Changing language can help reach global audience

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Disseminating research findings for an international audience raises the issue of publishing language. Siân Harris spoke to some journal editors about why they switched from their native languages to English

Earlier this year an announcement from the international publisher Springer highlighted an interesting trend in scholarly publishing. The editors of Zeitschrift für Planung und Unternehmenssteuerung decided to change the publishing language from German to English (with an accompanying change of name to Journal of Management Control).

There are many reasons why journals switch from their native languages to English. As Uwe Gotze, a professor at TU Chemnitz in Germany and managing editor of the Journal of Management Control, explained: ‘The contribution will be internationally visible. Academics from German-speaking countries get an attractive option for disseminating their research results throughout the world in English, the leading language of science. This will be more and more important in times of a global knowledge society.’ In addition, he continued, ‘the journal will be opened for the international scientific community so an international scientific discourse is enabled and the attractiveness and reputation of the journal will rise.’

The French National Institute for Agricultural Research INRA, which also now publishes five of its journals in partnership with Springer, took a similar decision 10 years ago in moving its journals from French to English. Eric Lichtfouse, who is editor-in-chief of Agronomy for Sustainable Development and Environmental Chemistry Letters, as well as editor of the Springer series Sustainable Agriculture Reviews, commented that this leads to ‘impact factors that “rule le world”.’ The society has found that the number and the impact of the articles submitted by researchers from all over the world has considerably increased since the journals switched to English.

Madeleine Hofmann, managing director of Springer-Verlag Italia Srl (Springer Italy) added: ‘Our experience shows that in general Italian scientific societies opt for the publication of their official journals in the English language. In this way societies get better international visibility and wider distribution of their scientific content. There is also an advantage from an educational point of view: society members can improve their skills in publishing papers according to international guidelines.’

Researcher reactions

The decisions to switch from Italian, French, German or any other language to English may be clear to the editors and management, but what about the authors and readers in the journal’s home countries?

‘It varies from society to society but, in most of the cases, authors and society members understand the advantage of publishing in English,’ observed Hofmann about the Italian research community.

Gotze agreed: ‘The feedback of the vast majority of the community members that commented on the transfer from native to English language was positive,’ he said about the recent switch from German on his journal.

Madeleine Hofmann, Springer Italy

However, the experiences with the transition to English with INRA’s journals were more mixed. When we switched from 50 per cent French-written to 100 per cent English-written articles about 10 years ago I got protests from non-English speaking people, such as the librarians who purchased the journal,’ commented Lichtfouse. ‘And, five years ago, when impact factors were not used for career evaluation, authors would have preferred to write in French. However, I am not sure that they have the choice now. They publish in English because most high-impact journals are in English – even if they prefer French.’


This tension between a desire for researchers to publish and read in their own language (see Native-language publishing) and the desire to reach an international audience creates ongoing challenges for journals in non-English speaking countries.

‘About 53 per cent of our authors are from the south, thus not familiar with English and science writing. This discrepancy in knowledge leads northern reviewers to often refuse to review papers from the south, even if the science is good. And without review reports we cannot publish articles,’ explained Lichtfouse.

Gotze, of the Journal of Management Control in Germany, agreed on the language quality challenge and also noted the need for additional marketing efforts ‘to promote the journal internationally in order to awake the interest of readers, authors, and reviewers.’

This is where working with or being published by international publishers can help. ‘The benefit is high international visibility. In our case the journal is available in more than 5,400 libraries and institutions around the world,’ said Gotze.

Hofmann of Springer Italy added that such partnerships also enable international distribution, advanced and innovative editorial services (such as production, submission systems and support in abstracting and indexing) and different publication models.

Developments such as those of the Journal of Management Control in moving from German to English are not isolated: ‘There is a clear tendency towards a concentration on English as the leading scientific language,’ observed Gotze.

But this is not the end of the story: ‘From my point of view, all of our articles – in English – should also be published in French,’ said Lichtfouse of INRA. Indeed he would like to see the journals being published in other languages such as Spanish and Chinese if budgets permitted this. ‘Those who have the means to publish in many languages, especially Chinese, will win because of the higher visibility, and, in turn, impact factors,’ he concluded.

Native-language publishing

Developments to convert journals to English are not always the best option. For some journals there are many benefits to publishing in native languages.

‘The obvious benefits [of native-language publishing] are that you reach local people, and, in turn, the local economy, such as the industry and farmers,’ said Eric Lichtfouse of INRA. ‘This is especially important in France where most people do not speak languages other than French. If you reach local professionals, then it is also easier to get grants from local government agencies. I think that this benefit will increase because there is more and more money given to research institutions by local government.’

There can also be communication advantages for the journal contributors and staff, as Uwe Gotze of the Journal of Management Control observed: ‘The (potential) authors and reviewers can communicate in their native language, which is felt as an advantage by a (diminishing) part of the scientific community. In some fields, a specific native vocabulary exists that can be used, and the communication might be a little bit more intensive and “easy”.’

Nonetheless there are potential disadvantages of native-language publishing for authors who want to make a contribution to science that is internationally visible. As Gotze noted, ‘The journal will be extensively limited to the national scientific community.’