In September, I traveled with fellow BSR blogger Piper Klemm to Florianopolis, Brazil to attend a meeting of their Materials Research Society. The official language of the conference was not English, and despite assurances from the conference organizers, we were confronted with an odd experience: speakers giving talks entirely in Portuguese, accompanied by slides in English. When presenters from North America, Europe, and Asia spoke, they reverted to English or (occasionally) Spanish. Even in a different hemisphere, English was alive and well as the vehicular language. We were able to pick up plenty of information, and take some photos (seen throughout this story-click to see full size) to boot. In between talks, though, I reflected on what English’s dominance means for the average global citizen.
In Brazil, English might be lingua franca for science, but this stood in contrast to the rest of the country. Even in airports and large hotels, where one might expect some international contact, few people spoke more than cursory snippets of English. At the end of the day, the majority are blocked from directly interacting with science for two reasons: certainly, because of a lack of a basic education in science, but also because they did not speak the language of the majority of other scientists.
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