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It would help everyone if we provided a mechanism that people could use to flag their post if english is language they are not comfortably fluent in. A lot of non-english speakers have to go to english forums for tech support and find it embarrassing to ask questions in broken speech.

Worse, people reading post often cannot tell if a badly worded post results from a poor english or just laziness and sloppiness on the part of a native english speaker. Personally, I will take the time to puzzle out a poorly worded post if I know the author is struggling with english but if I think they're just lazy and careless I won't bother.

A simple check box could flag the author as a non-english speaker and allow everyone to adjust accordingly.

Edit01:

Some answers below have accused me of being 'elitist'. I'm not sure where they got the idea that I was sneering down at anyone because their abilities at either english or coding. That was not my intent.

When I said I would not bother with post that appeared to incoherent owing to laziness or carelessness, I am not being elitist. I'm giving priority in my time budget to people who are respectful enough of my time to spend the their time writing as clear a question as their grasp of english and coding allows. Why should I spend time answering a careless and slapdash post when I could spend that time helping posters who took more of their time writing their questions?

I am perfectly willing to burn a lot of time helping someone struggling to write code in their non-native language. I have a hard enough time coding myself in english that I can't even imagine what a dog's breakfast I would make of it if I had to code in, say, Korean.

I have seen many instances in which questions have been down checked when a quick glance at the poster's profile gives a strong hint they are not native english speakers. I would like a system that would spare those posters from being down checked or ignored by an using an interface element that clearly communicates in a standardized way whether the poster natively speaks english or not.

I don't see what's elitist about that.

Edit02:

This is the kind of post (original unedited) I'm talking about:

Hy, I have a childe view that put it self over other brother views. The problem is that when i touch it the brother also reacts at the touch event. How can I disable touch propagation on the underlieng brother views?

I'm not even exactly sure what he is describing. I can guess that he has a sibling view that extends over its siblings but I'm not sure. If I edited it, I might not end up asking the same question the poster intended.

To answer the question, I will either have to (1) first ask for more detail and then keep checking back until I get it or (2) try to answer what I think the question is and possibly mangle it then have to come back and edit my answer all the while risking a down vote because I answered the wrong question.

I will take the time and the risk of down vote if the poster is not a native english speaker (or is a child) and the confusing question represents their honest best effort. If they're just being lazy, I have other people to help.

I would like a mechanism that would help me decide how to allocate my time and would protect the non-english speaking posters from unjust down votes.

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There is a mechanism. It's not a checkbox, but it's available. Tag your post as "not-english-speakers." –  Jason D Nov 29 '09 at 18:10
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@Jason D: No, please don't use tags like this. Tags are for categorizing questions, not the users that post the questions. @ChrisF has a better solution below. Put the message in the body of the post. Edit posts for grammar if you are able. –  Bill the Lizard Nov 29 '09 at 18:38
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And how do you prevent the lazy English speaker form hitting the check box? You can be fooled in so many ways... If you do not want to clean it up, leave it for someone else. –  Ladybug Killer Nov 29 '09 at 21:20
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A "bad engrish" flag? This question borders on racist. –  bobobobo Dec 1 '09 at 16:45
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Were did you get "bad engrish" from? –  TechZen Dec 2 '09 at 0:16
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Yeah, let's flag questions written by non-native speakers. And then let's flag the ones written by people with dyslexia as well. And then the questions written by blind people (to explain the bad formatting). And then questions written by people from West Virginia (for obvious reasons). What could possibly go wrong? –  Tamas Czinege Dec 2 '09 at 12:45

8 Answers 8

up vote 18 down vote accepted

A simple check box could flag the author as a non-english speaker and allow everyone to adjust accordingly.

Jeff has always turned down ANY sort of rating/flagging system that reflects the user. Only posts (questions, answers, comments) have any sort of voting/rating/flagging system.

While one could make the argument that the "Not Fluent in English" flag is meant for the post, the reality is that it is a direct reflection of the user.

How do we judge one's proficiency in English? Many foreign speakers believe they have a very poor grasp of English when, in fact, they are nearly perfect in their written communications, while others believe they are fluent, but others still struggle to understand what they mean, even if their grammar is perfect. How would we instruct them when it's appropriate to check the box?

If someone doesn't deserve our time or attention because they aren't making a 'reasonable' effort, what will prevent them from checking that box to get more attention?

Lastly, sadly, there are still people who hold racist or simple protectionist views that would use this 'feature' in direct opposition to your stated goal. Once we start attaching language, nationality, race, etc to posts in an easily readable way, the community will invariably form cliques around certain behavior regarding those indications of differences. While the reason for such a flag may be pure, it may have an overall negative effect. Even today there are many technology workers who have no racist views, but may feel they lost job opportunities due to offshoring. It would be nice to believe that isn't really going to be a problem, but it's actually souring people who are otherwise very open and accepting, and it would give them a wedge on SO to note their discontent. Even at a low level this undercurrent may drive away international users.

This is a social problem with no good technical solution.

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Having read the many strange responses to this idea I am forced to conclude you are correct. –  TechZen Dec 2 '09 at 0:17
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Maybe with this we could have a review queue type thing that they can voluntarily have someone review their post to check for mistakes. –  Annonomus Penguin May 29 '13 at 0:29

Well, they could just add something along the lines of the following to their post:

Please excuse any spelling or grammatical mistakes, English isn't my first language

which, being in the text, might be easier for readers to spot than some flag or tag on the post.

I originally suggested prefixing the post with this, but it has been suggested in the comments that it's added at the end. Personally, I've got no problem with that - I just thought of prefixing first.

Having said this, in the forums where I've seen this used, it's usually those whose command of English is better than that of native speakers who say this.

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+1 - I've seen this used often, and the spelling and grammar is usually cleaned up quickly by community editors. –  Bill the Lizard Nov 29 '09 at 17:14
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I wouldn't suggest using that as a prefix. Adding it to the end of the question is a better idea as the actual question body will show up on questions page. –  LeakyCode Nov 29 '09 at 18:41
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Looks like I do not agree with the majority here. Adding a "my English is bad" is a waste of time and energy. If it is really bad, the reader will notice without this remark. –  Ladybug Killer Nov 29 '09 at 21:28
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I agree with you, John. –  MiseryIndex Nov 30 '09 at 17:19
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When I'm considering editing a post, I welcome such a statement as an invitation to do what I can to improve the question. However, the content of the question itself makes a bigger difference: if i can't figure out what the author is asking, then I probably won't edit it regardless. –  Shog9 Nov 30 '09 at 18:10
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No matter where it appears in the post, such a message gives a good indication that the poster is trying his/her best. Just because your first language is not English does not mean you are not a lazy freeloader and lazy freeloaders signal themselves by not putting such a note. –  Sinan Ünür Dec 1 '09 at 16:12
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So I am a lazy freeloader, Sinan, because I would never add such a message, I see. I think you have a very weird view of the world. –  Ladybug Killer Dec 1 '09 at 17:16
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@John Smithers: I looked at your answers and I would submit to you that most people with decent English would be able to understand what you write. Besides, you have not asked any questions. Lazy freeloaders are people who write incomprehensible questions and expect answers. Such questions ought to be closed without giving the poster the benefit of the doubt just because the poster is using a non-English name. Now, someone who indicates that he/she is aware that the question may be badly worded due to a lack of language skills AND has provided decent info deserves to be helped. –  Sinan Ünür Dec 1 '09 at 21:04
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@Sinan: again though, the important factor is that the question provides sufficient, clear information on the problem. Without that, no amount of apologizing can help; with it, grammar and spelling errors - even if caused by willful laziness - can be quickly and safely corrected. –  Shog9 Dec 1 '09 at 22:55
    
@Sinan: Following your logic every non-native English speaker, who is not 100% sure, if he screwed his question up, has to put this indicator sentence into his post. That would be around 95% of all non-native speakers (yes, most of us are never sure). I tell you, you will get bored pretty fast of all these "my English is maybe not good enough" sentences. You cannot distinguish the lazy guys from the "lacking skills" ones. If your able to (and want to) clean up their mess, do it. If you don't want to, leave it. –  Ladybug Killer Dec 1 '09 at 23:47

Whenever I see a post that is badly worded because of a poor command of English, it still pains me to see the number of 2000+ rep users who then participate in a character assassination of the poster.

Rather than wasting all this time and energy on unfunny and often caustic remarks, they should be using their edit rights to try and fix the post instead.

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Agreed. Character assassination is a poor use of time and server space. If there are serious questions about the intended meaning, ask simple questions of the OP, and perform grammar and spelling clean-up as appropriate. –  Jason D Nov 29 '09 at 18:08
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I haven't seen "character assassination" solely because of poorly wording a question. If that happens, that's probably because the question is not suitable on StackOverflow or the poster wants others to do his/her job for him/her. –  LeakyCode Nov 29 '09 at 18:43
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+1 couldn't agree more and just what I was going to say the same thing. The punitive treatment some SO users give to those who aren't quite proficient in English is, for lack of a better word, disgusting at times. –  cletus Nov 29 '09 at 21:41
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@cletus Just because someone's English is bad does not mean the person is asking a good question. If there is sufficient information in the post to indicate a bare minimum level of effort, I will go in and clean up the post. If the poster just dumped the first question w/o paying any attention to whether the question is intelligible, I will not then try too hard to go the extra mile. –  Sinan Ünür Dec 1 '09 at 16:14
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In my experience, questions in bad English are bad questions. They aren't clear and leave out most of the information useful in solving the problem. There are exceptions, and in those cases I'm happy to edit to make the question more clear. Does somebody have a few cases of good questions asked in bad English that have been mocked? –  David Thornley Dec 1 '09 at 18:31

It would help everyone if we provided a mechanism that people could use to flag their post if english is language they are not comfortably fluent in.

Herein lies the problem: if someone has trouble with English and users typically don't read instructions at the best of times, how is such a thing going to be read and understood?

A lot of non-english speakers have to go to english forums for tech support and find it embarrassing to ask questions in broken speech.

As Jeff has pointed out, English is the lingua franca for programming so going to non-English sites really limits your options (although such options do exist, particularly for German, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese).

Worse, people reading post often cannot tell if a badly worded post results from a poor english or just laziness

Here I disagree: I don't think I've ever seen a post that's ambiguous. It's pretty obvious when someone is having problems with English but here's the kicker: even if it's not clear, shouldn't they be given the benefit of the doubt?

I have a real problem with elitism and obnoxious behaviour in online communities. Before you know it, new users are lambasted for not conforming to 2973482 standards they can't possibly know about and self-appointed elite users start distributing McCarthy-esque black lists and contributors start leaving in record numbers.

So I think the only action required here is by experienced SO users to:

  • be more tolerant;
  • hold off on mass downvoting posts with poor grammar;
  • take the 30 seconds to fix a post rather than closing, commenting, downvoting and flagging it into oblivion (personally I'd rather you do nothing over jumping the gun and killing a post over fixing it);
  • be nicer to the newbies (yes, even those who are less than proficient with English).

The problem here is really the judgemental, self-appointed so-called guardians of SO standards, not the non-native English speakers.

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It would be more helpful to point to questions in the trilogy where this is happening rather than two possibly related news posts - especially where the latter may be attributed to other things and even the owner questions the numbers used in the article. –  AnonJr Nov 30 '09 at 16:38
    
@AnonJr: indeed... However, concrete examples from SO itself are annoyingly susceptible to allegations such as those made by Mehrdad above: they tend to be poor questions for reasons other than the author's broken English. It leads to distressing arguments that don't further the discussion at hand... –  Shog9 Nov 30 '09 at 18:08
    
@Shog9: I don't get your point. Most questions I've seen in bad English have been bad questions. The good questions I've noticed in bad English don't seem to have been mistreated. Before I get at all concerned about the problem of people mocking bad English, I'd like to have some minimum assurance that there is actually a problem. –  David Thornley Dec 1 '09 at 18:35
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@David: The actual existence of a problem is irrelevant. The fact is, there's a potential for a problem - and if we don't all get together and cluck disapprovingly with all our might, it could become an actual problem. Also, Tinkerbell could die. You don't want that to happen, do you? Do you hate children? What about girls playing guys who think they're children? Stop asking uncomfortable questions, and be more nice to the newbs. –  Shog9 Dec 1 '09 at 20:45

Personally, I will take the time to puzzle out a poorly worded post if I know the author is struggling with english but if I think they're just lazy and careless I won't bother.

Consider, instead, assuming that the author is asking in good faith and answering them regardless of their language ability or laziness.

If you can suss out a question from the bad/broken/torn/spindled/folded/mutilated English and you can answer it, then it appears somewhat elitist to help them "only if they deserve it."

The question is there forever, and will help many people beyond the original poster. Regardless of the original poster's diligence, future programmers will benefit from your wisdom. Therefore it's a moot point whether the OP has the 'correct' intentions or not - eventually someone else will have the 'correct' intentions.

Elitism does not serve ANY good purpose on SO.

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I agree that elitism is bad, but I also agree that there definitely should be standards (within certain reasonable bounds) for basic correct use of the language. Thus, my recommendation for all of us with edit privs is simple: edit the post (assuming we can understand said post) and leave our attitudes at the door. –  John Rudy Dec 1 '09 at 16:10
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Exactly. If the original poster can't (or won't) formulate a grammatically correct question, but gets the point across with the limited skill they have, then editing is the correct answer. –  Adam Davis Dec 1 '09 at 16:17
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I'm not being 'elitist' I'm giving priority in my time budget to people who are respectful enough of my time to spend the their time writing as clear a question as their grasp of english and coding allows. Why should I spend time answering a careless and slapdash post when there are other posters who took even a minimal care in writing their post. –  TechZen Dec 1 '09 at 16:20
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You already have a method to determine whether they are lazy bums or merely non-native english speakers. All you are now asking for is a way to judge them and their effort more quickly and efficiently to determine if they truly deserve your precious time and energy. Not to mention that my main point isn't that it's elitist - it's that your answer will help others in the future who are not lazy, so there's NO reason AT ALL to judge the OP's post - you either answer it to increase general knowledge and answer this question for all time, or you don't. If you can't understand it, move on. –  Adam Davis Dec 1 '09 at 19:26
    
And, despite your assertion otherwise, the statement, "A student must make a certain amount of effort before I will consider helping them, even if I completely understand them and have the information they require." is elitist. It's acceptable in our society, however, so we can at least move away from that point. –  Adam Davis Dec 1 '09 at 19:31
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@Adam: SO works on a volunteer basis, so you may want to avoid telling us which questions we should answer, or accusing us of elitism if you disagree with how we allocate our effort. Moreover, no questioner deserves my time and energy: that is provided for reasons of my own, including a fondness for helping people. People who ask sloppy and incomplete questions are less likely to be benefited by answers than people who show some level of effort. –  David Thornley Dec 1 '09 at 20:59
    
+1: here here... –  RSolberg Dec 2 '09 at 0:17
    
@David - you are right. I have no place telling you which questions to answer and which questions you shouldn't answer. All I'm saying is that basing your decision to answer on whether the 'effort' level of the OP is high enough doesn't take into account that others will benefit from your effort. –  Adam Davis Dec 2 '09 at 5:25
    
@Adam: So, who's going to benefit from my effort? If the question is badly written, it isn't all that likely to benefit others coming later. If it's badly written, it suggests that the questioner is less likely to get some benefit from what I write. (That's why I find low accept rates discouraging. I don't need 15 more rep, but it suggests that the Q might be in the habit of blowing off answers.) Moreover, I'm much happier helping people who at least try to make it easier to help them. Anyway, that's my analysis. It may not be right, but it's what I'm doing now. –  David Thornley Dec 2 '09 at 14:40

It's somewhat elitist to assume that someone's origin has to do with their command of language. You can be ESL (English as Second Language) and still write good questions in English. Conversely, English can be your only language, and your text can be crap. There is a correlation, yes, but a checkbox does not really help to fix much here.

We are all willing to help, but the sad truth is that there's a minimum bar of making your text comprehensible. The text below that bar is a lost cause. Either patiently work on your language skills or use a SO clone in your native language. This is not a judgement on the poster, it's a basic breakdown in communication. It takes two to tango and there's only so far you can go by applying a "non-native-speaker-leniency" filter.

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I like this answer. "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog"... –  Shog9 Dec 2 '09 at 4:47

Everytime you suggest an elitist approach to a feature that involves users cultures/languages, try to think as someone who is inside that niche.

English isn't my first language, I know I'm going to do a lot of mistakes. But if you were a non english speaker, you would understand how difficult it is to some people to remove the fear of posting because of the "language barrier". If you thought as someone that tries hard to write something down in a language you aren't proficiency with, you would understand how forcing someone to use a tag like this would be harmful to a community as a whole.

Treat others with the same respect you'd want them to treat you.

This is in SO FAQ. I don't think tagging like this is respectful to non english speaker's efforts.

Seriously, if you want to know if it's worth answering a question based in user's "sloppiness", check the user's profile. You have other questions made by the user, location, accept rate that you could make a fair comparison.

IMO, It's a good intention, but with a bad solution.

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I was trying to think of people in that niche. I have worked across language barriers in the past and felt the frustration myself. I have seen people with more brains in their big toe than a I will ever have being reduced to talking like toddlers because of their inability to communicate in english. It's very frustrating for them and often embarrassing for people of accomplishment not to be seen as the competent people they really are. I had thought that flagging such people would help them but I see in this thread that it would not. –  TechZen Dec 2 '09 at 20:03

No, the post from edit 2 is not an honest best effort. It's woefully lacking in detail. I don't care how inept somebody's English is, they can copy-and-paste tool and version information, not to mention class names. The quality of the English (which actually isn't bad) is completely incidental.

I don't think there's a problem here for people who aren't good at English. I certainly haven't seen one. Almost all of the questions I've seen in bad English are bad questions, and would remain bad questions in perfect English. The good questions I've seen haven't been mocked. I'd be interested in being shown an example or two of the claimed problem, or maybe more, since I don't think it exists in noticeable numbers.

I think the problem is bad questions, not bad English. There are a lot of people with bad English who are, very simply, bad programmers who don't understand what they're doing. Claiming that they are being discriminated against because of their English is an example of cultural hypersensitivity that is both false and unhelpful.

It may be that we should try to change how people who ask bad questions are treated, but that's a different subject.

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It's hard to formulate a question and provide all the information you wish in a language not your own. I've had to work around serious language barriers before and its not easy. –  TechZen Dec 2 '09 at 0:18
    
-1 As a non-native English speaker, I find your answer offensive and xenophobic. I have flagged it for moderation, I hope the flag does not run into a xenophobic SO moderator. –  yms May 13 '11 at 16:46
    
@yms: Shouldn't you be more offended if you ask bad questions? I said that bad questions were bad questions no matter how bad the English, and that in my observation good questions in bad English were treated well. Or are you complaining about the "lots of bad English who are bad programmers"? Lots of people, no matter how good their English, are bad programmers. I thought that should be clear, that people who weren't looking for offense would realize that. I could well have been insufficiently clear about that, of course. –  David Thornley May 13 '11 at 16:53
    
"Claiming that they are being discriminated against because of their English is an example of cultural hypersensitivity that is both false and unhelpful" This statement IS offensive, no matter how you look at it. The intent of the statetment is to offend. –  yms May 13 '11 at 16:58
    
@yms: No, the intent of the statement is that bad questions and bad English are really orthogonal concepts, and confusing the two is bad. In the US, there are people who hold a serious double standard between different groups, and this offends me. Again, I may have put this badly. How should I state that I think this question misguided, that questions are good or bad regardless of English quality, and that making excuses for bad questions asked in bad English is not productive? –  David Thornley May 13 '11 at 17:14
    
I am sorry, but that is not what I read from your answer. When you say "is <b>an example</b> of cultural hypersensitivity" you are trascending the topic of SO, and its questions and answers. You are just giving your (offensive) opinion on a group of people. Somthing I believe it is not (and it should never be) allowed in this community. –  yms May 13 '11 at 17:24
    
By the way, my flagging was rejected. It really feels as I was just discriminated for being non-native English speaker low rep user... –  yms May 13 '11 at 18:05
    
@yms: For one last time...I am giving my opinion on a group of people, specifically those who can't be bothered to try to write good questions. It's not that they make unclear statements due to bad English, or that they're terse and perhaps confusing because they find English difficult, it's that they don't even realize what information is necessary. I'm proposing that we treat these people the same as good English speakers who write bad questions. What group of people did you think I was talking about? –  David Thornley May 13 '11 at 18:05
    
My opinion is that you are wrong when you assume that bag English has nothing to do with bad questions, however I am not even talking about that. You have your opinion on this, I have mine, it's all right. –  yms May 13 '11 at 18:24
    
What I am talking about is that discrimination exists, it happens here in SO as it happens everywhere else. You are accussing a group of people (whoever they are, it does not matter) of having "cultural hypersensivity", and you are saying this in a general way, since you said that the topic of SO questions is just "an example". I am sorry, but this is offensive. On any case, I do appreciate that you took the time to discuss this with me. Thanks. –  yms May 13 '11 at 18:24

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