I’ve spent six years in English-speaking academia now, and in many ways I’m thoroughly assimilated into it, culturally, philosophically, linguistically. As a German, the culture and language barriers are comparatively low, but there still are some. Whenever you write, talk or present yourself in English in the Humanities, there are many implicit assumptions as to how you should express yourself, how you should write, and most importantly, how you should sound. Failing to adhere to these norms is likely to activate various implicit biases: it will make your work appear less sophisticated and precise, more exotic and irrelevant, and so on. This will sometimes put you at a small, but noticeable disadvantage.
This topic is rarely discussed—perhaps because it justifiably pales in comparison to more pressing dividing lines, such as race and gender—but it is real nonetheless. (For some discussion, see an article by Sarah Ayala in the APA Newsletter, this article in Nous, the Blog “what is it like to be a foreigner in academia?”, Gabrielle Contessa’s blog, and discussion at the Philosophers’ Cocoon.) I hasten to add that being German has barely any significant disadvantages, at least none I’ve experienced; Germans are one of the big, accepted non-English groups in philosophy, and German is even associated with philosophical profundity for historical reasons.
So I’m not interested here in tracing the political and social facets of the issue, though there are a couple of interesting questions to ask (are non-native speakers underrepresented in high-profile journals and jobs? what accommodations should audiences, journals and supervisors make for non-native speakers? what level of English can be demanded of everyone? etc.). Instead, I wish to focus on recounting my personal learning curve of doing philosophy in English, and give some practical advice. I’ve routinely taught German undergraduates at a German university in English, so I have a good feeling for the characteristic errors, especially of German speakers; lastly, I’ve been to various philosophy conferences “on the continent” where I have seen a variety of non-native speakers present. In short, I’ve seen a rich diversity of good and bad.