Academics Cope With Pressure to Translate, Publish in English

In Editorial & Opinion by Guest Contributor

library shelves and books

Academics face growing pressure to publish in English and but there are complicated challenges in trying to translate work and find a suitable outlet.

Editorial by Mary Jane Curry and Theresa Lillis

Mary Jane Curry

Mary Jane Curry

English has become the valued language of publishing in many academic disciplines, resulting in growing pressure on scholars around the world to publish in English — especially in the high status journals included in Thomson Reuters indexes such as the Social Science Citation Index. English-medium publications are increasingly part of official evaluation criteria in a range of institutional contexts, for example, of individual scholars, their departments and institutions, and research grant awards. This situation often creates significant challenges for scholars working outside of English-dominant contexts in terms of sustaining knowledge production in local and other transnational languages (for example Spanish) and in securing publishing in prestigious (English-medium) publishing venues.

Research we have been conducting with 50 psychology and education scholars in southern and central Europe since 2001 shows that multilingual scholars in these contexts often have uneven access to the resources they need for high status English-medium publishing. Such resources include funds for conference travel and research collaboration, access to adequately resourced libraries including online journals, as well as the additional time and support required time for writing for publication in English. This situation is highly problematic not only for multilingual scholars’ whose working conditions may hinder their efforts at English publishing, but also for the global research community as substantial research findings, insights, methodologies and theoretical advances are being lost resulting in what Polish scholar Anna Duszak calls an “academic monoculture.”

Resources for Publishing in English

Contrary to common belief, direct translation of academic writing is not the solution for many multilingual scholars seeking to publish in English because knowledge of the academic disciplines is crucial and may not be part of a translator’s expertise. And furthermore it’s important to note that what we might think of issues of language or ‘technical’ competence in English may be the least of the challenges faced by multilingual scholars. Rather, our research shows that a key to scholars’ success in publishing is their interactions with literacy brokers — gatekeepers such as journal editors and peer reviewers, and disciplinary and language specialists who may be involved at various points in the trajectory of writing and publishing articles. A particularly important type of literacy brokers for scholars’ publishing are disciplinary specialists who are familiar with the core knowledge areas of a paper being prepared for publication, such as the validity of central research questions, current discussions and debates in a field, and preferred research methodologies of a discipline. Although language brokers such as translators, editors, and English teachers may be easier for scholars to find- particularly if these are willing volunteers rather then requirement payment in our research the involvement of language brokers was not necessarily linked to publishing success.

Scholars may get access to literacy brokers by participating in local, regional and transnational academic research networks, both formal and informal in nature. Research networks can connect multilingual scholars to intellectual resources such as knowledge about current research being done in their discipline and opportunities for publishing in particular journals, as well as to material resources such as transnational research projects and to library resources such as journal articles not available in scholars’ contexts. Thus having the financial resources to collaborate on research projects and to go to conferences can affect scholars’ ability to create or participate in useful research networks.

Effects of the Push for English-language Publications

While using English-medium publications as a marker of quality may offer institutional evaluators and policymakers the sense of creating objective evaluation criteria, such policies may not take into account the challenges facing multilingual scholars. Indeed, the shifts in evaluation policies in many contexts have not been matched by the resources needed to support scholars in attaining these goals. Beyond the experiences of individual scholars, the global push for scholars to attain high-status English-medium journal publications has other potential consequences: research may not continue to be conducted or disseminated in local languages, negatively affecting local research cultures and constraining the development of academic terminology in languages other than English.

Negotiating Demands

Multilingual scholars working in many contexts where English is not the daily medium of communication are, naturally, keenly aware of the tensions and dilemmas created by the global push for English-medium publishing and they are responding in varied ways — sometimes aiming to meet these increasing demands and sometimes working to meet their own goals that may not align with these pressures. Building on our research findings (Lillis & Curry, 2010), we have created a guide for multilingual scholars to help them reflect on their situations, consider choices they might make, and select strategies for achieving their publishing goals, whether or not these align with the goals of their institutions and local/national contexts (Curry & Lillis, 2013).

Mary Jane Curry is associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Curriculum at the Warner Graduate School of Education, University of Rochester, U.S. Theresa Lillis is professor in English language and literacies in the Faculty of Education and Language Studies at the Open University, UK. They are co-authors of A Scholar’s Guide to Getting Published in English: Critical Choices and Practical Strategies (Multilingual Matters, 2013) and Academic Writing in a Global Context: The Politics and Practices of Publishing in English (Routledge, 2010).

About the Author

Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.