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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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November 8, 2007

Dumber in English?

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Posted by Derek

I just came across this article, provacatively titled "Dumber in English". What the author, Stefan Klein, really means is "Dumber In Your Second Language", and he's almost certainly right about that.

I know that when I was doing my post-doc in Germany, I was significantly less nimble in German. I didn't have much practice in the language, and that meant a lot of mental overhead while using it. I never became truly comfortable with it, although I did get better. The throbbing headaches stopped after a few weeks, for example, which was certainly a visible and welcome sign of improvement. After a I started to dream in the language (and once in a great while I still do, with progressively less impressive fluency). I knew that I was really learning the stuff when I dropped a piece of apfelkuchen into a mud puddle, and reflexively swore in German. (Not to fear, the cake was in a paper bag, and was recoverable with quick action).

Scientifically, I was working under a handicap, and I knew it. My secret weapon, though, was the way the chemical literature was (and is) largely written in English. But this is a particularly painful thing for Germans, since their language was once on top of the heap in chemistry, physics, and several other sciences as well. Reading Klein's description of a recent conference in his native country, you can feel it:

". . .All the speakers – six Germans, plus three from the United States and one from Great Britain – were outstanding. And they all spoke either English or, in the case of a German speaker, now and then something similar. Unusual word-choices and serpentine sentences can make a speech seem more brilliant than it actually is.

But who in the audience spoke English? No one. And even the four foreign guest speakers could easily have understood a lecture in German, because simultaneous translation was available over headsets that were readily on hand. As someone from the sponsoring foundation told me, of course it would be better if the local guests would simply speak German. This would increase the public resonance. But the professors had another idea. Their argument: People only take a conference seriously when English is the official language. . ."

He brings up the historical practice of scholarly Latin, and how this dissolved in the 16th and 17th centuries as thinkers began to write in the vernacular. (This, though, actually hindered the flow of information, as far as I can see - a lingua franca isn't such a bad thing). He also worries that science will come to be even more separated from the general run of the population in non-English speaking countries, but I'm not so sure. Most native English speakers don't have much of a connection with the subject, despite every linguistic advantage. There's also the problem of whether some languages will cease to develop their scientific vocabularies, preferring the English terms out of convenience. As far as I can tell, this is already happening - mind you, English borrows terms from the other languages as well, although not to the same extent.

Klein also brings out some examples of concepts that he feels come across better in their original German than in translation. but here I'm not so convinced. Einstein's complaint about "spukhafte Fernwirkung", to pick one, is generally rendered into English as "spooky action at a distance", which seems to me to get the concept across very well, as opposed to Klein's clunky "long distance ghostly effect". There are definitely things that don't translate well from German to English (and across any other language pair you can name), but this isn't one of them.

I don't see anything stopping the rise and dominance of English in the sciences (and to be sure, neither does Klein). I realize that I write from the perspective of a native English speaker, and having had to live in another tongue, I can sympathize with those who have to come to grips with the language. (Especially our ridiculous spelling, although I'll vote for that over German grammar any day of the week). To my mind, the advantages of being able to speak the same language, however roughly, outweigh the problems of a scientific tower of Babel.

Comments (32) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: General Scientific News


COMMENTS

1. eugene on November 8, 2007 11:08 PM writes...

Hmm... I'd say that Klein's translation of that German phrase by Einstein is much closer than the generally rendered version. Actually, Klein's translation and the original both sound pretty good and get the exact same idea across to me.

If you want to nitpick though, the "spooky action at a distance" is just garbage as it doesn't convey the tone at all.

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2. Anonymous BMS Researcher on November 8, 2007 11:15 PM writes...


Some years ago I attended a scientific meeting in Germany, at which (of course) all sessions were in English. Most informal chats were also in English because their English was usually a good deal better than my German (my German being only a little better than my terrible Spanish)! Derek can certainly speak far better German than I ever could, no matter how much he's forgotten in recent years.

The real highlight of the meeting was the day after the scientific sessions ended -- the site was near the region of totality for a total eclipse of the sun, so most of us stayed an extra day and took chartered buses to a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The weather was borderline, which added considerable dramatic tension as the critical time approached: when the clouds again blocked the sun, there were shouts of dismay in fifteen different languages, when the sun emerged through a hole in the clouds there were shouts of joy in as many tongues. Just before totality a hole opened up and stayed open until a few minutes after totality ended, so we did get to see that.

Also we had a projection TV showing live footage from the MIR spacecraft -- we could watch the black circle of the moon's shadow racing across Europe towards us until it was upon us.

Unforgettable. We also took a pleasant boat trip up the river to a town with some lovely old castles.

The scientific content of the meeting was also quite good, actually, but for most of us it was, ahem, eclipsed by what happened the day after the meeting.

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3. Anonymous BMS Researcher on November 8, 2007 11:18 PM writes...


Needless to say, after the eclipse our buses took many hours crawling back to our hotel through heavy traffic since half of Germany had come to watch the eclipse. It was entirely worth the trip, though!

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4. Paula Schramm on November 9, 2007 2:43 AM writes...

(I would translate the statement as "spook like action at a distance" because like is what the second syllable after spuk means.)

Sometimes a lingua franca is helpful, but generally the more people speak in their native tounges the more people will actually be able to say what they mean. See, speaking a foreign language acts like a distortion filter on the meaning. Hearing content in a foreign language also acts like a distortion filter. So if you and I, or rather you and one of my colleagues, met and they talked german and you english, the chances of understanding would be the best. Someone actually did research on this, but I lost the reference, which anoys me to no end, since I have this discussion very often.

Another aspect that should be mentioned, is that each language can convey different meaning with their words, because culture makes a huge difference on conotation. So by only speaking in the current lingua franca, we are robbing ourselves of creating and conveying certain pieces of knowledge, certain contexts. Compare this to a class of children drawing a picture. You tell them to draw a yellow square of 4x4 cm. Each child gets out her crayons, but since they are all of different make, the yellow is slightly differnt. So even if they draw the same shape their squares will look slightly different.

I think that scientific english ought to be taught at all universities around the globe, but not at the cost of developing and maintaining a native scientific language.

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5. GATC on November 9, 2007 8:10 AM writes...

Gee Derek, it must be a very slow day in Bean Town. If only this level of analysis were to be applied to our National language in the context of illegal aliens.

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6. SteveSC on November 9, 2007 8:40 AM writes...

Just to be a bit provocative prior to the weekend, let me propose this:

Multiculturalism is fine in many areas of social interaction (especially music and food, yum, yum...), but has NO place in science. Science is about exact definitions, rigorous procedures, and reproducible results. All of these are threatened when each person's version of 'yellow' is determined by the culture in which he/she grew up.

If a scientific finding is published or presented in Old Avestan, its impact will be very limited, no matter how brilliant the author and how exquisitely he or she phrased it in that language. Conversely, if someone uses scientific English (which is, after all, based on Greek, Latin, and German words anyway) as much as possible, a bit of tortured grammar may filter, but not block the dissemination of the idea.

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7. JSinger on November 9, 2007 9:47 AM writes...

I speak less German than any of you, but doesn't "spooky" have a negative connotation that "spuk" and "ghost" lack?

At any rate, is there some significance to the apparently randomly bolded words in Klein's piece?

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8. Derek Lowe on November 9, 2007 10:02 AM writes...

JS, I'd wondered the same thing. I can't figure out the reason for the bolded phrases, either, and I'm starting to consider it an example of the translation problems that the author's talking about.

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9. TW Andrews on November 9, 2007 11:43 AM writes...

As far as words or phrases in another language that aren't easily rendered in English, my favorite has to be "verschlimmbessern." It means something like "to worsen by trying to improve," but in a single word. More here.

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10. eugene on November 9, 2007 11:54 AM writes...

Another interesting German pharase that is hard to translate, I found in a picture book. It had a picture of a dog and the word Der Hund, then it had a picture of a pig and the word, Das Schwein. Then on the next page there was a picture of a drunk farmer and the word Der Schweinhund.

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11. SynChem on November 9, 2007 3:19 PM writes...

As a non-native English speaker, I'm a bit baffled by the current trend in the US to learn a 2nd language. People who're proponents of that have no appreciation of how fortunate Americans are NOT having to learn a 2nd language. I do NOT want my children, who're American citizen, spend a huge chunk of their timing mastering a 2nd language, like I did. Why would the US want to throw away this advantage by putting so much emphasis on learning 2nd languages? It's shere stupidity and political correctness. Their usual arguments are purely political whether thry ralize or not, because EVERY student outside the US is spending 1/3 of their academic life learning English. There's simply no need for another language to come into play.

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12. SynChem on November 9, 2007 3:23 PM writes...

Besides, if this character in Derek's post has his way, now I have to learn German too? Give me a break, literally.

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13. BLT on November 9, 2007 4:33 PM writes...

This reminds me of one of my favorite observations:

If you know 3 languages, you are Tri-lingual
If you know 2 languages, you are Bi-lingual

If you know one language, you are American...

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14. MTK on November 9, 2007 4:58 PM writes...

One of the real strengths of English is actually it's ability to absorb and use elements of other languages. Of course, that also means it's perhaps as not as easy to learn as other languages. For example, some words use the ol' -er and -est, ala German, for the comparative and superlative forms, but others do not.

Regardless, thanks to the military hegemony of the Royal Navy in the 19th century and the economic hegemony of the US in the 20th, English has become the de facto universal language. Not a bad thing in my mind, since more people than ever before can communicate with each other.

Still, I love some of the German terms in chemistry. Umpolung, entgegan, zusammen. Those are great. It's actually sort of amazing we don't have more French terms in organic chemistry given the work of Pasteur, Le Bel, Grignard, and others.

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15. SynChem on November 9, 2007 6:23 PM writes...

English IS the unofficial official language of the world. It's relatively easy to learn and universally spoken. To those who don't like it for political reasons, deal with it.

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16. Jonadab the Unsightly One on November 10, 2007 9:09 AM writes...

I don't think it's reasonable to compare modern English to scholarly Latin and conclude that it will fade from existence in similar fashion as people start publishing in the vulgar tongue. Latin was already effectively a dead language in the era you're talking about. Scholars were pretty much the *only* people who knew it, and there weren't that many scholars. Publishing in Latin made sense if you wanted to reach an international audience of scholars, but it made zero sense otherwise. By writing in English, Chaucer (for instance) could reach, at the time, a *MUCH* larger audience than if he'd written in Latin. As far as being taken seriously, well, *who* do you want to take you seriously? The audience you're trying to reach, I would think, and they have to notice that you exist first.

Chaucer was relatively early, in terms of dropping Latin and writing in the vulgar tongue goes, and it worked for him mostly because his audience only needed to be educated enough to read (or even have someone read to them). Latin didn't fall away entirely until enough of the population was educated enough that somewhat more intellectual things could be written in the vulgar tongue and still find an audience, two or three centuries after Chaucer. But even then, the reason Latin fell out of use was because almost nobody knew it.

English at this point is altogether another matter. There are *WAY* more native speakers of English than of, for instance, German. There are going to continue to be more chem journals published in English than in German for the forseable future, full stop. It's inherently a larger audience.

Whether local conferences should use an international lingua franca or a local language is another question, though. The considerations there are a bit different from publishing a journal. It would make sense, to my way of thinking, for a conference in Germany to be held primarily in German, assuming it's not specifically trying to attract a predominantly international audience.

> Why would the US want to throw away this advantage by putting so
> much emphasis on learning 2nd languages?

For one thing, your understanding of your native language improves significantly when you have another language to compare it to. I know I understand English a *lot* better having taken some Koine Greek.

This probably only works if the second language is one that's fairly different from English. Three years of high school Spanish did *nothing* for my understanding of languages in general or English in particular. Two semesters of Koine Greek in college did *wonders*. (Granted, even one semester of cross-listed seminary-level Greek got *way* deeper into the language than three years of high school Spanish. Nonetheless, I don't think Spanish, being basically an SVO language and heavily influenced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by English, is sufficiently different from English to really do the trick; Koine Greek, being a totally inflected language where the order of noun phrases in a sentence has *nothing* to do with whether they are the subject or direct object or whatever, is VERY useful to have studied. German is probably somewhere in between. Also, English gets very little vocabulary from Spanish, compared to Greek; again, German is probably somewhere in between, especially if you discount 200 or so extremely common words (do, be, go, from, of, for, but, that, who, ...) that, although they come from Germanic languages, do not closely resemble modern German.)

Learning a second language does not in any way "throw away" the advantage of being a native speaker of a widely-used language. It enhances it.

What's really cool is being natively bilingual, i.e., growing up speaking two languages from the crib. This generally only happens when both parents are (at least) bilingual, with different native languages. I know an American couple who lived in Buenos Aires for a few decades, and their daughter married a local man. (They later immigrated to the US.) The grandkids are fully comfortable in both English and Spanish. When they speak to eachother they switch back and forth all the time, sometimes even in mid-sentence.

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17. Lou on November 10, 2007 6:50 PM writes...

I'd consider myself bilingual. I had all my education in the second language (English). My parents who don't speak any English at home, made sure I could speak my mother tongue (Japanese) by making me do a mail order education course for the whole of their primary school age.

Also... indulging in comic books in my mother tongue also helped. As well as having loads of books and children's encyclopedias at home. I think that helped a lot.

If there is any advantages I can think of, for speaking a second language - you have more of an appreciation for other people who can't speak your mother tongue, which makes you more accepting of them, and you become patient. Also, you can read books without going through translations.

With regards to comments about exactness in the language of science, it doesn't matter what language you speak, the exactness of science is still the same. I had that experience with a Chinese researcher. As long as you know that both of you are on the same wavelength and topic, it isn't that hard to convey a scientific idea.

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18. eugene on November 10, 2007 10:39 PM writes...

"their usual arguments are purely political whether thry ralize or not, because EVERY student outside the US is spending 1/3 of their academic life learning English. There's simply no need for another language to come into play."

Actually, the more languages you speak, the less of a chance that you will get Alzheimers. So you are dooming your children to a debilitating disease; I hope you're proud of yourself. (irony/sarcasm alert, but that's a big reason for me to learn a foreign language).

The other arguments, that it makes you more appreciative of other people and cultures and makes you a better listener and a better person to be around, don't really do it for me.

However, it's not true to say that people who are learning another language are wasting their time (something like as much as 1/3 of it!). Since students these days waste 3/4 of their day (and of the subset of time they should spend learning) on vacuous nonsense and trying to avoid work and studying (including your kids), cutting that down easily frees up a couple of hours. If you have 5 hours a day for two or three months (i.e. the summer), it's relatively easy to learn the basics of a third language and build a very solid foundation on which you can work in the future. Seriously, if you cut down by 10% the amount of time wasted on TV and internet, you can easily work in a foreign language course. It's probably better for our little dears to be doing repetitive memorizing than having them destroy their little minds by watching soul-crushing reality TV and mind-numbing Fox news reports about the latest success in Iraq.

I've known a professor who would make flash cards of verbs or nouns and take them to the supermarket and test himself while waiting in line. He knows how to speak 10 languages to different degrees of competency. Much better than letting your eyes glaze over and waiting for 15 minutes in a deathly stupor in my opinion.

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19. in chimia veritas? on November 11, 2007 12:14 PM writes...

I know that German grammar is really tricky for non-native speakers. But learning English grammar at school wasn't that easy either, since there are so many exceptions (I had the feeling more exceptions than rules). The only really exciting language I saw so far is Latin. Its grammar is of almost mathematiucal logic and a real pleasure to learn, being too lazy to care about all the annoying exceptions coming up in other languages. Modern languages are somewhat blablah which seems to be more convenient for every day (and scientific) use. Blahblah can be learnt in kindergarten, Latin cannot. When you read a real Latin text written by lets say Julius Cesar (who uses rather simple Latin language) your brain has to be switched ON, but when reading a text about the war in Gallia in a modern language, it can stay switched OFF.
I still prefer writing my chemistry papers in English, since my output in Latin would possibly be at a kindergarten level, but reading a chemistry paper in Latin would be a lot of fun, think about the experimental part...

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20. Headache on November 11, 2007 12:35 PM writes...

My English grammar also improved after studying a classical language (Latin). I'm not sure if it's the structure of the language itself so much as the way classical languages are taught - you spend a tremendous amount of time on the admittedly complicated grammar. You really learn the difference between a direct and indirect object for example. In a dead language there's little emphasis on the spoken language, so you drill grammar.

My courses in modern foreign languages didn't help much with grammar either. Spanish still preserves much of the Latin verb system, but there was little emphasis on grammar in my Spanish classes - instead it was dialogs and conversational vocabulary. There was a bit more grammar in my German classes, where my Latin background helped.

I never had much grammar in my English courses, which is somewhat silly. English grammar is after all different than Latin, yet it's only in Latin courses that I learned something about grammar.

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21. SynChem on November 12, 2007 10:28 AM writes...

Eugene,

I wonder what evidence you have regarding the diminished Alzheimers risk for bilinguals. But that'd be nice if it's true :)

My children ARE indeed bilingual. It's not that I don't think being bilingual is extremely beneficial in many ways--I still marvel at times that I have access to two vastly different worlds being bilingual. It's just that I wanted to point out for those in the US who're not aware, how much of a burden learning English is for students in foreign lands. Since I'm Chinese I can only speak for that country. But I'd imagine things are probably very similar in other Asian countries whose languages are very different from English and hence English is more difficult to master. Chinese students start learning English in Elementry school and continue into grad school. Well over 1/3 of their time is spent on English, and much of their fortune is dependent on their English test scores. I've seen tons of extremely talented people crippled in their academic and career pursuit because of their struggle with english. English is the world language. People in other countries have no choice but to learn it in order to be part of the action. Obviously this is quite different from 2 semesters of Greek in college, which I'm all for.

It's against this backdrop that I ask the question: "Do we want this for our children in the US?" Because this'd be what American children will have to endure if English ever loses its universality. Trust me, this comes from someone who knows what it's like, you don't.

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22. mxmossman on November 12, 2007 12:51 PM writes...

It's funny in the way you use the phrase "lingua franca." It's Latin (or Italian) for "the French tongue."

So, while people formerly used Latin to communicate ideas, in the 17th century they changed to the international language of French.

Today the "lingua franca" is English.

Wikipedia has this to say: "A synonym for lingua franca is “vehicular language.” Whereas a vernacular language is used as a native language in a single speaker community, a vehicular language goes beyond the boundaries of its original community, and is used as a second language for communication between communities. For example, English is a vernacular in England, but is used as a vehicular language (that is, a lingua franca), say, in India."

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23. eugene on November 12, 2007 5:59 PM writes...

"It's against this backdrop that I ask the question: "Do we want this for our children in the US?" Because this'd be what American children will have to endure if English ever loses its universality. Trust me, this comes from someone who knows what it's like, you don't."

If you spend 1/3 of your time to learn sub-par English, than the state of education is to blame, not the differences between languages. With China and the relative lack of experience teaching European languages until the 20th century, I can believe it. The recent Chinese grad students have progressively been speaking better English by the year. One of this year's students does not have an accent despite never being outside of China until just a few months ago. I wonder why Koreans don't have as many problems with the language? Regardless, there will always be people who can't learn another language well. You need to start as early as possible with any language (not necessarily English) to get used to learning languages. I learned my second language at 3, and it has really helped a lot to this day since other languages have been easier to pick up.

I think I know what it's like and it's not that bad (don't assume I don't). German took me a few months to learn to function in and I've only been getting better since. In terms of blanket statements, American kids losing advantage is just silly. If that were true, and if that were such a horrible price to pay, than Japan and Germany would be doing much, much worse than they are now since they are paying a terrible educational price in forcing their offspring to learn English when they could be focusing on science or engineering. For some individuals though, it is a very bad thing. But everyone spending 1/3 of their time learning a language is evidence of a bad educational structure.

If Chinese becomes the world language, our educational system has to be better positioned to teach that language to kids (starting from pre-school) than it is right now. It is a much harder language to learn compared to other Asian languages.

The Alzheimers thing I read in a newspaper when I was in high school (and why I started learning German). To me, the benifits of speaking other languages outweight, the horrible, terrible price I have had to pay and I do not hesitate to apply this view to all of America.

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24. SynChem on November 13, 2007 10:38 AM writes...

Eugene,

I was fortunate in that learning English was never hard for me. But bear in mind that not everyone is as gifted in languages as you or I. I enjoyed learning English immensely, I'm sure you did too with your 2nd language. But be careful what you wish for for everyone else. One man's delight can be another's immense burden. Besides, there's quite a bit of difference in committment and perseverance called for between casual speaking of a foreign language and having to write one's thesis and giving eloquent academic and interview seminars. Wait untill you've done all that, then I'll believe you know what it's like :)

Also we have this huge distinction between eastern and western languages. For example, it's easy for an English speaker to learn Spanish or German and vice versa; but not so when it comes to Chinese or Japanese (or Indian). The reverse is true as well--we've all met Japanese postdocs who can't speak English. So your pleasant experience with German or Spanish might not be reproducible if you ever take on Japanese or Chinese.

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25. Timothy on November 13, 2007 11:04 AM writes...

My roommate during my senior year of college was a chemistry major (she's now a Master of SCIENCE doing some polymer work) and when she was taking O-chem she spent a lot of time in the science library with multi-volume references which were listed in the catalogue as such: "Volumes 1-25, all but Vol 5 in German." She was quite thankful she'd spent a year in Germany after high school.

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26. eugene on November 13, 2007 3:31 PM writes...

SynChem,

English is my third language. The first two were very different from English in terms of grammar, etc... But I'm not going to say what they are for fear of giving up some anonymity. True, English was easy to learn since I went to high school here, but German wasn't too bad.

Japanese is not that hard either. It's a joke compared to Chinese. Of course I forgot a lot of it, but the grammar is nothing compared to my first two languages and pronunciation is a piece of cake. It's only the Kanji that's a big stumbling block for many. The reason why many Japanese can't speak English is because they live on an isolated island and never had a reason to learn other languages. If you don't program that ability from a young age and your culture just doesn't care about it, it's very hopeless.

It's worth it to have a culture that cares about speaking another language because as others have said, it makes it more intelligent and open to the rest of the world. However, that's not why I learn languages.

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27. SynChem on November 13, 2007 5:51 PM writes...

Eugene,

We actually don't disagree that much at all. I'm all for Americans, or anybody for that matter, learning more languages. After all I myself am a beneficiary of bilingualism. So long English retains its unversality.

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28. Richard Bliss, CFA on November 14, 2007 3:45 PM writes...

The most recent related development is the amount of original medical research that is now being published in Chinese journals and only in Chinese. Do a search in Pubmed to see what I mean. Before too long prospective biochem majors will have to learn both organic chemistry and Chinese as undergraduates. Serves them right.

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29. dearieme on November 16, 2007 4:27 PM writes...

It's ironic, but "spook" isn't English, in the sense of British English. It's American: its origin, I suppose, being in New Amsterdam.

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30. Ben Hemmens on November 19, 2007 3:48 AM writes...

"Science is about exact definitions, rigorous procedures, and reproducible results. All of these are threatened when each person's version of 'yellow' is determined by the culture in which he/she grew up."

well just go back and look at what Popper used to say about some of his contemporary philosophers who made a big thing out of exactness in language (and all the dead ends they got into). the point about scientific language is actually as much about NOT being too exact. science needs people to be willing to agree that they are talking about the same things. as soon as someone starts getting overly picky about the words (or huffy about THEIR terminology being the only correct one), the discussion breaks down, peer review becomes impossible, things become unfalsifiable. so in a way, science depends essentially on the willingness to translate: translation begins with "my language" and "your language", and that's often as big a chasm to bridge as "english" and "german".

more "exact" - more poetic - language often features in the beginnings of scientific ideas. look at how every lab develops its own slang - its practically like baby language. but the idiom changes (hopefully) by the time these are getting written up to expose them to testing by the outside world. compare the way researchers talk on their coffee break with what they write in their papers. well of course, sometimes it goes the other way: being human, corrupt etc. god knows enough obscure crap gets published, where you can never be sure if you've failed to reproduce it because you end up not knowing what the hell they did or what they mean about it. but that's not SCIENCE.

derek, i don't know how well funded your conference was, but i can tell you, people that can simultaneously translate science in any useful way are as common as hen's teeth and more expensive. simultaneous interpreters are usually provided for prestige reasons, and if they've done a couple weeks "technical english" in the course of their translation degree, thats about the best you can hope for. more likely their subject areas will be business or history of art. you need someone who can do both languages really, really well and also understands the science like a SCIENTIST - and guess what, there's only one real way to do that, and thats by BEING a goddam scientist. and then there's the simultaneous listening and talking thing, which is an art form all to itself. nobody gets that stuff all together before pensionable age, or if they do, they are working for the IAEA or the EU for very good bucks - not scraping around from one little conference to the next.

however, if the group is not too big, you could chop up the full-frontal talk format into something more like a discussion and use a consecutive interpreter. that may seem less tidy on the surface, but as a way of actually helping people to get a proper grip on ideas, it's pretty cool. and when you make people interact like this during the day, the conference dinner is gonna go like a bomb.

another issue with german speakers - even if they do make more effort to learn english than english speakers do to learn german - is the extent to which english is simply assumed in their job descriptions. nobody can actually admit to needing some help - even if they're doing a job where just being an expert in the field is enough for any intelligent person.

"spooky long-distance action" is genius. although "remote" could substitute for long-distance.


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31. Archie Daubney on August 18, 2012 9:44 AM writes...

I do agree with all of the ideas you have presented in your post. They are really convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are too short for starters. Could you please extend them a little from next time? Thanks for the post.

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32. Nena Lickness on August 29, 2012 5:08 AM writes...

Thanks for the sensible critique. Me and my neighbor were just preparing to do some research on this. We got a grab a book from our area library but I think I learned more from this post. I am very glad to see such excellent information being shared freely out there.

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