Brainstorming activity (English for Science)

Watch the following video and pay attention to the use of language used, linkers, sentences, pronouns, verb tenses.

Could you understand most of the ideas expressed by the speaker?

Try to reply to these questions as a reply to this post.


14 thoughts on “Brainstorming activity (English for Science)

  1. Pilar Navarro Ayala March 13, 2013 — 3:24 pm

    Yes, in general I can understand most of the ideas expressed. I think I have missed some words or expressions, but in general the project is very impressive and I wish them good luck.
    English for Science is a specific branche of General English used by scientists and characterized by a large amount of technical words and expressions that don’t appear in other branches, making it very difficult to understand to general public.
    I’ve never tried to read any math formula in English. I don’t know if I could do it, maybe it depends on the formula.

    1. Thanks Pilar! We will try with some formulae!


    2. I can also understand most of the ideas. It is an amazing project.
      Despite the fact that the speaker is a scientist, he does not make use of many technical words and difficult expressions. Of course, he mentions the stem cells, and explains the project in scientific terms. His goal is to make his audience understand what the project is about and make them aware of the importance of keeping on receiving funds, so this is why he uses a quite understandable language adapted to the general public.

  2. Juan Carlos Araujo Portugal March 29, 2013 — 5:46 pm

    English for science nowadays is the variety of the English language that scientists, both native and non-native, use to inform their colleagues about the developments and breakthroughs in the field of science. That ways, regarless of your location, you can be uptodate with the latest and most recent advancements in science, mainly, thanks to ICT tools. It is governed by a series of conventions and specific vocabulary, highly influenced by English, which make its understanding easier. The main focus is on writing, but as we have seen in the video, speaking is also important, together with reading.

    I have never read formulae, but I would love to be able to do so. I do not think it must be very difficult, in the same way it is not in Spanish. It will probably be different.

    I could understand most of the video. He spoke quite slowly. However, I found it difficult to keep my attention at times, probably because of the topic. I think some kind of visual aid would have helped to keep my attention. It even took me some time to work out the name of the pharmaceutical firm he keps mentioning throughout the video, namely, Pfizer.

  3. The language used is in general term simple concerning structure, as it is common in speeches in the Anglophone world. Even the vocabulary is kept rather basic. Yet, given the subject, the speaker must make use of certain specialized terms from the fields of social science, economy, biology, medicine and industry.

    Sentences tend to be short and cohesion is achieved by two means: without specific linkers, just the temporal unfolding of information when describing a certain course of action often (though “now” and “then” and coordinators also abound), or with textual cohesion linkers every now and then for previous textual reference (so, again…) when the topic changed. A few times a change of topic was marked with an introductory “topic line”.

    “Which” is often used, whenever a new term needs to be explained.

    A Change of stage in the account of events is also done by change in the pronouns (usually functioning as subjects) that range either from I/we when referring to the project and it/they when referring to other organizations doing the same kind of research or to their partner Pfizer.

    Verb tenses are very varied. The core of this speech is the description of a course of investigation from the funding of the organization to the present stage in their initial five-year plan, so all verb tenses are used. Simple past is the most common tense to refer to past actions. Both present prefect and simple present are used to indicate the current state of the project and the most recent achievements. Present continuous is reserved for actions just started and current, and future for the actions that are planed into the project. Passive is not so used as in other scientific texts, probably because of the more accessible tone used in this context, but appears unavoidably when talking about the past trials carried out and the ones running at present.

    Yes, the conference was very easy to follow for me.

  4. Cristina Da Silva Nicolau April 23, 2013 — 1:42 pm

    A) What do you understand by English for Science?
    I think it refers to English used in the specific context of science and it is certainly used by scientists, academics, teachers and researchers. It has unquestionably specific features regarding the subject, terminology, expressions and idioms, syntax, rhetoric devices and behaviours such as politeness strategies.
    B) Have you ever tried to read any math formulas in English? Yes
    C) Did you know how to do it?
    I remember that it was not an easy task and that I made many mistakes. I had to do some research on the internet in order to comprehend how to do it. I recall that I watched a mathematic lesson on
    D) Do you think it could be difficult?
    With the accurate grammar, syntax, vocabulary and expressions taught by a teacher it should be an easy task to do.
    E) Watch the video shown in the blog and answer to the questions proposed: Pay attention to the language used, linkers, sentences, pronouns, verb tenses; Could you understand most of the ideas expressed by the speaker?
    I definitely could understand the main ideas expressed in the video about the maintenance and improvement of vision, stem cell therapy for macular disease and regenerative medicine, but I have to admit that in order to comprehend the entire discussion I had to take notes regarding the general and specific terminology and expressions. The speaker used general language applied to science such as research project, philanthropic donation, scientific audience, replacing eye cells, possibility or problem of rejection, to address blindness, progression of a disease, adverse complications, cells tolerated by the patient, financial commitment, etc. But I also noticed a more specific use of language for science enclosing terminology and expressions that need to be understood in order to fully understand the conference such as: National Health Service, Macular Disease Society, AMD project, Age-related macular degeneration trial, patient derived stem cell, blue print, human embryonic stem cell, stem cell arena, donor-matched piece of tissue, immunosuppressants, micro-surgery, regulatory process, clinical trial, pre-clinical package, process of developmental biology, cell injection, trophic factor, clinical application, clinicians, take a therapeutic into clinic, manufacturing the cells to a clinical grade standard, different kinds of transplantation, repopulating the diseased eye, to get on or to come off the clinical trial, to buy a cell line, bank of cell-lines, manufacturing of cells, etc. Finally I was amazed by the choice of some general expressions such as turn back time, being in the process, bring people on board or to have something on board, something to be unheard of, things coming nicely together, to cut research founding, being at the cutting edge, the coming out of a premature publication, etc. which reveal the style and the speaker’s general attitude in this specific context.

    1. Thanks Cristina. Thank You as well for the recomendación about watching a Youtube video to know how to pronunce mata formulae.

  5. Tomás Costal Criado March 14, 2014 — 10:51 pm

    I read the comments left by last year’s students of the subject and immediately after that I watched the full video taking notes and jotting down interesting quotes, which are attached below. I would say that the speaker’s language cannot be referred to as English for Science, at least strictly speaking. Firstly, the audience is not specialized, since the very last minutes of the video give the impression that such a gathering has been triggered by two clearly different purposes: fundraising and self-promotion. Secondly, in spite of making use of some bits of terminology, the speaker is constantly trying to convey as much of his meaning as possible to the layperson, not only in the auditorium, but also in the ‘everywhere/nowhere’ of the internet. Thirdly, from the high level of self-referentiality and praise of one’s own work, we are forced to suspect the underlying intentions of the participants and the unstable character of the whole discourse. For these reasons, the ideal of objectivity, conciseness and detachment does not seem to be applicable in this particular case. Rather than the language of science, this is the language of marketing, however commendable the ends of the project are.
    The speech is structured in several sections, which the speaker has written down as an aide-memoire. The introductory slides inform the viewer about the when, the what and the who: London Conference 2012; Stem Cell Therapy Research (Macular Disease Society); Prof Peter Coffey and; The London Project to Cure Blindness. Initially, there are the GREETINGS. Explicit reference is made to the differences between ‘scientific audiences’ and ‘other audiences’, the likes of which one can find in a fundraising event of this nature. At this point, the basic elements around which the monologue will orbit are featured: technologies to address blindness; an extremely generous donation by an American in 2007; age-related macular degeneration; cell therapy; going from nothing to a clinical application in under five years; collaborating with clinicians, engineers, scientists, commercial organizations; gaining funding; sourcing millions of pounds for research… However, very informal language emerges at regular intervals, intermingled with some specialized terminology, namely: to cut to the quick (this one appears on two occasions); ‘not pleased, ecstatic’ and; that’s what I’m paid to do (at this point the speaker asks the audience to stop applauding, quite an unexpected reaction indeed!).
    PARTNERS are given quite a lot of protagonism throughout the recording: the commitment taken on by Pfizer; accusations of having sold out a non-commercially-oriented venture; gaining assurance in the field of regenerative medicine… It seems as if a great part of what the speaker refers to were subliminal and culturally-dependent. This situation adds further complexity to the matter being discussed, and its historical trajectory.
    STEM CELLS are presented to the audience as ‘the star cell […] the fertilized egg which has the ability to turn into every other cell in our bodies’. This sort of simplification distances the language used by the speaker from what would be regarded as English for Science; as the message is not to be received by a specialist in the subject, plain, jargon-free language is employed instead. Strong accusations are made against so-called ‘stem cell tourism companies’ and the false reports they produce, although the big guns are fired against those ‘cranks’ who profess to have a stem cell treatment without any evidence whatsoever, no ability and who charge really high prices for nought. The following quote says it all: ‘beware of false prophets, so to speak, in the stem cell arena’. Once again, language appears oversimplified, perhaps even topical.
    Stem cell production PROCEDURE comprises four separate phases: 1) pre-clinical package; 2) manufacturing cells to a clinical grade standard; 3) clinical manufacture and; 4) creation of cell banks (currently located in Scotland, just outside London and in the US). Regulators are involved in the whole process, and design of special clinical surgical tools is required (e. g. the CE mark, which is more expensive than a car and is no bigger than a fountain pen).
    The speech ends by making reference to the CURRENT TRIALS, the FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS and the role of the GOVERNMENT. It is still difficult to say if human embryonic eye-cells will improve or maintain the patient’s vision, but it can already be asserted that eye-cells produced from stem cells do not harm human organ tissues. In fact, Japanese scientists have managed to produce a whole ‘eye in a dish’; a whole retina outside a human body. To make things simpler (again) the speaker claims that these projects are really promising but ‘still in their infancy, to say the least’. They are ‘pushing really hard’, he says, for ‘eye’ to be included in the UK’s regenerative medicine catalogue alongside with ‘heart’. All parties -all stakeholders- are responsible for the success or failure of this new technology, but the speaker is certain that very little or nothing could have been achieved without the support and generosity of the members of the audience in front of him.
    My personal conclusion is that, in the face of an advanced, complicated technology which looks more like science-fiction than science, every effort needs to be made so as not to go over the top. Oversimplification is preferable to overcomplication, it would seem, especially when the loss of public interest would probably send a groundbreaking invention into oblivion. This speech is the tale of an ordinary person telling a lot of ordinary people about something quite extraordinary. Terminology adds very little to the audience’s enjoyment, therefore, divulgation takes precedence over technicality.

  6. Paul López de Munain March 17, 2014 — 8:39 pm

    First, I’ve understood it perfectly what means the doctor has uttered a clear speech, addressed to the general public, not to his colleagues. It’s obvious that the audience is a lay one because he hasn’t mentioned any medical specific term, concept or process that only somebody who has studied medicine would understand.
    Second, he’s offered a sucint and general overview of the state of his team’s investigation on the use of stem cells applied to the cure of macular eye desease in an easy and close at hand way, which, I have to say, have found engrossing, neither bombastic or convoluted nor sensationalistic, just clear and plain.
    Third, he’s made frequent allusions to the seriousness and reliability of his project in the face of some other ones which he’s deemed as “pranks” and, in order to invest his speech with that hue of seriousness and reliability, he has laid a clear, though superficial, description of the many processes, stages, tests, controls and inspections his investigation has had to go through, which in my opinion , has worked in the right way, because I’ve found it quite informative and reliable.

  7. Paul López de Munain March 20, 2014 — 7:13 pm

    Regarding the brainstorming questions, to the first question I would answer that English for Science is the specific kind of language that is used in a more or less specialized level in the scientific field; and to the second one I ‘ll say yes. I had to read plenty of formulae in maths during my high school senior year in the U.S.A.

  8. Certainly an interesting topic and one I did not know was so advanced.Hopefully they’re successful achieving their goal and help blind people to recover their sight. It would be a real kick for all of them…
    I’ve understood most of it and although he uses some terms related to Science, I believe they were fairly familiar to all of us.

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