This post is very loosely related to this one regarding issues international users may have, but I'm covering different ground with this one.


The prevalent language used on the Stack Exchange network is English. I'd like to see a drop down field (or something like it), where one can select the native language for oneself within the profile.

I don't want to argue about implementation details like ComboBox vs. ListBox vs. Tool X, but the languages should be predefined if at all possible. The reasoning for that follows in the next section:

How I'd like to see this used

In my case the language chosen would be German, and if I post a question or an answer here on meta, I'd expect to see something similar to this:

modified user box

Probably with a tooltip indicating the language in a textual way. This is why I think a predefined list of languages, or maybe even a list of flags, is a good idea, because that makes it easier to automatically have an image displayed that's related to the selected language.

This is not necessarily something that needs to go into flair, it really is only useful for asking/answering questions and posting comments. But it still could be a publicly visible field within the profile.

Why I think this is a good idea

Lots of reasons, the ones I came up with today (while driving for two hours on the motorway), are listed below in no particular order:

  1. On edits of my posts like this one, I usually post something like a "thanks for editing, I'm not a native speaker" comment. With the proposed change, this would be totally obvious and not necessary anymore.

  2. It would take a bit of the edge out of discussions like in the comments on this post. Some of it has to do with the fact that it wasn't obvious that the OP was not a native speaker. I agree there are other issues there, but that's beside the point for my intention here.

  3. I'd think this would be almost invaluable on sites concerning other languages, like German, French, Italian, Japanese, plus whichever other ones are currently proposed at Area51 (I haven't checked, but I know I saw these four).

  4. On the cooking site, there's some questions regarding Pizza and Pasta for example, and I have seen quite a few posts saying "I'm Italian, so ...". I haven't checked, but I'd expect to see the same sort of stuff regarding Chinese users and Chinese food, Japanese users and sushi questions etc. Again, this change would make that unnecessary for most cases.

  5. It would help mitigating the issues mentioned in this answer.

Feel free to comment if you have more ideas.

Why this may be a bad idea

I can only think of one reason here: Someone sees that the OP is French, German or whatever language, and posts a comment or answer in that language. This would be a no-go, the only exception being a site for that particular language, as I think there's a policy allowing it.

Still, this won't break my proposal. One could instead of a flag just show some kind of indicator that the poster is not a native speaker.


  • It is not my intent to question the non-English question policy with this proposal.

  • This is not meant to be a replacement, nor is it necessarily identical, to the user location that can already be entered in the profile.
    It's easily understandable that someone that grew up in Italy can for example live in Germany, but he'd (most likely) select Italian as native language.

  • This is not necessarily an indication of all languages a user may be fluent in. For example, someone living in Canada, may well be fluent in French and in English, so would probably pick English. Likewise, someone in Switzerland may be fluent in French and/or German and/or Italian, here it wouldn't matter much which one he preferred. It is meant to be as an indicator to a native English speaker that the poster may not be as fluent in English as they appear to be.

  • 3
    I don't like the big fat flag next to the user name - it should be way mor subtle - but I support the basic proposal. A good writeup indeed.
    – Pekka
    Aug 5, 2011 at 20:34
  • 1
    @Pekka Thanks. The flag is just an example, I'm no good at all when it comes to UI stuff. Interesting though, that this received +5/-5 within 34 minutes, I had expected a slightly more positive response. But maybe that's just me, after all it's my idea :)
    – takrl
    Aug 5, 2011 at 20:57
  • 2
    Well written proposal! Yet I don't think it's a good idea. > With the proposed change, this would be totally obvious and not necessary anymore. It's not necessary in the first place. Comments should relate to the actual problem at hand and thanking an editor is more than unnecessary -- it's a community edited network. People edit all the time.
    – slhck
    Aug 5, 2011 at 21:12
  • @slhck Point taken. Eight months on SE and still I haven't gotten used to this ...
    – takrl
    Aug 5, 2011 at 22:04
  • @takrl You're the exception though, I've edited 1369 posts on SU and got one "Thank you" so far :)
    – slhck
    Aug 5, 2011 at 22:09
  • +1 not for your points, but for the idea of country flag. But it should be based on country, not language. A native speaker would notice immediately if someone is non-native (at least I think so), but some answers may be localized in the way the AP have not intended. Maybe not on SO, but on Outdoors or Freelancers most likely. And I'd love to have Polish flag in flair :) Jul 9, 2013 at 15:01
  • The spoken languages in the world vastly outnumber the territories with a recognized flag. Many soverign states have multiple languages, without nominating one of them as the default or even "majority" language. And lastly, my home language is often symbolized by a flag I don't particularly identify with.
    – tripleee
    Jul 9, 2013 at 16:49
  • @tripleee In such cases would be maybe a good idea to use a two-letter abbrevation of the language (en, de, etc).
    – peterh
    Mar 20, 2015 at 6:48

3 Answers 3


Your last bullet point confuses me. The whole way through reading your post, I thought this was intended to indicate which language a user is fluent in, but you say that's not the case. Then you go on to say that this feature is supposed to indicate that someone might not be fluent in English (or whatever the site's primary language is). I can see the technical difference between "not fluent in X" and "fluent in Y," but not a practical one.

In any case, native speaker status is ultimately irrelevant when considering post quality. If a post is difficult to understand, it doesn't really matter why. It's just as hard for others to use whether it was posted by a non-native speaker or just someone who was lazy. Editors shouldn't discriminate in choosing which posts to improve based on this. SE sites are here to benefit everyone; it's not all about the OP.

Also, content is king. While it may be true that an average user from China has more experience with Chinese food than the average user from Germany, I'm not going to give an answer any more or less weight just because of the little flag icon on the OP's user card. The quality of the post has to stand on its own.

EDIT responding to question OP's comment:
I think you've missed my point. We should be discouraging people from indicating where they're from at all, because it doesn't matter.

Just because you've seen three pasta questions recently that include "I'm Italian" doesn't make it right. Who would you trust more, a professional chef with an interest in Chinese cooking who happens to be from Germany or a Chinese person who follows a generations-old recipe by rote but doesn't understand why certain ingredients or temperatures are used? I, for one, would trust the professional.

That's the kind of racism Anna was talking about, I think. It's not the blatant "you suck because you're from country Z" stuff, which — as you say — should obviously be flagged. It is the subtle psychological tilt people take when they see country information and, perhaps unconsciously, start to think about that more than what's written in a post.

The answer linked as good idea 5 is completely irrelevant. We should be kind to people regardless of their native speaker status. "Be nice" is one of the primary rules of Stack Exchange, after all.

  • +1 Yes, now that I re-read it I see what you mean. What I meant is, this of course indicates the user is fluent in the language selected, but it's not necessarily the only one (hence the canada/switzerland examples). Will edit it accordingly ... Re chinese/content, this just means we can lose all the "I'm chinese", "I'm italian", "I'm suchandsuch" stuff. I only looked up three questions on pasta last week and saw it on each of those. Re native speaker status, see the answer linked as good idea 5., it would help that.
    – takrl
    Aug 5, 2011 at 20:55
  • 1
    "That's the kind of racism Anna was talking about, I think." <- Yep, pretty much.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Aug 5, 2011 at 21:17
  • If the answer linked is completely irrelevant, why has it gotten 58 upvotes? I honestly don't think it's a non-problem. Re food, this goes in the same direction as removing @poster notifications within comments, the "I'm suchandsuch" would be unnecessary. The main advantage I see would really be at language sites as 3. suggests. Re racism, in the "bad idea" section I also said it could be modified towards a native/non-native speaker indication. This'd mean "good 4." doesn't apply anymore. 1, 2 + 5 would still apply, and I still think 3. would be a good idea on any language sites.
    – takrl
    Aug 5, 2011 at 22:22
  • @takrl, so what if it has 58 upvotes? All that means is that it's a good answer to its question. Doesn't make it relevant to your question. This answer has over 4000 upvotes, but it's just as irrelevant to your question.
    – Pops
    Aug 5, 2011 at 22:39
  • @Popular Oh, come on, that's not really a fair assessment. Or are you suggesting that Regex matching and helping non-english speakers cover similar ground? I think not. And since people tend to say "up/downvotes on meta are more a measure of agreement/disagreement", I do think it's relevant. Anyhow, I don't want to start a war, from the voting as it stands now it's clear the community is split on this issue. I guess we simply have to agree that we disagree on this.
    – takrl
    Aug 6, 2011 at 7:26
  • ...And I am willing to bet it would probably have a few more thousand votes if it weren't locked. ;) Nov 21, 2011 at 1:28

I'm not sure how I feel about this. Would people announcing the fact that English isn't their first language be opening themselves up for any sort of discrimination (due to racism, for example)?

I think this is a neat idea if it was an optional field, similar to location, but like Popular Demand (who beat me to this by a minute), I'm not sure how useful it'd ultimately be. A good post is a good post and a bad post is a bad post regardless of the poster's origin. If anything, it seems like clearly identifying non-native speakers would only make badly written posts from native speaks become more obvious than they need to be.

  • +1 Re racism, I think the flagging system is for this. And I haven't seen any kind of racism/discrimination in my seven months on SO on those posts where it's clear it's not a native speaker, so either it's not there at all, or the flagging works perfectly. Re optional, yes, of course, I didn't think it should be mandatory.
    – takrl
    Aug 5, 2011 at 20:54
  • I don't think discrimination is a potential problem here - after all, most non-english speakers give a strong indication of where they're from by entering their location in their profile, and I've never come across any open racism during my two years on the site. I agree however that this information should be nothing more than an optional field in the profile
    – Pekka
    Aug 5, 2011 at 21:03
  • 1
    I don't think discrimination potential is high either. Just throwing it out there as a possible concern. :) I'm not shy about revealing my native language when it comes up, and I've never experienced any discrimination based on that on SE that I'm aware of.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Aug 5, 2011 at 21:07
  • Clarification: I don't think there would be an outright "egads, you are from X" kind of backlash. Popular Demand expanded on what I mean better than I did.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Aug 5, 2011 at 21:19
  • Well, it wouldn't be mandatory field anyway. If you don't feel comfortable about it, you don't have to fill that. I'd feel quite comfortable with it. Jul 9, 2013 at 15:03

I know it's old, but it's not declined, so... On some pages I participate adding language is allowed. People tends to treat it as an invitation - if they share non-english language they both feel better with, their conversations usually are in their language. Would you like French or German comments here?

Especially if that would be visible directly on post it would be even more tempting for many to do this. "But I wanted clarification in language we both understand better!" and stuff. Result - content (especially comments) mods can't even tell if it's useful or not and most users cannot benefit, or mass flagging of it. Not what I'd like to see here.

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