4/9/24 · Research

Open science and AI in the promotion of multilingualism in science

The progress of new technologies in machine translation of texts opens up a new range of opportunities for the use of local languages in research

According to researchers, the language of scientific publications affects which communities and which readers they are aimed at
library with books and a ladder

The Helsinki Initiative makes recommendations such as make sure equal access to researched knowledge is provided in a variety of languages (photo: unsplash.com)

In recent years, English has become the lingua franca of scientific research. This predominance affects not just languages such as Catalan but also others that have many speakers around the world, such as Spanish or French. In the face of this supremacy, UNESCO's recommendation on open science is to commit to promoting "multilingualism in the practice of science", both in scientific publications and in academic communications. "What this recommendation is trying to do is to commit, from a cultural perspective, to the possibility of doing science in any language. In other words, rather than highlighting the advantages of publishing in local languages – such as proximity, the study of local circumstances or the fact that all languages should be able to be used for research – what it's trying to do is ensure that it's not seen as a negative factor", said Alexandre López-Borrull, a researcher with the Learning, Media and Entertainment (GAME) group and member of the Faculty of Information and Communication Sciences at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC).

Along the same lines, the Helsinki Initiative on Multilingualism in Scholarly Communication makes recommendations such as "Make sure equal access to researched knowledge is provided in a variety of languages". Do these movements represent a shift in the use of local or native languages in research? "I don't think there's been a change of trend", said López-Borrull. "Rather, the aim is to include other languages as part of the science: to ensure they don't lose their impact and become grey literature that can't be found, that can't be consulted". For the UOC researcher, it is a "symbiosis between multilingualism and open science to achieve better science, including everyone or not leaving anyone behind in the process".

“We have to ensure that, when research is assessed, it's not said to have no value simply because it's not published in English”

Measures to promote multilingualism

This promotion of open science to recover the use of other languages in research has led to initiatives such as the Confederation of Open Access Repositories’ (COAR) Good Practice Advice for Managing Multilingual and non-English Language Content in Repositories, which has recently been translated into Catalan and Spanish, thanks to the support of the UOC's Open Science unit. This document includes a number of guidelines in areas such as enhancing discoverability of non-English content, curating multilingual content in repositories and accepting translations.

In López-Borrull's opinion, institutional measures on the assessment of research must also be taken to ensure that it is "efficient" to publish in any language. "We have to ensure that, when research is assessed, it's not said to have no value simply because it's not published in English. In other words, the language you've chosen to use should never hinder your progress as a scholar and researcher. We must be aware that you can also have a scientific impact locally, in the community you serve."

A step in this direction has recently been taken with the change in the preferential assessment criterion for papers written in English for the Six-Year Research Periods of the Spanish National Quality Assessment and Accreditation Agency’s (ANECA) Commission for Assessment of Research Activity (CNEAI). As of 2023, "research in the official language of each territory shall be promoted, and contributions in Spanish or any other co-official languages cannot therefore be considered a negative factor".


Strengthening the ecosystem of research journals in local languages

According to Maite Puigdevall, a member of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and researcher in the Language, Culture and Identity in a Global World (IDENTICAT) group, these changes must be accompanied by support measures for research journals in local languages. "Currently, the system pushes us to publish in English, and this makes it difficult for the ecosystem of research journals in Catalonia to reach high levels of quality. It's a vicious circle: if you don't incentivize high-quality publications that encourage journals to establish the necessary internal improvement systems to gradually increase quality, they won't have enough of an audience; and, if researchers stop publishing in Catalan, these journals won't be able to follow this path either. So, everyone in the system, including researchers, has a responsibility to ensure that Catalan research journals can follow this path."

In this regard, she said that the decision on the language in which to publish the results should be made right at the start of the research. "You have to think very carefully about what conversation you want to get into at any given time, whether it's in Catalan, English or Spanish, because each journal addresses different readers and scientific communities."

Likewise, in her opinion, this decision also has deeper implications. "It's not just about publishing in English but about the style of writing in English, which is different from the way you write in Catalan, because we have different styles of producing science and knowledge. So, what we're also seeing is standardization in the production of knowledge, which increasingly emulates the UK or US knowledge production model. And this is obviously impoverishing epistemologies, that is, the way of obtaining knowledge."

The rise of artificial intelligence

Josep Maria Duart, professor at the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences and researcher in the Education and ICT (EDUL@B) group, is co-editor of the International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education (ETHE), one of the leading journals in education and technology. "Currently, if you don't publish in English, you can't access high-level journals", he said. ETHE was published in English and Spanish for a number of years, but it's currently only published in English. "One of the barriers was the high cost of translations, but the development of artificial intelligence is opening up new possibilities that we have to be able to take advantage of, in which it shouldn't be a problem for research to be published in any language."

Along the same lines, López-Borrull stressed that technological progress will help, especially with machine translation, by improving "the ability to generate abstracts and consult documents in languages we don't understand, as well as providing access to knowledge that we can't currently access". To achieve this, he underlined the importance of "creating languages, corpora, etc., so that no languages are lost along the way. In other words, developing technologies that work just as well for translation from English into Spanish as for translation from English into Catalan."

Despite the potential of these technologies, Duart thinks that "we're not there yet" but academic institutions and research journals must work towards it. "We must strive to ensure that we don't express ourselves only in English but also offer authors and readers the possibility of writing, presenting or reading articles in the languages they feel most comfortable with." 


Promoting open science contributes to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).



The UOC's research and innovation (R&I) is helping overcome pressing challenges faced by global societies in the 21st century by studying interactions between technology and human & social sciences with a specific focus on the network society, e-learning and e-health.

Over 500 researchers and more than 50 research groups work in the UOC's seven faculties, its eLearning Research programme and its two research centres: the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) and the eHealth Center (eHC).

The university also develops online learning innovations at its eLearning Innovation Center (eLinC), as well as UOC community entrepreneurship and knowledge transfer via the Hubbik platform.

Open knowledge and the goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development serve as strategic pillars for the UOC's teaching, research and innovation. More information: research.uoc.edu.

Experts UOC

Press contact

You may also be interested in…

Most popular

See more on Research