Multilingual Science (English)   Многоязычная Наука (Russian)

Ronald LaPorte, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh

Ismail Serageldin, Ph.D. Library of Alexandria Egypt

Eugene Shubnikov, M.D.

Faina Linkov, Ph.D. University of Pittsburgh

Francois Sauer, M.D.

Musa Kana, M.D.


BMA-Code of Conduct-May-2018

BMA English Version


Our mission  We look after doctors so they can look after you.

BMA Russian Version

Наша миссия
Мы заботимся о врачах, чтобы они могли заботиться о вас.

Problem:  Only 3% of the scientific and medical literature comes from developing countries despite 80% of the world’s population living there.  There are many barriers to careers in science in developing countries.  One of the most difficult is language.  There are 6500 different languages in the world, but only one for science, English. A student in Egypt is at a major disadvantage to become a scientist, as she has to learn both English and Science.  In contrast, an English speaking student in the UK needs only to learn Science.  A student looking for a career in science often may not develop the English skills, and thus fall by the wayside despite being excellent scientific potential. Many areas of science such as statistics are difficult topics to learn.  Having to master the concepts of statistics being taught in English by a non-native speaker of English makes the learning of statistics and methods doubly difficult.


Figure 1



English is the lingua franca of Science. Figure (1) shows how rapidly and completely English has taken over science and scientific careers.  In 1910 only 28% of the articles were in English.  By 2005 a whopping 93% were in English.  Moreover, most advanced level graduate courses are taught in English, with the books, and the lectures also in English taught by non-native English speakers.  Not only is this an issue in science, Title VI of the civil rights law indicates the US  government should take steps to make programs available to those with Limited English Proficiency.   This is clearly a problem with Science and Medicine. We have done little to help scientists with limited English proficiency.


Science cannot be blamed as the tools of human translation have been slow, expensive ($100 per page) and inaccurate. It takes over 2000 hours to become fluent in English. However, translation has rapidly evolved with the development of AI Neural Machine Translation.  Google initiated a machine translation effort in 2006.  The translations often were gibberish with inaccurate grammar.  Ten years ago, Google started to use brute force translation. This approach markedly improved accuracy by providing the “Gist” of materials but still, accuracy was not high. After 2015  Google, Microsoft, IBM, and about 10 other translating systems started Neural Machine translation and other AI approaches.   This has produced an enormous increase in inaccuracy.  It is not perfect as yet, but incredible strides have occurred in less than 5 years and promise for the future is amazing.  It is now time for science to break through the language barrier.

The Library of Alexandria has improved science and training in developing countries.  During the past few years, we built one of the largest scientific networks with over 1 million email addresses, 200,000 scientific PowerPoint lectures have been collected which taught 60 million students.  It has created the largest research methods library in the world and with the Library of Congress the first scientific interlibrary loan system in Africa.  Now we plan to move forward with the establishment of multilingual science and teaching, especially for Africa. We have built translating systems, such that all of these features can be instantly translated.

With these new machine technology tools, we now have the ability to translate any of the 200,000 PowerPoint lectures in the Scientific Supercourse into 60 different languages. The Science Supercourse at the Library of Alexandria is a very large collection of scientific PowerPoint lectures available for free using Microsoft translator.  We now established a system for teacher and student to unshackle content from English to their native tongue. Thus students will be able to master even the most difficult scientific concepts into their native languages. This can be powerfully seen with a lecture by Nobel Laureate John Mather http://www.pitt.edu/~super1/lecture/lec38291/001.htm. We can thus take any PowerPoint lectures and slides and convert it into many different languages for teachers of the world to use. The barrier of language in teaching begins to disappear as it is in science.

Overall significance:  If we can reduce the barrier of language in science, teaching, and careers, many more scientists worldwide would be included in the global dialogue. Also, for those of us who only speak English, this would for the first time give us an understanding of science in China, Brazil, Mexico, etc. Teaching will flourish as one can learn just about any topic in one's native language.  We will greatly help limited English  Americans to participate more fully in the scientific community. We would be on the road to scientific equity.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away (Welsh, 1860) (English)

Яблоко в день держит доктора подальше (Russian)

You can try out the multilingual features in the description of our effort at http://www.pitt.edu/~super1/MultilingualSupercourse.htm



 (Mather J., Cerf V., Omenn G., Roberts RJ., Marler E.)

1.      Ammon, U. “Linguistic inequality and its effects on participation in Scientific Discourse and on Global Knowledge Accumulation –With a closer look at the problems of the second-ranked language communities”  Applied Linguistics Review 3, no.2 (2012):  333-355.

 CAREER COLUMN  17 June 2019

2.  Lisa Liu.  Six tips for adapting to a new language and culture   



CAREER NEWS  10 June 2019

3.   Harina Barath            Indian initiatives aim to break science’s language barrier    https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01815-1?utm_source=Nature+Briefing&utm_campaign=255d4e2130-briefing-dy-20190614&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c9dfd39373-255d4e2130-42810839


       4. Chris Woolstone and Joana Osorio          When English is not your mother tongue  https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01797-0?WT.ec_id=NATURE-20190613&utm_source=nature_etoc&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20190613&sap-outbound-id=57338486413553F883D80388BB21DFE1F87D2B26&mkt-key=005056B0331B1EE889A2E9C9BF58351C


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