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I'm starting to do some research in Asia, however, I don't know the local language. I do have some contacts, all of whom speak English, but I'm worried about finding earlier research which was published in the local language. For example, if I don't speak Thai and I am doing research in Thailand, how can I find existing research which was published in Thai (with the intent of contacting the researcher or finding a translator to translate it into English)?

This might be a futile exercise, and I might need to remove the question but in case anyone out there has a creative idea, I would love to hear it.

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  • Quick clarification needed: do you mean doing research in Thailand (as in, you're in Bangkok), or research on Thailand (from somewhere else in the world)?
    – aeismail
    Commented Dec 2, 2012 at 18:48
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    For example, research on leadership in Thailand which was written in Thai (so it's likely written IN Thailand as well, but that's not my issue).
    – earthling
    Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 3:53

4 Answers 4

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I would ask a colleague who does speak Thai, and ask them if there are any relevant Thai publications you need to be aware of. Of course, this colleague needs to be in the same field you are interested in. If they don't know of any relevant literature, this might indicate that you are not missing any relevant research.

In addition, when you are looking for papers yourself, I would Google translate the titles of the papers, and if they seem interesting, I would ask a native speaking colleague to translate the abstract. If it still is interesting, then you ask your colleague to read the paper together with you.

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The answer depends also on the fact that you will work on your subject for only a few months or for a very long period of time. Ultimately, in the second case, you will have to learn additional languages.

In sciences and economical/social sciences we are not very used to that, but it is rather common in humanities. For instance, my wife works in Egyptology, and she had to learn (at least for reading) German and Italian in addition to French (mother tongue), English (that we all learn at school) and 3 or 4 ancient languages in order to be able to read the literature of the field.

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  • Excellent point. The research I'm doing is fairly short term in nature so I'd like to avoid investing the time to understand the local language.
    – earthling
    Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 23:24
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Accessing research in a language that you don't speak is pain. If something seems interesting, just ask the author for any related material he/she may have in English. That should help you in a lot of cases. Otherwise, go listen to him/her at English-speaking conferences.

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    Good idea but how to even find the author if I don't understand their language? It seems I really am limited to only reading research in the languages I understand quite well.
    – earthling
    Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 3:58
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Only thing I can suggest you right now is to use google translation services; for instance you can add to your browser some "add-on" that automtically translates from Thai to English. Good luck

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    In my experience, Google Translate is very, very bad...especially with languages quite dissimilar to English. French to English is good enough that it's easy to get the basic meaning but with other more remote languages, the meaning is simply not even close.
    – earthling
    Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 3:56
  • in my experience, no translation at all is worst than a bad translation. I am native spanish speaker and can speak fluently english, french and german among others, and sometimes I am used to understand in new languages like swedish just 10% of the words, and sometimes just with that information you can get some sense about what is all the thing about; we are not machines, sometimes some information is better than nothing Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 8:03
  • mother tongue, sorry Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 10:22

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