The short answer …
Yes – if you do not declare that it is a translated version of an already published paper.
No – if you make it clear that it is a translated version, i.e., not original research.
English is the (current) universal language of science. The pressure on English-as-a-second-language (ESL) researchers to publish in English-medium journals has intensified in recent years. You may have many papers that have been published in your native language; so, can you simply translate and submit these to international journals, thereby relieving some of that pressure, while simultaneously extending the reach and visibility of your research? In this blog, we address this question and discuss how likely you are to succeed in publishing such a paper.
What are the official guidelines on this?
Many journals refer to the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), who state that translated publications are acceptable if they meet certain conditions, including:
- The authors have received approval from the editors of both journals (the journal where the article was originally published and the English-language journal it is now being submitted to).
- The translated version reflects the data and interpretations of the original version.
- The title page of the translated version clearly states that it is not original research, and provides the original reference.
For the full list of conditions that must be met, please see here.
How likely is an editor to accept a translated version of a published paper?
Not likely. Journals are rarely lacking in article submissions. In addition, you are essentially asking the editor to accept your translated paper without peer review, as no changes can be made to the paper to meet the conditions specified above. An editor could ask an associate editor(s) to review the paper to see if it was suitable for publication. However, even if your paper was deemed worthy of acceptance without revision, there are additional administration burdens associated with translated papers. For example, the editor may want to test the quality of the translation and would need to receive approval from the editor of the journal in which your paper was originally published (this is not applicable to Open Access [OA] journals, see below).
As stated by Raoul Kamadjeu, managing editor of the Pan African Medical Journal, “accommodating multiple languages in a scientific journal is not easy and the incentives for publishers to do so are not many, since there is no shortage of material in English” .
There are, of course, exceptions to this; for example, if your paper is of exceptional quality and/or has international relevance. A recent Nature Correspondence made a compelling argument for why “papers published in Chinese or other languages (for instance, highly cited articles) should be routinely translated and republished to render them more visible to the English-language-dominated research community” . An example given was the landmark study by Youyou Tu, for which she received a Nobel Prize, which has been cited only once outside China. If you have such a paper, with the data to back it up (e.g., number of citations, awards won, etc.), then you may have a greater chance of convincing an editor to publish a translated version.
While most journals do not specify, some journals explicitly state that they will not accept translated versions of published papers. For example, the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America (BSSA) states “Papers submitted to BSSA must not have been published previously in English or any other language and must not presently be under consideration for publication elsewhere in English or any other language.”
OA journals, multilingual journals, and repositories
You do not need permission to translate and redistribute articles published in OA journals. Therefore, if you have any OA papers written in your native language, you are free to translate and upload a copy to a repository, for example, a university repository, ResearchGate, etc. Although, you must still clearly specify on the title page that it is a translated version of an already published paper and include a reference to the original publication, to avoid misconduct issues.
It is unlikely you will be able to retrospectively publish old papers written in your native language in English-medium journals. However, if you are serious about increasing the reach of your research, for all future publications, consider including translated versions when you initially submit a paper. Many OA journals (e.g., Public Library of Science [PLOS]) now encourage authors to include translations of their paper (or even just the abstract) as Supporting Information . It is even worth approaching the editors of non-OA journals with this suggestion, or asking if you could include a link to a translated version (of the final peer-reviewed article) uploaded to a repository.
Or you could consider submitting to a multilingual journal, who provide editions of the journal in different languages. Such journals include the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation and World Psychiatry.
- Kamadjeu R. English: the lingua franca of scientific research. The Lancet Global Health. 2019 Sep 1;7(9):e1174. Available from: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(19)30258-X/fulltext
- Tao J, Ding C, Ho YS. Publish translations of the best Chinese papers. Nature. 2018 May 1;557(7706):492-3. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05235-5
- PLoS Medicine Editors. Ich weiss nicht was soll es bedeuten: language matters in medicine. PLOS Medicine. 2006. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030122