Webinar Report: The Languages of Science – multilingual science communication awareness

Watch back as our speakers introduce the importance of multilingual science communication and discuss solutions to embracing all languages within our global research community.
Inside eLife
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On May 5, eLife hosted an hour-long event as part of the eLife Community Ambassadors programme to discuss the topic of improving and embracing multilingual science communication and non-English language science awareness. This event aimed to discuss the use of language in global research and the colonial past of science communication. eLife Community Ambassadors and Open Science Champions were invited to discuss the problems facing non-English language science communication and to think about the inclusion of their identity, and their role in inclusion and equity across research culture.

Through a poll during the virtual event, we discovered that 100% of the participants attending spoke a language other than English, with English being either their second or third-plus language. Pairing this with the importance of science communication to the public in their native language, why is science so rarely communicated in languages other than English?

Our speakers all have first-hand experience of these language barriers, and after a casual conversation with early-career scientists about the struggle of communicating their work in their own language, Jessica M. Vélez, PhD, the Membership, Engagement, and Early Career Programs Manager for the Genetics Society of America Engagement Department, was inspired to create the Multilingual Seminar Series. Vélez describes how this series offers an opportunity for multilingual and non-English speaking scientists and science enthusiasts to talk about science in languages other than English, while also providing a space to discuss strategies for expanding science communication efforts to include non-English speakers. Jessica invites all interested in participating or hosting a panel discussion and/or workshop in your native language to enter your information here.

Our other speakers, Abdullah Abood, a PhD candidate, bioinformatician and data scientist at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, and Marah Wahbeh, a PhD Candidate in Human Genetics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, organised the first Multilingual Seminar for Arabic-speaking scientists.

During the Ambassadors event, Abdullah Abood explained how to organise, host and moderate a multilingual seminar, describing the barriers that can arise but ultimately why it is crucial for global research to focus on. “There is a need for spaces where non-English speaking and multilingual scientists can talk about science and science communication in an inclusive way.”

Marah Wahbeh gave a brief history of the colonial past of science communication, discussing the disadvantages and advantages of communication through a single language, and what we can do to highlight and embrace multilingual science communication. These include citing, promoting and reading translated scientific articles published in other languages, encouraging institutions and journals to support international collaborations, advocating for writing and editing support for non-native English speakers, and creating spaces for scientific discussion in languages other than English.

Thank you to our Ambassadors Christos Gkogkas, Kanika Khanna, Lamis Yahia and Lei Zhang, who translated our introduction and Code of Conduct live during the event.

The webinar was followed by a Q&A and discussion, moderated by eLife Community Manager Ailís O’Carroll, where participants discussed their experiences and ideas on how to begin embracing and including science communication in their own and other languages.

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Interested in our full selection of webinars on topics such as preprints, finding funding and more? Take a look at the collection of past reports and recordings.