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This might sound like a silly question, but I am not a native speaker of English, so I find it sometimes difficult to write my first draft in that language. What I usually do is write my first draft in Italian, my mother tongue, and then translate it into English. Once I went to a short course on writing in English, where the lecturer advised us that it is better to write the first draft in English, even though it can be very difficult for some people.

What would be your advice in this case? Should I still stick with writing my first draft in my mother tongue and then translate it into English? I feel more productive in that way, but any advice would be helpful.

  • 1
    Related (duplicate?) academia.stackexchange.com/q/2541/102 – user102 Jun 8 '13 at 16:45
  • Slightly related: I’m German (working in the UK) and I predominantly hold my meetings with German collaborators in English. This gets odd looks but there are at least three reasons: 1) no need to switch when a non-German person joins mid-conversation, 2) I have no idea how to translate many the technical terms and 3) it’s good practice. Many non-native speakers I know who work in English-speaking countries don’t do this, and while I understand their reasons I’m still puzzled by this. – Konrad Rudolph Jun 9 '13 at 0:45
  • Having reread the previous question that Charles cites, this is pretty much an exact duplicate. Therefore this question should be closed. However, we'll leave the answers, since there are several new ones that aren't in the previous one. Additional new answers, though, should go in the old question linked above! – aeismail Jun 9 '13 at 12:27
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Personal opinion from a non-native english speaker:

You should write it as much as possible in english. Start working with bullet points of your ideas and then transfer them to full sentences after you are done. Since most academic papers are in english, it has already been mentioned on this platform a ton of times, that you should get used to the language, i.e. the vocabularies and the way people reason, in your field.

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For better or worse, the lingua-franca of science nowadays is English. If you plan on staying in science, you can use all the English training you can get. So, I would advice writing everything in English. Do try and get feedback from someone who is good at English, preferably a native speaker, to point any language errors you might not see yourself.

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    Who said the OP's field is science? – Nate Eldredge Jun 8 '13 at 17:10
  • @NateEldredge my association with Academia is science, so I assumed that the OP was working in science. – Paul Hiemstra Jun 8 '13 at 17:11
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    @NateEldredge: In an earlier question she mentions working in computer science. – JeffE Jun 8 '13 at 18:15
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I think I understand how you're more comfortable drafting in Italian first then translating it to English, however I believe this is a mistake. Many terms and ideas don't translate properly from your mother tongue and it often shows.

Go ahead and draft it in your best English and if you have trouble expressing some ideas then make the note in Italian and you can go back and work those into your most colorful English with your final draft.

It turns out that English has a vast variety of words at your fingertips when writing and this allows you to be very unique while maintaining creativity and genuineness, that's why most books now are written in English.

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    Although I generally agree that it is much better to write a paper in English, I am not sure about your last paragraph. I think historical facts, geographical facts and technological advances in US and UK are much more important factors causing the popularity of English language in books and papers. Of course I do not deny the wealth of word, phrases and technical terms in English, but they seem to me more like the result of the popularity of English not the reason. – user4511 Jun 8 '13 at 17:31
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    My grandmother always tells me how Spanish (our language) is such a beautiful language and the best for writing poetry. I think this is a common belief if you do not know other languages well. – Francisco Presencia Jun 9 '13 at 2:40
  • Interestingly, some centuries ago people developed elaborate arguments about the French language's superiority. – Relaxed Mar 5 '14 at 20:53
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Not only I suggest you write everything (research related) in English, but I also suggest you use English in your personal research notes, or even in your thinking process. In this way you skip the unnecessary step of translation and therefore you can read, learn, speak and write faster and easier. In fact when I started reading English books in my undergraduate, I realized it is better I skip translation and try to understand everything in English and try to solve problems in English. Since then, all my practices and my personal notes have been in English. When I am thinking about a problem or a statement I automatically switch to English and avoid my mother tongue.

4

On the one hand, writing in English is better because the phrases and sentence structures you will end up using will sound more natural to the reader. On the other hand, if you are writing the first draft before having a crystal clear idea how your argumentation will flow (i.e. if, for you, writing is also a tool for thinking), then writing in English might take take away from this process because it's difficult.

I would certainly agree with everyone else that using English for the first draft is a good idea. But when I write, I also write an outline of the draft in a separate document. This outline summarizes each paragraph I plan to write, usually in a single sentence, so that it gives me a good overview of the structure the manuscript is going to have. I use it to combine the points I want to make with other findings I think are important to mention (usually I find that these don't match up very well on the first try!), and then I shuffle things around, add and remove items, until I have a story that will flow naturally from the questions I ask to the conclusions I make. And only then do I start writing the draft. And this outline, I would recommend writing in your native tongue. It should be easier to switch to English afterwards, when you begin writing the draft, because you'll already have a clear idea of what you want to say.

  • Excellent point about meta writing - identify the structure when writing. However, I would identify the structure before writing the draft. – earthling Jun 9 '13 at 12:31

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