Perhaps more than other endeavours, scientific research crosses national and linguistic boundaries. In efforts to communicate across those boundaries, the use of English has come to predominate. This creates undoubted advantages for researchers for whom English is their native language, and extra burdens on other researchers, who must master English in addition to their own field of study. On the other hand, there are also many benefits to a common language.
For example, the Web of Science database lists over 200,000 refereed scientific articles published in 2014 relating to research on cancer. Of these, 98% are in English. A working competency in English makes this vast output immediately available. In addition, through a common language it has become possible for researchers in disparate countries to collaborate without the need for translators. Most importantly, it has become possible for a researcher to publish his or her findings knowing that they will be understood by almost every researcher in that field around the world. The ALESS program was instigated with the goal of helping science students at the University of Tokyo take advantage of these benefits and join the global community of researchers.
ALESS (Active Learning of English for Science Students) is a single-semester compulsory English writing course for first-year science students. The course is centred around the construction of a short IMRD-style paper (where Introduction, Method, Results and Discussion are the main sections) that is based on a small experiment that the students themselves design and carry out (either in groups or individually).
No textbook is used for the ALESS course. Instead, class content and material are continuously being developed and adapted by the faculty through continuous collaboration. We tread a careful line between maintaining a curriculum that is shared between classes while leaving room for individual innovation.