Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

What language is used with Physics?

  1. May 22, 2008 #1
    I am about to enter college in September and I am choosing my classes now. I am very interested in becoming bilingual and would like to know what language would be useful in this field. I thought about Mandarin Chinese but I can't see a real benefit it could produce. I'm very interested in Russian but I'm sure about the benefits either.

    Which one would be best?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 22, 2008 #2
    I don't think you particularly need to know a different language but I'm sure it can help for research. I know at my school math majors bound for graduate school are encouraged to take either German, Russian, or French
  4. May 22, 2008 #3
    Mandarin Chinese
    Don't know about Russian but definitely Chinese would provide you an opportunity to work there ...

    I am thinking about Japanese (with EE + economics minor) ..
  5. May 22, 2008 #4
    Learn the language of mathematics. I am serious, it really is a language. There are many symbols that will take some time getting used to.

    You don't need any other language than math to succeed at physics. It may help to learn some greek and latin derivations, which pretty much all scientific definitions come from. Try a book like Ayers:

    https://www.amazon.com/Bioscientific-Terminology-Words-Latin-Greek/dp/0816503052/ref=pd_sim_b_img_9 (ignore the fact its for biology, there is still much in it for physics)

    If you insist on being bilingual, then I would say German is the most useful. Some of the best math and physics are in German. French would be useful at times but not too important.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 23, 2017
  6. May 22, 2008 #5
    The languages of physics and maths

    The languages that are viewed as the big scientific languages in mathematics are probably these;

    1. English, it is the scientific lingua franca of the world
    2. French, You must acknowledge the french of this, they are a very large "rationalistic" nation in terms of philosophy (they cared historically more about pure maths than industrial endeavors).
    3-2. Russian, Because of the large amount of world class russian mathematicians in practice today.
    3-2. German, Because the germans are a very large industrial and sceintific nation of import.

    The languages in physics is a bit different.

    1. English, same as above.
    2-1. German, many good physicists historically, and many good still today, like in the frauenhofer-centers in germany (actually sweden got one too, in gothenburg).
    2-2. French, Historically a very sharp scientific country. Still is today, almost on par with germany.

    Any other languages?

    Yes, but the cost-effective-value of learning said language is rather bleak, and that is japanese and/or mandarin chinese. Japanese I would understand if you learned, but then your speciality probably is reactor engineering, engineering physics, some parts of physics like condensed matter physics and/or particle physics, even a bit of mathematical physics I presume.

    Take this at face value, I am not in the nobel committee. Just a rather interested undergrad in engineering chemistry with physics. :wink: But I monitor all the big papers in science and economics. (not the american ones mind you :wink:)
  7. May 22, 2008 #6
    Basically everyone who does physics at a high level speaks English to some degree of fluency, so really learning a foreign language would only be culturally considerate, and not really a necessity. To that end I could see Russian, Chinese, and even Hindi and Portuguese as being equally viable languages to learn.

    I think people from other nations kind of appreciate when Americans make a serious attempt to learn about their culture and behave without the stereotypical American exceptionalism, but I can't imagine you being in a situation where you needed to communicate science in a different language, even teaching at a foreign institution.
  8. May 22, 2008 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Hi Dauden! :smile:

    Anyone serious in physics speaks English anyway.

    If you want to read Tolstoy and Chekhov in the original Russian, then by all means learn Russian for that reason … but not for physics.

    If not … learn Spanish! :smile:
  9. May 22, 2008 #8
    Yeah, but will.c and tinytim; There are a lot of VERY good and appraised journals out there that would be dumb for a very ambitious scholar to not monitor. Like the "Angewandte chemie" which is not to confuse with the int edition.

    Physics-Uspekhi, a physics journal in russian.
    Fizika Tverdogo Tela (Physics of the Solid State)
    Fizika i Tekhnika Poluprovodnikov (Semiconductors)

    Publications Mathématiques de l'IHÉS which publishes in french I think, but I haven't been able to verify it.
    Annales de l'Institut Henri Poincaré which I think also publishes in french.

    So besides english, I think another language is appropriate. But choose wisely and only one that is relevant to your field. Albeit considerations like that can change over time.
  10. May 22, 2008 #9
    I asked my Russian-speaking condensed matter theorist friend if he ever read scientific articles in Russian and he snorted and said "no". If an article really is significant it will be published in an English-language journal.

    You really can't go wrong studying a second language. Pick a country you would like to visit.
  11. May 22, 2008 #10


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    The article doesn't even have to be significant; many journals are translated into English although it sometimes takes a few months for the translated edition to become available (and sometimes the journals are hard to find).
    Anyway, no scientist would ever publish anything significant in any other language than English. There are still journals in German, French, Russian etc but they mostly publish "internal" papers (basically reports), some conference proceedings etc.

    Also, remember that physics is VERY international, much of the work is done in collaboration with colleagues from other countries (this is especially true in Europe) and most research groups will have at least a few members from other countries. Hence, writing papers in any other language than English isn't very practical.
  12. May 22, 2008 #11
    hedge your bets and learn a bunch. once you've gotten one from each language family the rest come easily.
  13. May 22, 2008 #12
    Thanks for all the replies. I have one question that might be a little off-topic but still has to do with my learning a language.

    What is the appeal of Russian Literature? I have read one book by a Russian called One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. I really enjoyed the book and would like to learn more about said literature but I'm just wondering why is Russian so much more popular than other countries' literature.
  14. May 22, 2008 #13
    This is a very subjective question that I cannot answer. As a matter of fact, although the Russian have had some fantastic writers in their day, I wouldn't say that "Russian so much more popular than other countries' literature" by any means.

    That being said, if you want a nice novella to read by Tolstoy (about 90 pages) you should check out The Death of Ivan Ilyich. It was an incredible read for me; I could not abandon it and read it in one sitting it was so good.
  15. May 22, 2008 #14
    Well, what I meant by being so much more popular was that I never hear of someone taking French Literature or Spanish Literature or something of the sort. I frequently hear about Russian though.
  16. May 22, 2008 #15
    I just took a class on Russian revolutionary and oppressive literature. We read Solzhenitsyn as well as Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Gogol, and some others. It is very interesting especially considering as the Russian intelligencia said they did not have their own literature before 1850. Is it the best? Debatable. Interesting to study? Certainly.
  17. May 22, 2008 #16
    Voltaire, Camus, Gide, Proust, Hugo, Balzac... I could go on, but my immediate knee-jerk reaction yielded, within seconds, a plethora of French writers that any reasonably cultured person should know. French Literature is an exceedingly popular subject, and so is Spanish language literature, although a lot of the studied work comes from Central and South America.
  18. May 23, 2008 #17


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    ah … but are they popular (in English-speaking countries)?

    When was the last time we saw Proust on telly? :biggrin:

    In French, I'd guess the popular English translations are of Dumas, Jules Verne, Hugo, and not much else. And no theatre (apart from musicals!).

    In Spanish, Don Quixote and not much else.

    But for some reason, Russian authors are popular in English translation, in books and on stage and on telly. :confused:

    ok then … shoot me down with obvious examples I haven't thought of! :redface:
  19. May 23, 2008 #18


    User Avatar

    I'm surprised that no one has suggested Latin. It is the language of knowledge after all, and the foundation of much English. It is probably the most directly useful to physics language after English.

    If you plan to work in an international context in spaceflight then obviously Russian, too.
  20. May 23, 2008 #19
    Sure physics is international, but the physicists are local. I think that a truly ambitious scholar should pursue an extra language besides english. At least to be able to travel and get creative ideas in another enviroment and don't relying on the english so much.

    Maybe you are right about the ideas being marketed in english alone, but some people haven't got that fluency to communicate clearly (just look at some posts in this forum.... :rolleyes:).

    Francophone projection of their culture is rather worldwide, but it hasn't penetrated america, I can only guess why.
  21. May 23, 2008 #20


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    I don't know about Portuguese, but no one does physics in Hindi.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook