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Peer Review: The cost of being a non-native English speaker in science

Referring to the manuscript draft with the title: The cost of being a non-native English speaker in science (

Published onJul 21, 2023
Peer Review: The cost of being a non-native English speaker in science

General remarks

First, thank you for investigating this urgent topic by quantifying the actual cost to career opportunities of translation in research. It is shocking, even for people like me who are already sensitized to the issue in certain disciplines and editorial decision makings - to see numbers to the effect that language proficiency has on career-defining activities in academia. You make a compelling case highlighting the cost of translation to non-native English-speaking researchers from various national backgrounds with varying English proficiency and national income levels as based on international standards.

You contextualize the issue with the urgency for political action re biodiversity and climate change, where we have a dire need for a research-informed global society by tapping into various knowledge systems a.o.


The number of individuals successfully recruited for the survey with 40 to 294 per linguistic/economic groups appears adequate to allow for the conclusions drawn, even though you argue for a relatively low sample size yourselves. The translation efforts are well-categorized reflecting the real-world scenarios in engaging in the foreign (secondary, tertiary, …) language for scientific purposes.

With the design of the survey, allowing for adequate self-assessment in responding to the quantifying questions, as well as survey distribution in each of the target countries' official language, you made appropriate efforts to invite for informed participation of a large enough group in each country.

Data anonymization was well taken care of as well as informing participants of the voluntary nature of the survey.


The style chosen in the first paragraph of the discussion is compelling, where the reader is invited to put him/her/them-self/selves into the shoes of a non-native English-speaking ECR, which makes the challenge even more immediate and approachable.

You present sound examples and conclusions about biases in the career development of non-native English speakers being selected against based on their English-language proficiency (line 217-220).

You further argue for economic disadvantages being the reason for hindrances in utilizing English language editing services, and what effect the presence or absence of scientific terms and glossaries in certain language group may have on tertiary educational choices amongst the population of a country (line 221-231).

The limitations of your study are coherently addressed with underestimated disadvantages during the planning phase that you became aware of during the survey analysis.


Not to ignore research communities that are communicating in their local and other large regional languages - such as Arabic, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Russian, you could perhaps set a scope for your appeal for those disciplines and research communities or venues where English is the preferred or only accepted language for journal article publishing.

In line 87 you mention reading as "a requisite for obtaining necessary knowledge in research". Please keep in mind scientific literature that is published in languages other than English in local and regional journals and repositories.

Terms such as "Global North" and "Global South" carry substantial weight in assumptions for economic versus geographical attributes and might be misleading or inappropriate especially in the context of this article. I would suggest to instead be naming countries directly or referring to specific geographical regions and continents and/or populations of particular language groups.

In line 40 and 47 you mention "under-represented communities/groups". Could you please specify what you mean by that and in reference to whom? The argument seems to go beyond the distinction between native and non-native English speakers.

While it is important to highlight disadvantages, the manuscript could benefit from mentioning more explicitly the advantages of multilingualism in a globalized world and advocating for multilingual research practices to be adopted by all researchers, non-native English speakers and native English speakers alike.

What is striking to me is that non-native English speakers spend less time in preparing presentations or manuscripts in their first language as compared to native English speakers, in each of their native language (line 176ff). Were you able to identify explanations for this?

Additional comments

Thank you for also specifying author contribution according to the CRediT taxonomy.

From my personal experience and that of many of my colleagues, it could also be inquired and highlighted how non-native English speakers lose the skill to explain their work in their native language, once they fully emerged in the English language to conduct and communicate about their research in and what effect that might have on science literacy in any part of the world irrespective of economic capacity; perhaps to consider in follow-up investigations and discussions.

A Reply to this Pub
The manifold costs of being a non-native English speaker in science
The manifold costs of being a non-native English speaker in science

The use of English as the common language of science represents a major impediment to maximising the contribution of non-native English speakers to science. Yet few studies have quantified the consequences of language barriers on the career development of researchers who are non-native English speakers. By surveying 908 researchers in environmental sciences, this study estimates and compares the amount of effort required to conduct scientific activities in English between researchers from different countries and, thus, different linguistic and economic backgrounds. Our survey demonstrates that non-native English speakers, especially early in their careers, spend more effort than native English speakers in conducting scientific activities, from reading and writing papers and preparing presentations in English, to disseminating research in multiple languages. Language barriers can also cause them not to attend, or give oral presentations at, international conferences conducted in English. We urge scientific communities to recognise and tackle these disadvantages to release the untapped potential of non-native English speakers in science. This study also proposes potential solutions that can be implemented today by individuals, institutions, journals, funders, and conferences. Please see the Supporting information files (S2–S6 Text) for Alternative Language Abstracts and Figs 5 and 6.

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