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English Communication for Scientists 
Unit 2: Writing Scientific Papers
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2.4  Advice for Specific Language Groups


German and Dutch writers
A foreign language is all the more difficult to master when it differs from one's native language in unexpected ways. The following three situations are particularly challenging:
  • The foreign language uses concepts not present in the native language. Examples include inflection (as in whom versus who), conjugation (he does, we do, we did, etc.), and gender (he, she, it), which are not employed in all languages.
  • The foreign language uses concepts that are present in the native language in a different way or to a different extent. Examples include prepositions (used differently in different languages), gender (a word that is masculine in one language may not be so in another), and moods and tenses (not all moods or tenses of one language are necessarily present in another, and, if they are, they may be used differently).
  • The foreign and native languages use words that have similar forms but different meanings (so-called false friends), or the foreign language uses two different words for two meanings rendered by the same word in the native language (such as make and do, both rendered by the same word in many languages).
English has many false friends with Germanic and Romance languages. Probably the most common are actually (meaning in fact rather than currently), and eventually (meaning in the end rather than possibly). Other examples are become (meaning begin to be rather than get, as in the German bekommen), high school (designating grades 9 through 12 rather than college or university, as in the French haute école), and fabric (meaning cloth rather than factory, as in the Spanish fábrica). You can search the Web for more examples that exist between English and your native language, or you might start a personal list of words you often confuse. Then, every time someone corrects such a confusion in your writing, you can add that false friend to your list.
Among the words often confused in English because they translate to the same word in other languages are the following five pairs.
Teach/learn I teach quantum mechanics to first-year students.
I learned this material from two Nobel laureates.
Experience/experiment I learned a lot from experience. (I am an experienced researcher.)
To test our hypothesis, we performed three experiments (according to our group's standard experimental procedure).
Remember/remind I must remember to send her a copy of my paper.
Please remind me to do so.
Make/do If I make a mistake, I will have to do the experiment all over again.
(Usage for make and do is complex. When in doubt about your planned use, look it up in the dictionary or verify usage through a discerning Web search.)
Less/fewer In less time, I will be able to complete fewer experiments.
(Time is uncountable, experiments are countable. The same comment applies to the use of much [uncountable] and many [countable].)

Advice for speakers of German and Dutch

In addition to the false friends and often confused words mentioned earlier, speakers of German and Dutch must pay special attention to several other common mistakes.
Mind the difference between the following related words:
Lend/borrow (both translating as ausleihen in German and lenen in Dutch) Can I borrow your calculator for a minute?
Sure, I will lend it to you.
Then/than (both translating as dan in Dutch) If x is larger than y and y is larger than z, then x is larger than z.
If/when If I decide to join you, I will meet you at noon. [= in the event that]
When I make up my mind, I will let you know. [= at the time that]
Must not/need not
You must not use your calculator. [= are not allowed to]
You need not bring anything. [= are not required to]
Since/for I have been working on this problem since 2008.
I have been working on this problem for two years.
Beware of Dutch constructions that are uncommon or incorrect in English, such as the use of also as the first word of a sentence. Thus, the Dutch sentence "Ook de temperatuur heeft een invloed op . . . " does not translate as "Also the temperature has an influence on . . . " A more correct rendering in English is "The temperature, too, has an influence on . . . "
Be alert for unnecessary hyphens, such as a hyphen between an abbreviation used as an adjective and a noun. Write, for example, the FFT algorithm (not the FFT-algorithm) and the Web application (not the Web-application or the Webapplication).
Finally, beware of abusive abbreviations. Do not carry over into English the Dutch habit of abbreviating expressions such as onder andere (o.a.), met betrekking tot (m.b.t.), and ter attentie van (t.a.v.). In English, it is uncommon to write a.o. for among others, w.r.t. for with respect to, or f.a.o. for for the attention of.
In English, abbreviations such as the ones above are used mostly for Latin expressions, as in e.g. for exempli gratia, i.e. for id est, or b.i.d. for bis in die. Still, these Latin expressions are probably best replaced by their English equivalents (for example, that is, and twice daily).
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