Reader Comments

Post a new comment on this article

Necessity of a public tool for translation of medical articles from native languages to English

Posted by plosmedicine on 31 Mar 2009 at 00:10 GMT

Author: Jesus F Bermejo-Martin
Position: MD PhD
Institution: University of Valladolid (Spain)
Submitted Date: June 29, 2007
Published Date: June 29, 2007
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

I have read with great interest the Editorial appeared in PLoS Medicine entitled “Ich Weiss Nicht Was Soll Es Bedeuten: Language Matters in Medicine”. In this letter, the PloS Medicine Editors highlight the problems that the language barriers represent for the diffusion of knowledge throughout the medical community. English has taken the place of Latin as the “lingua franca” for Science in our times. In spite of the wide diffusion of English, there are large areas in Africa, Asia, Middle East, Central and South America where English has no significant presence. Medical doctors in these areas study in Arab, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Swahili, etc. There are a large number of pathologies which are exclusively observed in these countries. On the other hand, the epidemiology of most part of diseases presents geographic dependent characteristics (infectious, allergic, metabolic or cancer related diseases).

PloS Medicine Editors propose publication in both native and English language as a solution to promote a more extended access to this information. But I am afraid that it would be not enough. It is quite difficult to acquire the level of English required to publish in an international journal. There are a large number of examples of excellent works rejected due to poor English.

Here I propose the creation of a central organism/tool in charge of performing translations from a number of languages to scientific English (at least from the most extended languages: Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, French, Swahili, Arab, etc), in order to facilitate the access of the non-English spoken community to international Journals. This tool could be supported by publication fees obligatory only for authors from developed countries (independently whether or not they have English as first language), but not for authors from developing countries.

I would be more than happy about paying for publishing in an international journal which could have an incredible diffusion based on the contributions of hundreds of previously excluded scientists from all over the world. The second idea in order to provide financial support to this tool could be a web-page based system. This web page could be supported by publicity contributions or alternatively by donations. Authors would ask for translation of their works uploading them (under strict confidentiality agreements) into a web-page. A team of translators would receive and translate the articles. The author would receive for free his/her translation to his/her e-mails address, and afterwards to submit it in both the original language version and also in the English version to a free medical journal such as PloS Medicine.

This initiative will allow everybody to know more on diseases actually ignored or under-studied, and also on the disease geographic-dependent epidemiology and clinical characteristics In parallel, this initiative could aid us to be better prepared and to prevent diseases which originate in a given geographic area but which spread to other one (such as pandemic influenza and other infectious diseases). Finally, this initiative would turn into a more democratic access to and wider diffusion of medical knowledge.


1) Ich Weiss Nicht Was Soll Es Bedeuten: language matters in medicine PLoS Med. 2006 Feb;3(2):e122.

No competing interests declared.