Academics: The Dominance of English Is Stifling World Scholarship

English Language Dominance web 300x222Recently, the BBC published an article that outlined what many foreign researchers view as a threat to scholarship: the dominance of the English language on the world’s stage. While obviously their concerns are post-secondary (and post-graduate) in nature, there are some takeaways for the K-12 space.

First, the academics’ point is simple. The vast majority of the world’s scholarly journals — at least, those with international weight — are written in English only. To be published, you have to speak and write in English. This alone is a barrier that is stifling scholarship in non-English speaking places.

For example, the article points out that because of this movement, European economists could not contribute as much to the global dialogue during the most recent financial crisis, even though Europe was arguably the epicenter of that recession with multiple countries teetering on the verge of financial collapse.

The article also points out a problem that is more cultural in nature. English speakers tend to argue points in a more linear way, whereas other languages can take more circuitous routes in their argumentation. When the non-native English speaker is trying to make a point, their methods might not be understood by an English audience (or the gatekeepers of major scholarly journals).

Obviously, K-12 students are not publishing in academic journals yet. So how do these developments affect them?

First, directly, students are cut off from arguments outside the English sphere of influence. When doing a research project, their sources might be more slanted because only English speakers are represented in journals. They are being robbed of a certain aspect of cultural competency.

Second, when they encounter a native speaker of something other than English, there may be a disconnect when they are trying to hash out a point together. This commonly is called a “cultural disconnect”, and it can happen even in K-12 classrooms as the American education system becomes majority-minority.

The solution to these problems is language learning. Not only does the student become more comfortable in communicating with non-native speakers, but they are exposed to the cultural differences that may exist between the two peoples, making cultural disconnects less likely.

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