Language barriers—difficulties faced in communicating information when it involves a language other than one’s mother tongue—can severely hinder the advance of science and its contribution to tackling global challenges, mainly in three aspects: barriers to: (1) the global synthesis of scientific knowledge scattered across different languages, (2) the application of English-language knowledge to local decision making in countries where English is not widely spoken, and (3) career development in non-native English speakers.
The translatE project (https://translatesciences.com/) applies scientific approaches to understand and address those three types of language barriers in science with the aim of maximising scientific contribution to global challenges including biodiversity conservation. In this presentation, I will focus on the first two types of language barriers in ecology and conservation, and talk about our latest research, where we investigated the consequences of language barriers in ecological evidence synthesis and use of scientific evidence in local biodiversity assessments.
Our research shows (i) the number of conservation articles published in non-English languages is increasing over years and (ii) ignoring non-English-language studies can cause severe biases in our understanding of biodiversity and its conservation, however (iii) non-English-language literature is rarely used in global biodiversity assessments. In contrast, in countries where English is not an official language, we also show that (i) non-English-language literature constitutes 65% of the references cited in national biodiversity assessment reports, and is recognised as relevant knowledge sources by 75% of report authors, while (ii) a quarter of the authors acknowledge the struggles of understanding English-language literature.
Our findings so far revealed two major consequences of language barriers in achieving global biodiversity targets for the next decade. On the one hand, we uncovered that non-English-language literature can provide important evidence for conservation but is almost entirely ignored at the international level. Future assessments and decision-making at the international level must not dismiss relevant knowledge simply due to the language of its publication. On the other hand, we also revealed that decision-makers face difficulties in using scientific knowledge if relevant knowledge is provided only in English. We must ensure that English-language scientific knowledge is easily accessible, i.e., available also in a relevant language for its users. This will facilitate the use of the best scientific evidence in environmental decisions across all countries, including those where English is not widely spoken and, quite often, biodiversity is threatened the most.
evidence synthesis, language barriers, biodiversity assessments, research-implementation gap