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EDIT Simplification of the post.

Not intending to change its current "declined" status, just to facilitate the understanding of the suggestion

The request is to allow content in languages other than English.

This is how it would work:

  • The user selects desired languages in preference tab ( default is English )

  • The systems shows content to that user in its preferred language(s)

  • When posting a question the system will mark the content with the user preferred language:

    • If there is only one language that would be used.

    • If there is more that one, the language will be prompted ( with the first language preselected )

  • If nobody change its preferences everything will remain the same as of today ( because English would be the default language )

No engine localization is needed, no gui translation is needed, no content translation is needed, no different domains nor auto-translate, nor volunteer translate is needed.

Only the ability of the system to filter non-interesting languages ( I don't understand a clue of Chinese or Finnish, but I could answer Spanish and English questions )

I understand and agree, English is a must have for good programmers, but StackOverflow is not only for "good programmers" but also for those who get NullPointerException in a Hello World program.

Programming beginners may also be English beginners and they should not spend 2+ years learning English to start learning to program.

Original post follows:

First of all: I know English is the lingua franca of programming.

I know the posture of Jeff: [The Ugly American Programmer] and I know it has been discussed on [podcast 48]

Just let my do a last attempt to show an easy way to support internationalization on SO.

Reasons to support i18n:

We know that all awesome/great/decent developers use english when talking about technology, but I think SO is not only to show each other how much we know already of programming and to show we can code using butterflies and we already know all the emacs keystrokes to make a sandwich.

StackOverflow should be also for those who doesn't know why the following throws a NullPointerException

 String a = null;
 a.toString(); // doh!!

And it turns out that ( at least in my country ) people who is learning to program is also learning english.

If the condition to access a great resource such as SO is to have the innocent to take first a 2 yrs English course seems unreasonable.

Objection to support i18n

The most important issue with SO i18n is the visual noise this would create.

And of course I don't like to see Japanese questions in my front page If I don't know japanese at all!! or Russian, or Icelandic or Swahili for that matter.

In the same way, I don't want non Spanish speakers to see my questions and translate them, downvote them and close them ( as it happened with my very first post in this site )

So how to achieve SO i18n?

The same way I don't see Visual-Basic questions in first place. By using the ignored tags feature, we could filter/show q/a in different languages.

A bit of tweaking is needed in the current tag mechanisms. But I don't think it is impossible.

  • A language meta-tag could be added to the system. By default everyone's will be English

  • Of course and it should not count toward the 5 tag limit on questions ( hence meta ).

  • The "ignore-tag+hide tag" will be enabled to all users by default for this meta-tag. That way a English-only speaker won't notice the change at all ever, if he doesn't add more languages in it's preferences.

  • While posting the default langauge meta-tag will be added to the question with the possibility to change to another in the user profile. ( If there's only one language in the user profile the option is not shown as of today. If more than one lang is available something like the following may appear at the bottom:

    [                 ]
    Combine multiple words into single-words, etc. etc
    [English][x] // combo here!
    Change the question default language.

Aaaand that it!. Web2.0 internationalization instantaneously!! User will post/answer in their preferred language

There is no need to translate the web site it self ( most of the directions are easy to understand or the simply interface of StackOverflow will lead them ) At most a SO-FAQ autogenerated by the own community will explain things as Community-Wiki etc. But in general terms there is no need to change the "Users/Tags/Badges/" etc for the content which is the relevant topic here will shown in the prefered lang.

There are other proposals as have community translate the questions but this is a terrible idea because it creates a lot of noise.

I think some [SO-Clones] show up in first place for this need.


If those are not good reasons then think about this:


Why limit SO to have english only ads when it could have ads for any language ;)

share|improve this question
What about translations, should they all be separate questions? – Brad Gilbert Jul 9 '09 at 2:47
They are indeed. There is no way to know somebody asked the same in a language I don't know. – OscarRyz Jul 9 '09 at 3:16
This was asked today: stackoverflow.com/questions/1146446 I'm not sure if it was a valid question though but it was quickly closed. I agree, I don't like to see it either because I don't understand it, but if it was a valid question nobody would be able to answer it now. Probably not very appropiated for SO, SF or SU, but stackexchange.com would benefit from it. – OscarRyz Jul 18 '09 at 1:59
After reading blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/04/stack-overflow-around-the-world, I have the exactly same design on mind. To those who concern with the tag-for-all disaster: we are talking about meta-tag. – an0 Apr 11 '11 at 0:04

6 Answers 6

up vote 4 down vote accepted

This is "put everything in the universe on one site, we'll just use tags to tell everything apart!" in sheep's clothing.

I believe programmers who speak only Mandarin, or French, or Spanish, are better off forming their own communities and centers of gravity. Shared language is one of the fundamental aspects of community.

Just visit Chinatown in nearby San Francisco to see what I mean..

(now for Stack Exchange, it's a totally different story. That's why I encourage them to fork the code and make massive underlying changes, like ripping out OpenID with extreme prejudice, and dropping in full-blown localization with every string in a lookup table.)

share|improve this answer
There is no need to localize the whole platform but let the community create content in any language ( by don't disrupting those from others communities ). I don't think the only reason why I would go to Y!A is because it support my language. With this approach english speaker won't even notice there are questions in other languages. :) Peace! – OscarRyz Jul 24 '09 at 22:59
I agree with both. It would be nice to have support for multi language and translations, and @Oscar's idea is actually nice. But it is too much for a single website to handle. At least with our current technology. Wikipedia's approach would be better, but it's not really needed because each question has its own life and nature in language that can't just be translated a lot of the times. In the end, it's probably better just go with the "each language forming their own community" indeed. – Cawas Mar 13 '10 at 3:11
Jeff, you should revisit this proposal now that you are looking around the world: blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/04/stack-overflow-around-the-world. Splitting by language is not as good and effective as filtering by language meta-tag, because bilingual programmers are more willing to see questions in both languages in one site(and it is much more efficient for them to do so) than to switch between two sites to see questions in different languages. – an0 Apr 11 '11 at 0:12

I know this opinion may be dismissed because I'm an American (and in Texas, for shame!), but here it goes, anyway:

A few topics have been brought up about localization (or localisation as they say across the pond), but nothing's gained too much traction. The reason is that this is all user-generated content. We have no control over whether or not somebody posts something in Chinese or Arabic or Telugu. However, English is the de facto standard of the programming world--our world. As Anglo-centric as this sounds, it doesn't exclude anybody by having English as the de facto language of StackOverflow. Because our (programming) languages are based on English, it is a necessary skill as a programmer to know it. Therefore, English is the closest thing we have to a universal language (excluding math).

Moreover, problems are universal, and I should be able to help somebody in Italy or India (both on my checklist today!). If done in their native languages, only those language speakers could help, severely limiting the potential for help to arrive.

In short: We remain a strong community by being able to communicate throughout it. By sectioning it off for arbitrary regionalization when we have a universal language, you only hurt the user experience. Also, I might lose it if I ever saw a Quebecois tag. Only kidding. Sort of.

share|improve this answer
They didn't gain too much traction because none of them shown a feasible solution to the "babel tower problem". I agree I don't understand a single chinese glyph either, and I DON'T want to see them!! By using tags this is pretty much solved. About the role of the english in programming mmhh I'm not sure. It doesn't matter how good your english is, you can't tell C to "loop" you have to use the word "while/for" and you have to know its grammar. It happened to me. I didn't knew a word of english but I knew some C: stackoverflow.com/questions/202723/202851#202851 – OscarRyz Jul 9 '09 at 2:48
Why would you go out of your way to purposefully marginalize a question? By putting it in another language, you immediately lop your answering community down to a tiny fraction of its size. And the point is that learning C forced you to learn English, which thereby helped you learn more C. You didn't truly understand what C meant (or why it was the way it was) until you understood English. The thing is, I want to see all questions. If they're in other languages, I can't, so then I can't help. – Eric Jul 9 '09 at 4:30
But what if they don't speak English, or don't speak it well? See meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5747/… if you haven't already. Maybe this could be part of that. I wonder how many volunteers we'd have per language, to be translators. – John Saunders Jul 18 '09 at 2:45
@Eric Learning C has not forced anyone to learn English. It forced them to learn about a dozen English words, some of which don't even mean the same thing as they do in English (take "static", which can mean about 4 different things in C, only one of which really corresponds to the vernacular meaning of "static"). I'm sure there are plenty of talented C programmers who don't speak English. – Kip Jul 18 '09 at 3:35
@Kip: The language is just one bit that you have to know. Most of the documentation and literature is only found in English. I know folks buy English technical books in lieu of their native language due to the amount that gets lost in translation. – Eric Jul 18 '09 at 3:47

I know this has been beaten to death, but I think the claim that English is the lingua franca of programming is fundamentally wrong. In particular, there is a huge number of programmers out there who speak only Japanese or Chinese Mandarin.

But your suggestion of having a language meta-tag is flawed in one respect: you would have a hard time gaining "critical mass" of users who could even understand and answer the question.

share|improve this answer
Mandarin. Still valid arguments. – akarnokd Jul 19 '09 at 7:53

Maybe not a tagging solution, but my proposal about region folding could help things out. The problem I face sometimes as a non-native-English speaker with tags, that you'd expect synonyms to be available if you are looking for something (concurrency - parallelism). Especially, you learned your terminology from different books than the others.

Of course, to keep the balance, you'd need international moderator crew, one for each language, to avoid foul language and hatred answers written in other languages, especially for my people :)

share|improve this answer

I do not support the tagging of questions with a language. However, the alternative is also cumbersome. Having multiple SO sites (one-day) in multiple languages means a user must pick a favorite and stick to it, mostly. Being multi-lingual, I would love to be able to have one account and subscribe to, say, en.stackoverflow.com, fr.stackoverflow.com, de.stackoverflow.com. Now, those are country, not language codes, so I'd probably also subscribe to ch.stackoverflow.com if it existed, except that there's 4 national languages there, 2 of which I do not understand exactly.

share|improve this answer
That's seems worst because you would have to swap sites. The tagging would be automagically. Well would have been, because it has been refused alredy. – OscarRyz Jul 22 '09 at 0:26
Exactly why I said "the alternative is also cumbersome" and recommended aggregating languages into a user centric SO view. Based on user choice of course. Tagging on the other hand "automagically" would include ALL the world's crazy languages by default, leaving the user to filter out the ones he or she couldn't even read. That would not be better. – dlamblin Jul 22 '09 at 19:23

I support this wholeheartedly. Having a dozen sites that are the exact same thing in different languages is much more unwieldy than having 1 site per topic that lets users choose questions in which languages to see.

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