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How your science communication can turn multi-lingual!


Active participation in science communication is important. However, it tends to be time consuming and not the highest of our priorities. Initial enthusiasm can quickly die down, and the aspired impact then never materialises. Here we emphasise the importance of setting long-term objectives, collaborating in networks and openly sharing ideas, strategies and resources. We provide examples of how such strategies can even have international impact, as illustrated here with second-party translation of communication resources into other languages. We share our experiences from supporting such translation activities and provide helpful advice on how to promote and implement them.

Building communities through long-term strategies and public sharing

Those who participate in science communication (scicomm) deserve respect; but we also need to be realistic about what can be achieved. As argued before [1; 4; 5], any activities with a longer-term objective have a better chance of sustainability if turned into a team effort – ideally a collaborative network of like-minded people and organizations. One essential step that can make such developments happen is the online sharing of information and resources. Online sharing has important advantages:

  • It provides strong incentives to aim for high quality outputs, because it makes a huge difference whether you present to a small, local audience or to the world.
  • The launch of online platforms facilitates gradual build-up and improvement of resources and the development of your own brand. We use figshare.com and wordpress.com to this end (both free of charge) and would advise against signing away your copyrights to predatory scicomm or science education organizations; their large user groups provide instant audiences, but you will not be able to improve your own resources anymore.
  • Once resources are out there, they have a chance of developing their own unpredictable dynamics–which may either surprise or disappoint you.

The Manchester Fly Facility initiative as an example

For example, the Manchester Fly Facility is a worldwide unique initiative communicating the importance that research with the fruit fly, Drosophila, has for the biomedical sciences; the underlying rationale has been detailed elsewhere [8]. We develop enabling strategies and resources for advocacy, training and school education [4; 5; 6]. Usually, we publicize them to promote their use through other Drosophila researchers and teachers (see our publication list). So far, we have published 11 articles about Drosophila scicomm in journals (seven in scientific, two in school, two in political journals), three websites (wordpress.com), seven online resources (five figshare.com, one scratch, one other), a series of films on our YouTube channel, five blog posts (PLoS, GSA, The Node), and three international conference presentations.

This open strategy seems to work well, as judged from emails sent by researchers and teachers from 20 nations across six continents, who all make active use of our school and outreach resources (see our impact document). Here we will focus on those researchers who contacted us because they wanted to translate our resources into their respective mother tongue (Box 1, Fig.1). On the one hand, seeing that others wanted to invest time and effort in this way signalled to us that our work is deeply valued; on the other hand, it provides an excellent example of how publication of resources enhances an initiative’s outreach in unpredictable ways.

Box 1. The researchers behind the resource translations 

Fig 1. The people behind the resource translations (from top left to bottom right): Haifa Alhadyian, Mariana Rama Pedro Alves, Patricio Olguín, Faten Taki, Firzan Nainu, Daniela Medel (composer and musician of the background theme of the Spanish version, as well as editor), Oktaviandono (performing narration of the movie), Ana Fernández-Miñán (during her outreach activities).

  1. Patricio Olguín (Institute of Biomedical Sciences, University of Chile) was the first to contact us, interested in translating our first ‘Small fly: BIG impact’ movie for his own school outreach. As he stated at the time: “We thought that the video was very didactic and we were hoping to use the material on a scientific meeting to teach primary school students.” He worked in a team with Daniela Medel, Jimena Sierralta and Nara Muraro.
    • Resource 1: Spanish movie version ‘Pequena mosca: GRAN impacto’ (LINK)
  2. Ana Fernández-Miñán (Scientific Manager of the Functional Genomics Service at the Centro Andaluz de Biología del Desarrollo, CABD, Sevilla) participates in active school outreach and teacher training. She felt that “the material at the droso4schools website was just perfect for this purpose“. She contacted us to translate our ‘KS3-Climbing Assay’ lesson into Spanish, and another time to translate the ‘KS5-Genes & Alcohol’ resources.
    • Resource 2: Spanish lesson version ‘El ensayo de escalada: aprendiendo análisis de datos a través de experimentos reales con moscas de la fruta'(LINK)
    • Resource 3: Spanish lesson version ‘¿Por qué se pone ella más achispada que él? Del gen a la enzima a la evolución’(LINK).
  3. Firzan Nainu (Hasanuddin University, Makassar, Indonesia) contacted us after he had successfully used our outreach materials to apply for a research grant in Indonesia (the first using Drosophila in Indonesia!), and had started to establish fly research at his faculty and a private pharmacy school in Makassar. During an exchange visit of Firzan to Manchester we launched the Fly Indonesia initiative, which involves translation of our resources “to increase the attractiveness of the Drosophila model system to lecturers and students across Indonesian territory“. Firzan worked with his colleague Muhammad Raihan and a team of students including Oktaviandono and Ahmad Mu’arif.
    • Resource 4: Indonesian version of ‘droso4schools’ contents hosted on the ‘Fly Indonesia’ website (LINK)
    • Resource 5: Indonesian movie version Lalat Kecil: Manfaat BESAR’ (LINK)
  4. Haifa Alhadyian (D. student at Univ. Kansas, US) and Faten Taki (postdoc at Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, UA) are native Arabic speakers and took an interest in translating our movie, primarily aiming “to promote the implementation of model organisms research in the science curriculum in their home countries and to be an eye-opener for K1-12 students and their families“. The project involved also the graduate student Fai Al-Dosseri (King Saud University, Saudi Arabia).
    • Resource 6: Arabic movie version ‘صغيرة الحجم: كثيرة المنافع’ (LINK)
  5. Mariana Rama Pedro Alves (PhD student at EMBL, Heidelberg, Germany) is a PhD student at EMBL and passionate about scientific outreach. As a newcomer to Drosophila she has used several of our materials for school visits at EMBL and thinks “they are such a great tool“. To generate a Portuguese draft of the educational movies, she joint ranks with Rafael Galupa and the translator Joana Alarcão e Cunha, and a Manchester team of students including Beatriz Costa-Gomes, Liliana Correia and Emma Leite Velho Ganga at Manchester.
    • Expected resource: Portuguese movie version Mosca pequena, GRANDE impacto’

Experiences from film or website translations

When researchers approached us asking for permission to translate our movies, this opened up a channel of communication: we could give reassurance that resource translation is no wizardry, explain the necessary steps to be taken, and offer our support: sending materials, provide advice at any stage or give feedback on preliminary versions. As detailed in Appendix A, the first milestone that needs to be achieved is a high-quality translation that adapts to the spirit and flow of the film. Most authors did this in teamwork; for example, the Indonesian team paid students to work on the translation (but only after they had been taught background knowledge on Drosophila research); as another helpful strategy, the Arabic team shared the translated content with friends and family members for feedback. For the Portuguese version, the professional translator Joana Alarcão e Cunha volunteered to revise the translated text.

Fig 2. Title images of the different versions of our educational movies (YouTube channel)

Translation also requires re-labelling figures (Fig. 3). For this, original or exported images need to be changed using a suitable graphics program, and then inserted into the film sequence replacing the originals (Appendix A). Authors commented that they struggled with this initially, but once processes were worked out, it was a straightforward task.

We usually gave feedback on preliminary movie versions. For example, we contacted our university office who helped identify students that were native speakers. The students were usually happy to spend an hour or two watching the movie with us. We discussed the choices of words, how well the spoken text aligns with animation, or other aspects such as allegories or symbols that don’t work in other cultural contexts. These sessions were always fun and productive. Usually, authors found our feedback helpful and implemented respective changes in following movie versions. So far, three independent teams without major experience in movie editing managed to generate great end products, clearly showing that no wizardry is required.

Fig 3. Image from the original movie (left) and its Indonesian (middle) and Arabic translation (right).

When listening to the translated movie versions, it astonishes how each version has its very own individual quality. Among them, the Spanish version stands out for its background tunes composed by the musician Daniela Medel particularly for this movie; as the authors state: “It was very challenging for the composer because she had to be very precise in coordinating the times of the video and music. That turned out great and it really made a difference!

Translations of PowerPoint presentations or website contents are less demanding than movie translations, and the procedures for image re-labelling are fundamentally the same (Appendix B). However, setting up the final translated webpage requires a very different set of strategies. We use wordpress.com to host our websites because it is free to use, ideal for those initiatives that have little financial support. However, a ‘business’ upgrade at £20 per month is required if you want to install plug-ins. This may stop you from using convenient translation plug-ins (see some tips here). We developed therefore efficient strategies that are free of cost (detailed in Appendix B).

When summing up our impressions from a number of translation projects, we clearly feel that they offer valuable experiences for all involved, widening horizons and skill portfolios. Furthermore, Mariana from the Portuguese team pointed out that “second-party translations could be a great start for people interested in contributing to outreach, but who do not know how to start. You don’t need to be able to build a resource, yet can help by disseminating it in your community.

Fig 4. The ‘Why fly?’ page on the ‘droso4schools‘ site (left) and its translated version on ‘Fly Indonesia‘.

Gaining momentum?

As indicated before, second-party translation of materials is an encouraging indicator for the quality and appreciation of outreach materials. But it is only the first step. The internet has become a busy place, and any information out there tends to drown in noise. Don’t we all navigate preferentially in familiar sections of the web, shutting off the many other sources of information? As one measure to battle this, we invited authors to upload movies on the Manchester Fly Facility’s YouTube channel to avoid unnecessary scattering of resources. This is in line with our philosophy of collating Drosophila-related scicomm materials in one space (see also our Manchester Fly Facility website), to provide a useful one-stop-shop for all those who want to participate in Drosophila training, education, outreach or advocacy.

Furthermore, we live in times where a picture of a chicken egg or other memes tend to attract more attention than information that is actually relevant to our lives. This requires pro-active promotion of resources and ideas – even more so for a topic like Drosophila research; it is not particularly attractive at first sight, and certainly has no prominent target audiences that eagerly await the next resource release. Accordingly, all translated films have had below 500 views (April 2019), and more needs to be done to promote them.

For example, the idea behind Fly Indonesia was to build networks of researchers using flies as a cost-effective model, thus following the examples of (and seeking collaboration with) DrosAfrica [3] and TReND in Africa [2]. Also teacher networks can be targeted, and the translation of school lesson support materials into Indonesian was a first step to this end. This would also align well with the rationale behind other scicomm initiatives, such as the ‘Native Scientist‘ charity which aims to inspire immigrant pupils for STEM in their native language. Furthermore, it is worth trying to gain support from learned societies with a vested interest in fly research; for example, the various Spanish-speaking societies for Developmental Biology (CSDB, LASDB, PASEDB, RiBiD, SMBD or SEBD), or their Genetics Society counterparts, may be able help advertise the resources that have been translated into Spanish.

As pointed out in previous publications [1; 5; 7], establishing collaborative networks reaching across scientists, learned societies, funding bodies, and other organisations should be the ultimate goal. But whether this is achieved depends on highly complex dynamics. This is well explained in the ‘leadership lessons from a dancing guy‘ [9]: one person can take a lead by starting to dance – but it is the choice of the rest of us to either stay passive or get involved and contribute to the build-up of critical momentum.

Edited by Jason Organ, PhD, Indiana University School of Medicine.


[1]   Illingworth, S., Prokop, A. (2017). Science communication in the field of fundamental biomedical research (editorial). Sem Cell Dev Biol70,1-9 — [LINK]

[2]   Maia Chagas, A., Prieto-Godino, L. L., Arrenberg, A. B., Baden, T. (2017). The euro100 lab: A 3D-printable open-source platform for fluorescence microscopy, optogenetics, and accurate temperature control during behaviour of zebrafish, Drosophila, and Caenorhabditis elegans. PLoS Biol15,e2002702 — [LINK]

[3]   Martín-Bermudo, M. D., Gebel, L., Palacios, I. M. (2017). DrosAfrica: Establishing a Drosophilacommunity in Africa. Sem Cell Dev Biol70,58-64 — [LINK]

[4]   Patel, S., Prokop, A. (2017). The Manchester Fly Facility: Implementing an objective-driven long-term science communication initiative. Semin Cell Dev Biol70,38-48 — [LINK]

[5]   Patel, S., Prokop, A. (2018). An objective-driven long-term initiative to communicate fundamental science to various target audiences  –  a Drosophila case study. Blog post in“PLOS | BLOGS” — [LINK]

[6]   Patel, S., DeMaine, S., Heafield, J., Bianchi, L., Prokop, A. (2017). The droso4schools project: long-term scientist-teacher collaborations to promote science communication and education in schools. Semin Cell Dev Biol70,73-84 — [LINK]

[7]   Prokop, A. (2017). Communicating basic science: what goes wrong, why we must do it, and how we can do it better. Blog post in“PLOS | BLOGS” — [LINK]

[8]   Prokop, A. (2018). Why funding fruit fly research is important for the biomedical sciences. Open Access Govern20,198-201 — [LINK]

[9]   Sivers, D. (2010). First follower: leadership lessons from a dancing guy. Blog post  — [LINK]

Appendix A. Movie translation

  1. Ideally obtain the original movie file, or use suitable grabbing software (e.g., Online Video Converter) to download it from its online platform.
  2. Write a script with the translation of the spoken word of the original movie. The translation needs to bring across the spirit of the movie, be simple and clear, and align with the animation; almost every word needs to be weighed carefully as to whether it is precise, telling and carrying the correct message. Ideally, one person works out a draft translation, which is then worked on in a team by reading out the text aloud and re-watching the respective movie passages; jointly brainstorm for solutions and improvements until you are absolutely satisfied. Be prepared to have several of these sessions, since the quality of your translation is key to the movie’s success.
  3. Consider adaptations to match your target audience; for example:
    1. Describing fruit flies as ‘hovering over a fruit bowl in summer‘ does not make sense for audiences living closer to the equator.
    2. Using a pig bank to illustrate cost-effectiveness is inappropriate for translations targeting countries with predominantly Muslim population.
  4. Choose the best narrator with a clear and accommodating voice. The narrator should have watched the film repeatedly: aware of its flow when reading from the script, and knowing when certain effects will require emphasis, clear pauses or changes in intonation
  5. Usually, a standard microphone plugged into the recording device of your computer is sufficient, but you will need a sound-free environment – or simply use a thick blanket over your head. Note that the recording will subsequently be edited, so don’t hesitate to repeat sentences, or halt if you need to interrupt.
  6. For some images, the text may have to be changed:
    1. not ideal: Translations are provided as subtitles
    2. ideal: Original image files are available (e.g., vector or pixel graphic files with separated text boxes/layers) and text can be easily changed using compatible software; you may use freeware (e.g., many illustrations of our films were done with GIMP).
    3. A workable compromise: You may have to extract an image from the movie as pixel graphics, cut existing texts out, or cover it with white boxes to then add your language of choice.
  7. Load the movie into a suitable video editor and delete the audio track.
  8. Cut out film sequences with text-containing images; replace with your translated versions.
  9. Insert your recording into the audio track.
  10. If not already done in a pre-editing step of the audio file, clean up the recording by deleting long breaks, repeated sentences etc.
  11. Edit video and audio tracks in conjunction through cutting, stretching, inserting gaps etc. – all with the aim of perfectly aligning the spoken work with the animation. Be aware that:
    • shifting the tone versus animation by as little as half a second can sometimes make all the difference (listen to members of the team with a good feeling for rhythm!);
    • pauses can sometimes be as important as the spoken word, to give listeners time to digest before being confronted with the next statement;
    • languages can have diverging structures; for example, in an English movie a certain animation may be aligned with the verb at the beginning of the sentence – in a German translation the verb often comes last, hence the animation may have to be delayed by a second or two.
  12. Show the final movie to native speakers who have never seen the movie before, ask them to be critical and listen to their feedback. Be prepared to re-edit and aim for perfection. Once online, you will regret not to have invested that extra effort – each time you watch the video!

Appendix B. How to translate a wordpress.com webpage without plug-ins

  1. For some images, text may have to be changed
    • not ideal: Word translations are provided in the legend.
    • ideal: Original image files are available (e.g., vector or pixel graphic files with separated text boxes/layers) and text can be easily changed using compatible software; you may use freeware (e.g., many illustrations of our films were done with GIMP)
    • a workable compromise: If there is only a non-layered pixelated file, you may cut existing texts out, or cover it with white boxes to then add your language of choice
  2. Do not change the name of translated image files, or simply add one consistent prefix (e.g., always add a ‘p’ for Portuguese: change “FlyImage.jpg” to “pFlyImage.jpg”); this will be unavoidable if the translated page is hosted on the same website as the original.
  3. Upload the images into the media store of the intended website; within the media store, click on one image and copy its link path shown in the right-hand sidebar (e.g., ‘https://webpage2.files.wordpress.com/2019/04/pFlyImage.jpg’)
  4. Go to ‘Text’ mode of the original webpage and copy the html code; paste it into a word processing program.
  5. Within the text, identify a link path to an image (e.g., ‘<a href=”https://webpage1.wordpress.com/2018/11/FlyImage.jpg”>’); use the automated replacement function of the word processing program to exchange the underlined part of this original path by the one you copied out from the intended website.
  6. Start a new page or post on your intended website and go into ‘edit’ mode.
  7. Copy the modified html code from the word processing program and paste it into the new page/post using the ‘Text’ mode.
  8. Switch to ‘Visual’ mode and check that the layout of the page is properly reproduced and all images are shown; broken links to image files may occur and need to be corrected manually in ‘Text’ mode; causes may be
    • Capitals in image files were replaced by lower case in the new media store (e.g., ‘pFlyImage.jpg’ may appear as ‘pflyimage.jpg’)
    • An image of the original web page was uploaded at a different time and the link path deviates and was not detected by the word processor (e.g., ‘webpage1.wordpress.com/2017/03/‘ instead of ‘webpage1.wordpress.com/2018/11/). Replace by the proper new link path (‘webpage2.files.wordpress.com/2019/04/p‘)
  9. Go to ‘Visual’ mode of your new page/post and copy out the text, paragraph by paragraph; paste it into a translator (e.g., Google Translate) and replace the original text paragraph with the translated version.
  10. Refine the translated text:
    • Improve clumsy or wrong translations.
    • Use the original web page to copy over hyperlinks into the translated text.

Want to stay connected with #SciCommPLOS or pitch an idea for a blog post? Tweet us at @SciCommPLOS or email us at scicommplos@gmail.com.

About the Authors
  • Andreas Prokop

    Andreas Prokop is Professor of Cellular and Developmental Neurobiology at the Faculty of Biology, Medicine & Health (Manchester). He studies the mechanisms that form and then maintain nerves for the lifetime of an organism, relating to aspects of aging and neuro-degeneration. For this, he uses the fruit fly Drosophila as experimental object. Through his role as academic head of the Manchester Fly Facility and communication officer of the British Society for Developmental Biology, he started systematic initiatives of science communication advocating Drosophila research and Developmental Biology, as is detailed in a blog post from November 2017 (https://scicomm.plos.org/2017/11/20/communicating-basic-science-what-goes-wrong-why-we-must-do-it-and-how-we-can-do-it-better/).

  • Sanjay Patel

    Sanjay Patel works at the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health of The University of Manchester. Patel is also the manager of the Manchester Fly Facility.

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