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There is a lot of mathematical literatur in some non-English languages (French, German, Spanish, etc.) that students from these countries don't need to read English literature (at least) for their undergraduate studies. However, in more advanced classes or when a student wants to get closer to research, there is mostly only English literature, i.e., at some point he/she has to start reading mathematical literature written in English.

When should a student be encouraged to read mathematical literature written in English? Why?

(I'm beware that this is not a big problem in countries where there is rarely any native literature.)

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure how to tag the question properly. Can someone help me? $\endgroup$ – Markus Klein Mar 24 '14 at 6:54
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    $\begingroup$ I suggest that you use the term "texts written in English" rather than "English literature" because the latter could be misinterpreted as written works such as novels and poetry. $\endgroup$ – Joel Reyes Noche Mar 24 '14 at 7:18
  • $\begingroup$ @JoelReyesNoche Yes, I've changed it. Thank you. $\endgroup$ – Markus Klein Mar 24 '14 at 7:26
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    $\begingroup$ I'd go so far as to say that the translations are actively harmful by keeping students away from the English they'll need anyway. $\endgroup$ – vonbrand Mar 25 '14 at 12:30
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As soon as possible. They will need to read English sooner rather than later (not just for math!). Most of the time the saying that last month's results are circulated privately (or via blogs), what was done the last term is in the conference, papers are published 2 or 3 years later, the papers are summarized in a textbook some 5 years after that, and translations of successful texts at least 3 years later. In any fast-moving field relying on the later is just suicide. The whole filtering down process can introduce errors, having access to the original sources can be vital. Besides, the amount and depth of English resources is just so much larger it isn't funny. For one, there are no math.SE or MO in, say Spanish, the coverage in Wikipedia is much better.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like your answer. But not all of the undergraduate students will be researcher in some way in the future; what can I tell them? $\endgroup$ – Markus Klein Mar 25 '14 at 12:02
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    $\begingroup$ Not just for math is a good enough reason. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Mar 25 '14 at 12:04
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    $\begingroup$ @MarkusKlein, if you work in any technical field, manuals will be in English, any discussion boards worth reading will be in English, people who really know how the widget works (and are able to troubleshoot it in difficult cases) will speak English, ... If you end up in some multinational setting, the only common language is more often than not English. $\endgroup$ – vonbrand Mar 25 '14 at 12:28
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Indeed, it might be a problem in countries where there is rarely any native literature. Because in such countries English competes against other transnationial languages (Spanish in Hispanic America, Arabic in Islamic world, French and Swahili in parts of Africa, Russian in some post-Soviet states, …), not much against native languages of local population. Situation is not very different from the one in France, Germany, Spain etc.

When to encourage? Of course, only after acquiring sufficient ability to read in English through some effort lo learn the language. There are some English textbooks with mathematics-related texts, possibly even “Simple English Wikipedia”… but here is not English educators’ site, indeed. Starting to learn a language from reading professional-level scientific texts wouldn’t be a good idea. IMHO any person with some pretence to be educated must be able to read in more than one language (in two with advanced level, or in one with advanced and in yet two with intermediate, maybe). Given English isn’t a difficult language, students shouldn’t necessarily be exposed to it very early. Maybe there should be more prioritized foreign languages. Either due to regional circumstances (see the first paragraph), or just because learning well-structured languages (which English doesn’t belong to) may improve thinking skills. But if a student is aimed to a world-class research, then almost certainly s/he will ultimately learn English to extent of understanding scientific texts.

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    $\begingroup$ The only way to acquire the ability to read English is by reading English. No shortcut available, sorry. $\endgroup$ – vonbrand Aug 25 '15 at 0:40
  • $\begingroup$ @vonbrand: agree that this piece of the answer was silly. Edited. $\endgroup$ – Incnis Mrsi Aug 25 '15 at 7:50
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    $\begingroup$ I disagree that "reading technical stuff" isn't helpful. Technical language is easier than, say, reading a crime novel. $\endgroup$ – vonbrand Aug 25 '15 at 10:39
  • $\begingroup$ @vonbrand: Reading technical stuff, of course, is an important step of language acquisition. But, prior to reading serious texts, one should learn how to tell nouns, adjectives, and verbs from each other. In such languages as Russian and German it’s easy. In English all these parts of speech looks roughly similar, and one have to possess an experience with grammar (IMHO best learned on other languages) to reconstruct intended structure of an English phrase. $\endgroup$ – Incnis Mrsi Aug 25 '15 at 11:21

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