How Can Understanding Your “Research Language” Benefit Your Work?

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Languages. We all know one, and it is likely that at least one of yours is English since you’re reading this. A good number of us know two, three, or even four languages. If you’ve repeatedly kicked yourself for not pursuing a foreign language beyond the basics you learned in school, don’t fret—you may actually speak more languages than you realize!

No, obviously you don’t speak French without knowing it. However, if you let go of the conventional definition of “language,” you’ll realize that English is, in many ways, more than just one language. We all speak in different ways depending on the context, and these could be considered different languages (or at least dialects). In this spirit, let’s dive deeper into “research language.”

What is a “research language”?

What is language? Clearly, this is an extremely broad question with many answers depending on whom you’re speaking with. For the purposes of this post, let’s define language as simply a means for humans to communicate with one another. 

We normally think of language in terms of world languages and linguistics, but you have surely heard the word used in different contexts—body language, computer language, etc.—so you understand that communicating ideas and expressing oneself don’t have to be limited by grammar structures and verb conjugations. In this sense, we can divorce the word from the traditional definition and explore the different “research languages” that an academic may speak.

The tools you have acquired on your journey to becoming a researcher can be considered a language in and of themselves. Think about it: Researching and presenting research are totally different ways of communicating. They involve writing, networking, specific jargon and technical vocabulary, and presentation of arguments. While you’re still using English, you’re doing so in an entirely different way from when you are casually chatting with friends, and the vocabulary may even be incomprehensible to other native speakers of English. 

Of course, no matter what your research language is, you should always ensure that your writing is crisp, clear, and free from embarrassing typos. That is where proofreading comes in—get a combined proofreading and editing quote here.

Can that actually be considered a language? 

If you have studied foreign languages, perhaps you are rolling your eyes at this simplistic definition. Okay, we will concede that these are more like dialects than actual languages. The foundation remains the same, but the vocabulary and register can change dramatically, perhaps even more than in the case of closely related dialects. Happy now?

You should be since you’ve probably just realized that you are a research polyglot. It is necessary to switch between different dialects based on context—for example, you will use a different research language in an email to a colleague from the one you will use in the bibliography of a paper. In fact, you spend so much of your time switching between research languages and conventional English that you are exhausted come the weekend. 

Mind you, we are not positing that “research language” will ever be the lingua franca of a region or even academia. A research language is simply a natural language adapted for academic purposes, with alterations in the vocabulary and register. We’re simply stating that it is not easy to adopt the lingo or memorize the vernacular, even for native English speakers, and in that sense, it is almost like a different language.

Walking a mile in a different language  

The unique challenges of trying to communicate in a different language are present in every interaction, but they are magnified when attempting to discuss complex topics or areas of research. Think about it: You learned your native language as a child, but you didn’t learn all the specific vocabulary and expressions of your field until you were an adult. 

If you became fluent in Japanese today and flew to Tokyo to present your research on a given subject, it’s likely you would struggle to find the most appropriate vocabulary and your networking personality would shift considerably. While you may be able to express your ideas, they would be simplified, losing a layer of precision and eloquence. Though you would know all the necessary grammatical structures, you would not yet be fluent in the research language (sorry, dialect) of your field in Japanese. You would need to experiment with new phrases and expressions to properly communicate your ideas. Challenging enough in your native language, this becomes all the more difficult in a foreign language. 

What about non-native English speakers?

You would struggle to present an academic paper in Japanese if you’re a native English speaker, so it’s important to consider the difficulties non-native English speakers face in the academic world. If you grew up speaking English, try to put yourself in the shoes of a non-native speaker attempting to communicate their research ideas (or even complete their Ph.D.) in English. 

Not only are non-native speakers embarking on a difficult journey to obtain their Ph.D. or conduct their research in a foreign language, but they also have to learn a new “research language” on top of that. We’re not talking just about vocabulary—this includes tone, register, expression, and the proper level of loquaciousness. Different languages have different standards for academic writing, so a non-native speaker may have to entirely revise their concept of academic writing to meet the standards of their English-speaking university and peers.

Non-native speakers who are learning a research dialect of their adopted language should be applauded, but they also have the interesting perspective of being forced to present their research in new and inventive ways. In the world of academia, language can often be a method of determining exactly who gets access to certain research circles or opportunities, so if you happen to encounter non-native English speakers along your journey, keep an open mind to what they can bring to the table. If you are a native English speaker, there is a chance that you could learn a great deal about ways to restructure the language you use to impart information. 

If you are a non-native English speaker and need some assistance with making your research ready for publication in a journal, check out our academic translation service. We can also edit a paper you wrote in English to polish your English “research language.”

How does your “research language” differ from regular speech?

Great question! Fundamentally, your research language will be more formal and precise than your regular speech since you watch closely for potential ambiguity in your wording. The vocabulary will also differ, and, in some cases, the same word could have different meanings in your research language and regular language.

Every academic will have their own research language. It goes beyond your specific discipline—you have a way of expressing yourself, even in your research language. Unfortunately, there isn’t a fun internet quiz you can take to discover your research language, nor is there any software that will automatically analyze your linguistic patterns across different research areas. However, this is a fantastic opportunity for you to recognize the way you interact with your research, your colleagues, and your writing to determine what your research language looks or sounds like and how you can use it to your advantage. 

Try to figure out what your language framework looks like during a typical week. How do you communicate in writing? What is your body language when you make a presentation or teach a class? Do you speak a different dialect in seminars or meetings? Identifying what your research language looks like is the first step to maximizing its potential.

The biggest question to ask yourself is how your regular speech patterns in everyday life differ from those in your professional life, regardless of whether or not your first language is English. You might just surprise yourself with the results of your analysis. Whatever your findings, it is always a good idea to work with professional editors and proofreaders to polish your “research language” before publication. 

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