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How to Report Science in Local Languages

Bothina Osama
Publication Date
Publication Date: 
June 8, 2012

"[D]espite its difficulties, localising science by reporting in native languages - in print, radio or television - is crucial to get information about science to wider audiences, allowing communities to learn about scientific developments in a meaningful way."

Noting that any journalist writing in a language other than English has to cope with much of their source information being in English, this guide provides tips on how to report science in local languages - from getting translations right to developing relationships with the experts who can help. While aimed at print journalists, the guide, produced by a science journalist, is meant to be relevant for anyone working in print, online, or broadcast media.

Contents include:

  • Tricky translations - example tip: "Remember that in translation, a simple mistake can spiral out of control. For example, in Arabic reports of research making sperm from stem cells taken from bone marrow, a potential treatment for male infertility, many outlets reported that it meant women no longer need men to reproduce.....One way of translating 'bone marrow' into Arabic is to say 'the brain of bones'. However, the journalist translated bone marrow into 'bones of the brain', leading to a headline suggesting that women wouldn't need men to reproduce because they could derive sperm from the 'bones of their brains'. You can make your translations more accurate by using two resources: dictionaries of scientific terms and trusted scientists who speak both English and your local language."
  • Questioning contributors - example tip: "Conducting face-to-face interviews is an important way to build fruitful relationships. If you can't easily visit a researcher, try to do the interview by phone instead as this also builds relationships and allows you to ask on-the-spot questions about translations. Try to avoid email interviews..."
  • Know your audience - example tip: "A good way to grab readers' attention is to give your stories a local context - what problems in their daily lives could this research alleviate (or exacerbate)? Only choose the most relevant stories and think hard about the angle you will take."
  • Local research - example tip: "There aren't many scientific journals in local languages in the developing world but if you find some, they can be a goldmine of locally relevant research. You may find that the language is very technical and the relevance of some papers may be difficult to determine, so try searching databases or digests of local research, if available, using keywords of topics you know your audience is interested in. This is also where your trusted local experts can help."
  • Bridge the divide - "Everyone has a right to know about scientific developments that will affect their lives, and almost always this means telling people about science in their own language."

English, French, and Spanish

Contact Information: 
Source:, November 9 2012. Image credit: Flickr/CIFOR

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