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Contributors: Aleksandra Swatek.

This resource provides information on strategies that the students can use when incorporating languages other than English in their academic texts.

Using Foreign Languages in Academic Writing in English

When writing a research paper, you might want to use a non-English language source to present original data that is not available in English. This data might take various forms: some of it might be literary work (lines of poetry or prose), original archival documents (such as a decrees, bills, chronicles, etc.), research articles that were written in a language you know, or any other information which is crucial for your project but does not yet exist in English.

This resource will provide you with discussion of general considerations for translation in academic writing as well as information on the MLA conventions of integrating foreign languages in academic texts. The specific issues include:


Contributors: Aleksandra Swatek.

This resource provides information on strategies that the students can use when incorporating languages other than English in their academic texts.

General Translation Strategies

You will have to decide whether you need to keep the text in original, translate, or present the readers with both. The decision about the strategy you use for incorporating the non-English materials in your writing should be based on a number of considerations, including:

The familiarity of the language and culture that you expect from your audience

A research paper in your Spanish literature class might draw more heavily on Spanish language, because most of your readers will know some of it.

The attention that you put on the specific vocabulary that you are bringing into your writing

When an author used a particular term in their language and this term has many equivalents in your language. For example, Martin Heidegger coined the German term Dasein, which is often translated into English as “being there” or “presence.” If you substituted discussing the term Dasein with the word presence, the readers might come to the conclusion that it is a term that has no relation to Dasein. This might lead them to believe that you are using it in the original meaning of presence that has no relation to the Heideggerian definition of Dasein.

The effect you want to have on your audience

You can shape your audience’s reading experience and expectations by considering what effect using an untranslated text will have on the readers, in relationship to the purpose you set for your writing. The reason why parts a text might be left untranslated can vary between writers. For instance, you might require the audience to take a more active part in decoding the text and working on the translation on their own. Another reason might be offering the audience the experience of attempting to read a text in a language they have not learned before, in order to challenge them and provide them with that experience. Other reasons that you set for the audience you are writing for are valid too.

Contributors: Aleksandra Swatek.

This resource provides information on strategies that the students can use when incorporating languages other than English in their academic texts.

Quoting and Translating

Foreign Words and Phrases in an English Texts

In your research, you might find that certain key concepts important to your work do not have a direct English equivalent. In this case, keep the term in the foreign language and italicize it:

No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom. (Nabokov XXXIV)

After introducing the key term, you can explain to your audience the meaning of the term and how it might compare and contrast with similar terms they know. Using the word without explanation (e.g. anguish instead of toska) can be seen as misrepresenting the key term, because it does not invoke the other layers of meaning.

Popular Foreign Words

There are a number of commonly used foreign words, abbreviations and phrases that are part of American English: ad hoc, cliché, concerto, genre, sic, versus. Such popular words can be found in a dictionary and are considered a part of the English language. There is no need to translate them, unless they are used by the author in an innovative and unusual ways. In such case, you can provide more context for them. 

Quotations Entirely in a Non-English Language

If you are quoting a whole sentence, you do not have to italicize the non-English words.

Wisława Szymborska once wrote, “Tyle o sobie wiemy, na ile nas sprawdzono.” (7)

Keeping the whole sentence untranslated is a strategy that you could use when you are expecting your readers to know the language to some degree, or if you decide that the readers would benefit from reading and appreciating the original text. This is also the case, when the sentence might not be recognizable as an English translation, but is very well known in the original version.

Wisława Szymborska once wrote, “Tyle o sobie wiemy, na ile nas sprawdzono.” ("We know ourselves only as far as we’ve been tested.”; 7)

Some texts that you are using might already contain specific formatting in a non-English language. In the example below, part of the quotation was written in italics. Preserve that original formatting in your quotation.

Gloria Anzaldúa switches between two languages when she talks about her childhood: “En boca cerrada no entran moscas. ‘Flies don’t enter a closed mouth’ is a saying I kept hearing when I was a child.” (2947)

In this quotation, Anzaldúa provides a direct translation of the saying she heard as a child. Note that the saying she heard in Spanish is kept in original (just as she heard it and as she wrote it – in italics). She also provided a translation of the saying to make it understandable for the readers who might not understand it otherwise.

Contributors: Aleksandra Swatek.

This resource provides information on strategies that the students can use when incorporating languages other than English in their academic texts.

Names and Titles

Foreign names: Accents

It is very important to preserve the accented spelling of a text from another language. When using names of foreign and domestic authors, make sure you are using correct spelling and you represent accents. The most convenient way is to copy and paste the name with the accents from a reliable source on the Internet. This will save you time when looking for appropriate letter. You can also find appropriate accented letter in the Word processor.

Some languages use Latin alphabet, with additional accented letters that are typical for that language, for example: Wisława Szymborska, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Sándor Petőfi.

Romanization of Names

When you are using names and words in English that are originally written using different writing system (e.g. Arabic, Japanese, Cyrillic and other alphabets), you can provide the Romanized spelling alongside the original spelling. As you write, for the second and following instances you can use just the latinized version:

Imru' al-Qais ( امْرُؤُ الْقَيْسِ ابْنُ حُجْرِ الْكِنْدِيِّ)
Guo Xiaolu ( 郭小橹)

Using the original spelling of the name can help recognize the name in the original language, when Latinization removes the important aspects of the name (tonal aspect, any special character used). 

Order of First and Last (Family) Name

In certain languages the convention for writing names is different from English. For instance, in Chinese the last (family) name comes before the first name, e.g. Guo Xiaolu. According to the MLA Style Manual and Guide for Scholarly Publishing,* such convention can be preserved when writing in English. (108)

When you come across a name in a text of a publication in which the family name comes first, and the first name comes second you might re-use it in that order in the works cited page. In that situation you will not add a comma. For example, you are talking about the work of Gao (family name) Xingjian (first name). In the works cited entry you would be as follows:

Gao Xingjian. Soul Mountain. Harper Collins, 2009.

There is no comma separating the last and first name, because you have not reversed it.

Titles in Languages Other than English

You can translate the titles of works written in languages other than English, if you think your audience might not be familiar with the language or the original title.

Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote the novel Der Kunzenmacher fun Lublin (The Magician of Lublin) in Yiddish, his mother tongue.

If the title is written in a non-Latin alphabet, you can provide the original spelling and a translation:

ثرثرة فوق النيل‎‎ (Adrift on the Nile)

or a transliterated spelling

Thartharah fawqa al- Nīl (Adrift on the Nile)

Use the chosen convention consistently throughout your writing.

In the works cited page, the translation of the title is also put in square brackets.

Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. Ра́ковый ко́рпус [Cancer Ward]. Dial Press. 1967.

In APA format, if a non-English source is used you can provide the title in the original language and, in brackets, the English translation.

Gao, G. (2009). Língshān [Soul Mountain]. Taipei: Lianjing Chubanshe.

*Note: As of the release of MLA Style 8th Ed. in 2016, the MLA Style Manual and Guide for Scholarly Publishing will no longer be updated or kept in print. We cite it here because it provides additional guidance on incoporating foreign languages not found in the general MLA Handbook.