As a future French PhD student (in Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning) that legally HAS TO write his thesis in French, I am a bit concerned about the fact that less people would be able to read it and it got me thinking: why do you keep reading articles in your native language, when some ideas you find might also be published in English?

  1. To those who are not English native speakers, do you read articles in your native language?
  2. If so, what is it that you find in these articles compared to English-written ones? Are you just looking for useful information for your own research or are you motivated by something else?
  3. How would you cite these articles in your own English-written paper?

I understand that using one's own native language can be justified for some fields such as social sciences, but here I am asking about "exact" and computer sciences.

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    I strongly recommend publishing an English version of any scientific non-English manuscript you publish. Unless, of course, it is important to you that people not read it.
    – Bitwise
    Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 20:56
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    @Bitwise I am not asking about whether I should publish in English or not, as I will do everything I can to write in English. The French law explicitely tells that the PhD thesis has to be written in French, which is kind of stupid but I don't have any power on that. On the contrary, I want to know what incentives make people read articles in their native languages.
    – PatW
    Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 21:05
  • I understood that. I just thought it is important to stress (for anyone reading this question) that you should make an extra effort to publish an English version.
    – Bitwise
    Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 21:09
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    It's equally valid to ask why native-English speakers would read non-English papers. I often read papers in French (in fluid dynamics/turbulence/combustion) simply because there are papers written in French. So I read whatever language I need to in order to get the information and references I need.
    – tpg2114
    Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 23:17
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    @PatW: in France, the obligation of writting the thesis in French is only half true: you can publish a sandwich thesis made of a detailed introduction in French and copies (or variants) of your published article in English. Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 19:39

5 Answers 5

  1. I don't usually read articles in my mother tongue. But I do regularly read articles in a language that is neither English nor my mother tongue (French, to be precise).

  2. With regards to my mother tongue, the few exceptions are resources (articles, books) I received from some of my collaborators. I refer back to them purely for convenience. For French:

  • there is (at least until very recently) still active research in my area performed by researchers who publish heavily in French; to gain access to those results sometimes it is necessary to read the original articles.
  • there is a large corpus of useful literature from even the mid twentieth century that still hasn't been completely distilled into English language textbooks. (For mathematics, this refers mostly to particular arguments used in proofs. Quite often the same result would be available in English, but using a different method of attack. But there are also cases such as [from outside my field] The EGA.)
  • translations may contain "errors". Sometimes it is good to go back to the original source.
  1. I just cite them as I would any other source. Most style guides have sections on special rules for non-English and/or non-Latin-alphabet sources. Just follow them.

Your three-part question is quickly answered:

  1. Yes I read articles in my native language
  2. Almost never because very few exist except older ones (ca. 1960s and older) and possibly bachelor or masters theses.
  3. I would definitely cite them if they contained anything useful

Your concern is valid, regardless of preferences, using a common language ensures better spreading of the science. This does not mean non-English science is in any way uninteresting but will obviosuly be harder to find and read. It will be up to scientists in that language to bring the research to general attention. A possibility with thesis work is always to publish it or parts of it in journals and then translated. In such cases nothing is lost (except time for the complete re-writing)

EDIT: This answer was written for the original question which subsequently has been changed, also in terms of focus.

  • Publishing is not my biggest concern for the moment as it will become a little later. What amazes me is that you affirm reading articles in your native language, but it actually almost never happens. Are you looking for some specific publications/information or are you simply curious about what is done in your country?
    – PatW
    Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 21:00

As a native English speaker who's working abroad, I am finally at the point where I can directly read the scientific literature in the local languages. However, in the past, I haven't hesitated to cite references in French (my "original" second language) when it was appropriate to do so. There are no challenges to do so, really, except making sure that you have the correct abbreviation for the journal title.

However, I would agree with the other posters that indicate that, today, scientific work needs to be in English if it is to reach the widest possible audience. Between the fact that a thesis gets nowhere near the number of "hits" as the papers that are derived from it, plus the fact that it's in a foreign language, and I would expect you to get very little in the way of citations for your thesis.

  • Maybe my question is misleading, but what interests me is why would you now read articles in "the local language"? What do you earn from them that you won't find in an English-written paper (except for the ideas)?
    – PatW
    Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 21:33
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    Well, usually it's because a work I'm reading (in English) cites the particular work, and therefore there's a reason to read it (because it's a data or method source).
    – aeismail
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 12:20
  • I do read scientific literature in my mother tongue (German).
    For papers, that are mostly classics and not so recent. However, it is quite common in my field to write theses in German. And there are still serious and good scientific books as well as text books written in German, which I enjoy reading and citing as well.

  • I'm also writing my thesis in German.

    • Main reason: My old university required that (would need to ask special permission for any other language). I changed university, but I'm not going to change the language as well.
    • The findings are/will be published also in English. So not having the thesis in English doesn't matter that much in terms of availability in English.
    • Second main reason: the thesis is the place where things are formulated in a less condensed manner than the papers. Such theses are good for teaching students who are usually not yet that fluent in English (applies to some kinds of foreign students as well!) nor in the subject.
  • The same (more detailed, elaborate, less "it follows trivially" jumps of thought) is often true also for technical reports, which I read for exactly this reason (any kind of language I understand).

  • I cite literature I read in any language I understood (which not that much more than German and English, as I'm not as fluent in other languages).

  • For the books, there is sometimes an English as well as a German version. But of course I cite the version that I acutally read.
    (If I'd be concerned that the English-only reader would not get from "Leary & Skoog: Instrumentelle Analytik" to "Leary & Skoog: Instrumental Analysis", I may put a note that points to the English version)

  • Finally, how would you read and cite e.g. DIN 38402 A 51 if not in German?


Although this may not answer your question, I just wanted to say that I did my PhD in France and did not write my thesis in french. I just wrote a summary (about 3 pages) in french, the rest was a compilation of articles. Since a serious publication can only be written in english nowadays, translating it in french would be a waste of time.

You should discuss with your advisor and see any way to get your thesis published in english. I do not think any legal argument holds.

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    Since a serious publication can only be written in english nowadays - I disagree. Language has nothing to do with the "serious"-ness or what I think you mean (acceptance, authenticity etc). Language only affects reach and spread. The quality of a publication has nothing to do with its language.
    – Shion
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 9:19
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    @Shion: Any publication in a non-English language nowadays is suspect. If it was any good, why didn't the authors submit it to a respected English-language journal? That they chose not to and instead publish in a regional journal is a signal that even they thought it was not very good. So, empirically, serious publications are almost exclusively in English (and most of the remainder is non-English only for legal reasons).
    – luispedro
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 11:39
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    Any publication in a non-English language nowadays is suspect. — [citation needed] Hard to publish, sure, but suspect? Really?
    – JeffE
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 13:12
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    @luispedro I will beg to differ with your assertion and will agree with JeffE. If you can provide a relevant citation [even if it is in another language] please do so. A publication in a non-English journal does not equate to a "non serious" publication. Deviating from the norm is not necessarily a bad thing.
    – Shion
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 15:13
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    I don't have a citation, but if I find a recent paper written in a non-English language in a non-English language journal, my prior is that it is not very good. I don't know of a single non-English journal that I would consider to be on par with the average of the area. So, back to you: show me a single example of a non-English scientific journal that's considered important in its field.
    – luispedro
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 16:23

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