do with english as science language but with the discrepencies between layman and scientific language.

    Yeah, one should encourage scientists to talk to the public but one of the main problems: When should we do this? Between teaching, doing research, playing accountant for the research group and some leisure time with your family, there is precious little time to write a science book or to give public lectures.

    Besides: Willingness is good, but the ability to explain science comprehensivly and entertainingly is even better. Not everybody is the born speaker. One can train in public outreach, though. But there are very few courses.
    During the last two years at my university there was only one two-day workshop for presenting science to the public. The PR-manager had room only for 12 people. 12!

    For a large university with several hundred scientist and several thousand students that’s simply not good enough. But there is simply no money for these activities because this issue is not deemed important enough.

    If you want to do public outreach: Fine do so! But do it in your spare time and it should not cost the university anything.

    Like

  42. @Alex: “We don’t have a strong tradition in Germany to make science accessible to the public, so in my book it would make sense to encourage popular science writing more.”

    Of course, I completly agree with you.

    But Klein also says that in order to do we have to use German as academic language. I do not follow this argumentation. I think he mixes here two different problems.

    Students should be teached in German. Because it is already hard enough to understand the science, but if at the same time they have to learn a foreign language, the learning get’s even harder.

    Later at the end of the study one should also try to read the latest papers which are in English. I also advocate the introduction of language courses and workshops for advanced students. They do not have to learn to write like Hemingway. But at least, they should be taught basic principles. Currently, students are approaching english writing with a trial and error approach.

    The other problem about the science outreach has nothing to do with english as science language but with the discrepencies between layman and scientific language.

    Yeah, one should encourage scientists to talk to the public but one of the main problems: When should we do this? Between teaching, doing research, playing accountant for the research group and some leisure time with your family, there is precious little time to write a science book or to give public lectures.

    Besides: Willingness is good, but the ability to explain science comprehensivly and entertainingly is even better. Not everybody is the born speaker. One can train in public outreach, though. But there are very few courses.
    During the last two years at my university there was only one two-day workshop for presenting science to the public. The PR-manager had room only for 12 people. 12!

    For a large university with several hundred scientist and several thousand students that’s simply not good enough. But there is simply no money for these activities because this issue is not deemed important enough.

    If you want to do public outreach: Fine do so! But do it in your spare time and it should not cost the university anything.

    Like

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