Why the rollback, @phwd? Is this not network-wide policy (language-specific sites excluded)? –  Pops Jan 30 '12 at 18:58
    
The underlying point in most answers can answer to an extent whether English is required on the SE network but the question and answers are specific to Stack Overflow. If anything, make a new question specifically directed to SE instead of blowing up the scope on this one. @Popular –  phwd Jan 30 '12 at 19:18
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@PopularDemand meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/120744/… –  phwd Jan 30 '12 at 19:34
    
Stack Overflow 的官方語言是英文,所以要用英文喔。如你想有中文 Stack Overflow的話,請支持 Stack Overflow (in Chinese) –  Derek 朕會功夫 Nov 5 '12 at 3:32
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migrated from stackoverflow.com Aug 11 '09 at 12:14

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10 Answers

The Stack Overflow Trilogy has an official policy on non-English questions:

It is not, nor has it ever been, our goal to be the one place in the world for all programming information in every possible human language.

  • Direct question posters to native language resources.
  • It is not the community's goal to teach English.
  • The question asker should put some effort into the question.

As long as the question is in salvageable English and makes some modicum of sense, it should be edited and improved like any other post.


Languages by total number of speakers

alt text

English is as close that we have ever come to a global lingua-franca. It is generally considered the dominant language of science and diplomacy. It is also the most taught second-language by a far, far margin. English is the official language of about 45 nations.

English is everywhere. Some 380 million people speak it as their first language and another 600 million speak it as their second. A billion are learning it, about a third of the world's population is in some sense exposed to it and by 2030, it is predicted almost half of the world will be more or less proficient in it. It is the language of globalization - of international business, politics and diplomacy. It is the language of computers and the Internet. You'll see it on posters in Beijing, you'll hear it in pop songs in Tokyo, you'll read it in official documents in Prague. Deutsche Welle broadcasts in it. Bjork, an Icelander, sings in it. French business schools teach in it. It is the medium of expression in cabinet meetings in Bolivia. English is now the global language. - Oxford Seminars

As Troy pointed out in the comments, the number of people who speak English is nowhere near as important as how many people can write it. More specifically, I find the number of people who use their written language on the Internet to be the single most telling piece of information. The #1 language of the Internet is English, by a wide margin. In the chart below you can see that it is almost three times as prolific as the next language.

Global Internet Usage
Language - Number of users (millions)

English - 295.2
Chinese - 110.0
Spanish - 86.0

Forgetting any ethics of why or how this came about, I think it is an important step forward. It was suggested in the earlier days of SO that we have en.stackoverflow.com, fr.stackoverflow.com, etc, etc.. and I'm glad this was decided against. Rather than fractionate our small community we can try and bring it together.

Finally, most programming languages are based in English. Their keywords, APIs, and documentation are mostly taken from English words. The number of mainstream languages that have foreign language equivalents are few and far between. With our languages already based in English, I think it makes sense to continue expanding our knowledge repository without dividing it into various inaccessible fractions.

I spend most of my time on Stackoverflow editing and refining questions of non-native speakers and I consider this my largest contribution to the site.. even though I don't get rep for it.

I say keep it in English. I'm not against diversity or other languages, I'm for us all being able to communicate under one. This isn't political, this isn't about smothering peoples cultures with Western ideologies. It is about being pragmatic.

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and yet the written forms of Chinese are mostly similar (except for the traditional/simplified divide) :) –  Jimmy Dec 15 '08 at 22:52
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Chinese characters are something of a lingua franca themselves in the Asian world. More-so in history than now, but still, even though I don't speak a lick of Japanese, and can't read any of the written Japanese, I can often understand it when Chinese characters are used heavily. –  Troy Howard Dec 15 '08 at 22:55
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IMHO, it isn't in this case of interest how many people in the world speaks a specific language. Whats interesting is, of all the programmers in the wold, how many don't understand English? –  some Dec 16 '08 at 0:54
    
@some, interesting question. I'll try to dig up some info on it. –  Simucal Dec 16 '08 at 0:59
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Well, Chinese or English aside, my opinion is that no single language should be a requirement. Of course, those that are practically minded will post in the dominant language of the site, which happens to be English at the moment. But it should not (and currently is not) required. –  Troy Howard Dec 16 '08 at 1:06
    
@Troy Howard, then state your opinion in a post as I have ;). I'll even upvote it for you. –  Simucal Dec 16 '08 at 1:09
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The point that most programming languages are based in english, their keywords, API's, etc... is a significant point to make. –  Simucal Dec 16 '08 at 1:10
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@Simucal, I agree.. bringing everyone under one language isn't a bad thing and doesn't hurt diversity. –  Superdumbell Dec 16 '08 at 1:51
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@Troy Howard: English is not my native language, Swedish is. I had to learn English to use computers and to program. I probably do many embarrassing errors that I'm not aware of when I write in English, but hopefully you understand what I'm trying to say anyway. (cont..) –  some Dec 16 '08 at 2:49
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"Men om jag skriver på svenska förstår du nog ingenting, mer än enstaka ord som Google." Translated with Google: "But if I write in English you probably nothing more than words to Google". –  some Dec 16 '08 at 2:52
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What I tried to say: If I write in Swedish you probably don't understand more than a few words, like Google. –  some Dec 16 '08 at 2:52
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To me English is THE language to use when communicating with people from other countries. In all my programs all variables are in English. When I don't know a word I have to look it up and that way I learn more English while I program. –  some Dec 16 '08 at 2:57
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The analysis and commentary on the Chinese language is wrong. First of all, dialectal differences have nothing to do with the written language. Every single dialect writes Chinese the same, with only <1% difference. Secondly, 114 million illiterates may sound like a big number, but that's less than 10% of the Chinese mainland population. –  Otaku Jul 12 '10 at 20:23
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What is "PunjabiGerman"??? –  muntoo Mar 19 '11 at 2:49
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It would seem that English is the new Latin –  Herbert Aug 31 '11 at 12:38
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I feel that many people who don't speak other language than English don't want to appear ignorant so they approve multi-bilingual site but that's wrong.

I'm not native English speaker...

...but I really like the fact that IT world is mostly standardized on a single language. It makes it easier to share knowledge, experience and research. Why fragment all this into multiple languages again?

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It's not they don't want to "look" ignorant, but it turns out the a lot of basic programming questions come from non english speakers too. I mean, ignorance is not english speakers exclusive. They may benefit from that too. –  OscarRyz Dec 15 '08 at 23:10
    
@lubos hasko, exactly. It isn't about politics, it isn't about trying to be politically correct at all. Having all the information in one language is a ~good~ thing in the long run. –  Simucal Dec 16 '08 at 0:41
    
@Simucal: I couldn't have said it better myself! –  some Dec 16 '08 at 1:05
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+1 - I'm not an English native either, and I too prefer having one, standard, means of communication with the global developers community. Bad English is accepted just as well. –  Asaf R Jan 16 '09 at 0:10
    
I'm not a native speaker either, but I realized that learning English will enable me to access tremendous amounts of knowledge. If I were to go in my Romanian corner of the Internet, I'd be deprived of 90% of all I know. –  Dan Dascalescu Mar 3 at 9:46
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This question crops up in many fora, like IRC, Usenet, web discussion boards, and now also Stack Overflow.

The main problem isn't that there aren't people on these fora that speak in other languages. There are of course.

The main problem is twofold:

  1. People having some kind of (incorrect) sense of what is appropriate on the forum
  2. How to reach as many eyeballs as possible

Especially on IRC you'll find occurrences of the first, where people will just complain that you should write in English or take a hike.

The second problem is more of a real problem. If you ask a C# question in Spanish, I can't read it, so I can't answer it, even if I want to.

If you want to reach as many eyeballs as possible, you should try to use the language that will help you reach that goal. If that means writing bad English, so be it. It's better to be upfront about that problem than to just use a native language. Stack Overflow is a system which allows people to edit, so if you use bad English, perhaps someone will help you fix it.

On the other hand, if you simply can't formulate the question in English, ask it in your native tongue, but then be prepared to accept that fewer people will read the question and be able to answer. If that is fine, why shouldn't Stack Overflow accept it? Perhaps you could even add a statement that if anyone wants to add an English translation, you'd be fine with that.

Stack Overflow needs to be a place for everyone.

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Auf Stack-Overflow hat sich Englisch eingebürgert, weil Jeff und Joel halt aus den USA kommen, das ganze auf Englisch aufgezogen haben und natürlich die englischsprachige Community angezogen haben. Es gibt keinen Sprachfilter, wenn jetzt also jemand auf chinesisch, indisch oder deutsch schreibt, dann verursacht das hier natürlich eine etwas unaufgeräumte Startseite, auf der man nur die Hälfte versteht, wenn man Glück hat. Sprachfilter wären evtl. eine Möglichkeit, aber ich bin mir nicht sicher, ob ich die zersplitterte Stack-Overflow-Community bevorzugen würde, oder ob man den Leuten, die partout kein Englisch sprechen können, nicht eher empfehlen sollte, auf lokale Seiten auszuweichen - nicht aus Arroganz, sondern weil ich glaube, daß lokale Communities einfach größer sind.

And for all the people who just went "WTF?", here is the summary in English: Stack Overflow was started in English - Joel and Jeff are Americans with English blogs, and they attracted the English-speaking community at first. I am not sure if I like foreign questions, because it clutters up the start page with stuff I simply cannot understand (hence I've written in German first to give an impression that localized content really make the experience worse for people that don't speak the language). I do not believe that a language filter is a good option (as it could cause multiple splits in the Stack Overflow community). So I think that people who really don't speak English are better off on local community sites - not because I am arrogant, but because I believe that they have a larger audience on a local community.

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It's more fundamental than that: A working knowledge of English is an integral part of knowing programming. You can come some way in learning programming without knowing English, but "all" realistic programming languages, libraries, textbooks, documentation and established terminology is in English. –  harms Dec 16 '08 at 1:34
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That is partially true: I saw quite a few developers whose english is really bad, but who were competent programmers because they memorized all the keywords and unserstood the concepts, and got localized books. Personally, I'd feel unconfortable not speaking english, but I saw that it's possible. –  Michael Stum Dec 16 '08 at 1:42
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@harms. Many (not few) programmers do understand a bit of english, just enough to learn programming and following handbooks and tutorials; but not enough to participate in a community with a sound voice. –  PA. Mar 15 '12 at 9:59
    
I'm not a native speaker either, but I realized that learning English will enable me to access tremendous amounts of knowledge. If I were to go in my Romanian corner of the Internet, I'd be deprived of 90% of all I know. –  Dan Dascalescu Mar 3 at 9:48
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As was indicated only yesterday in a thread on language used in programming, the large majority of programming happens using English, even among the programmers who have a shared native language that isn't English. Programming languages that do not use English for keywords and API-defined terms are almost automatically regarded as "esoteric". Programming has developed in a cultural context that has given it the same connection to English that classical music has to Italian and gastronomy and old-style diplomacy has to French. So there is a sort of implicit understanding in the community that programming forums like Stack Overflow should be in English. And I'm a non-native English speaker saying that.

As for language variants of Stack Overflow, that would, as someone else pointed out, simply fragment the site's community and prevent the efficient dissemination of information among us programmers.

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English is the primary technology language in which most programming languages and APIs are written. If you want to be programmer I think you need to learn it anyway and asking question is another opportunity to think about it for a while.

I'm against a multi-language Stack Overflow. It will probably cause many interesting questions being answered and asked only in one of the languages and smaller audience will benefit from it. Another argument is that it will make search functionality very limited - Chinese pages will be practically unaccessible for non-Chinese folks.

Programmers are intelligent creatures and we all know some English. It's just a job requirement. Why not invest some time to learn it a bit better? Nowadays we have online translators and dictionaries, and it really isn't that hard to translate a question knowing some basics. If you make a language mistake, somebody will correct you and you will learn from this.

As you probably know after reading this text, English is not my first language.

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Your English is honestly better than most native speakers. –  Simucal Dec 16 '08 at 10:50
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@Simucal: Cheers! My speaking is much worse, but I keep practising. Again and again :) –  ya23 Dec 16 '08 at 11:08
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If you want to speak something other than English, you will have to wait until your language is available. The alternate language proposals can be found in Area 51. You can Follow their progress, or Commit to participate.

Stack Overflow in other languages

Super User, Server Fault or similar topics in other languages

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It's sad to see that once SO implements localization, its community will be split in tens of pieces, and [content will be duplicated like crazy](meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/113940/le-proposte-del-tipo-sito-in-ling‌​ua-creano-inaccettabili-barriere-linguist). –  Dan Dascalescu Mar 3 at 9:49
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@Cupcake: My experience is a little different - I have fixed the crappy English in countless posts. Do you have some evidence of posts deleted or downvoted because of their bad English? As for the larger issue, I've written at length on why translating from English (or publishing in languages other than English) is a counter-productive idea, especially when it comes to software development. –  Dan Dascalescu 2 days ago
    
@DanDascalescu thanks for the reply. Sorry that this is a little out of order now, I ended up deleting my comments and put them all into this answer instead. Again, sorry for the ordering. –  Cupcake 2 days ago
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My native language is Spanish and I don't mind at all that SO is in English. In fact, I think it is better that way, you know why? Sometimes I can't even translate IT and Computer Science terminology or concepts correctly from English to Spanish. That's why there are a lot of technology related anglicisms in Spanish (haha that's for the purists!) Otherwise, SO would literally become "spaghetti code" in terms of languages.

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I think the wiki format is an ideal solution to the multi-language problem. I don't see why a person couldn't ask a non-English question with the hope that someone else will add a translation to the post later on. The incentive for asking in English is to speed up the process.

See also: How can we ask something specific to a region on Stackoverflow?

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What I'm about to say was originally made in three separate comments on this answer, in response to this comment:

It's sad to see that once SO implements localization, its community will be split in tens of pieces, and content will be duplicated like crazy.

Since I ended up having to divide what I wanted to say into the space of three comments, I took that as a sign that what I said merited being placed into its own answer, so here goes:

In a sense, you could say that content is "duplicated". But if a user is not proficient enough in English to understand an English question or answer, is that content really a "duplicate" for him or her? If it's not accessible, I would say that the answer is no.

Not only that, but if questions and answers are translated into other languages other than English, are those new posts "duplicates" for English-speakers now too? Again, I would say that the answer is no. When was the last time you ever googled for an answer to a programming problem, and the top search result was a non-English resource? (I don't think Google has ever given me non-English results for a purely English query).

In addition, I don't think having posts translated into other languages would have any negative SEO consequences, i.e. not even Google would consider the content to be duplicated (correct me if I'm wrong on that).

In addition, in my observations of SO's community moderation (and keep in mind that this is purely anecdotal), questions and answers that are in poorly written English have a good chance to be merely downvoted, closed, and deleted by the English-speaking SO community, rather than being revised and improved upon.

Sure, some people may spend time and energy editing such posts instead, but that's still time and energy spent. I think it's often easier for people to just nuke the posts into oblivion...and that sucks. We should do something to help users with their problems, instead of just punishing them for not being able to understand and communicate in English.

Edit: regarding my observation that poorly-written questions and answers are often just downvoted/closed/deleted, I suspect that a lot of the time, people just assume that the poster is a lazy native English speaker...they don't even stop to consider whether or not the post is poorly-written because English is not the poster's first language.

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I think replies should rather be put in the linked post, which, I imagine, covers the issue in much detail already (I don't think I can make the point better than badp (OP in that question) did). But, with the translation tools available these days, while not ideal, this is essentially duplication (and I hope that one day you'll be able to effortlessly and perfectly communicate with anyone in any language, rendering all these 'duplicate' sites completely useless). –  Dukeling 2 days ago
    
My experience is different - I have fixed the crappy English in countless posts. Can you present some evidence of posts deleted or downvoted because of their bad English? As for the larger issue, I've written at length on why translating from English (or publishing in languages other than English) is a counter-productive idea, especially when it comes to software development. TL;DR - English is becoming the lingua franca, fast. Let's help. –  Dan Dascalescu 2 days ago
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