A lot of the questions that get downvoted and closed on SO are asked by non-native English speakers. Sometimes unfairly, because there is a good question behind some unusual or plain bad wording.

I'm wondering whether it would be worth translating SO's most important FAQ and "how to ask a good question" resources into non-English languages, on the premise that somebody struggling to write down a few English words might be unable to truly understand the FAQ, which are aimed in everyday language at the native speaker.

There's the chance that a FAQ in their native language will help some users to ask questions that, while still not asked in perfect English, bear the structural signs of an intelligent and salvageable question.

I'm thinking about a community effort, and/or professional paid translations for some languages to get things going.

As to which languages - I guess the criteria would be, languages with a significant audience on SO from places where English is not necessarily on the curriculum and misunderstandings on SO occur frequently. From my subjective impressions in the PHP tag, some of the Languages of India would have to be on top of the list (although I don't know which ones), I guess with one of the major world languages coming next. Russian might be a good idea, too.

I'm also not excluding the possibility that it's all a wasted effort.


3 Answers 3


I feel that the problem has more to do with the new users, who are in a hurry to ask a question rather than it has to do with FAQ being only in English. Most of the times from what I have seen, the new users want to get answers because they are in a hurry to meet a deadline or something but they don't know how to solve a problem. I believe they have to take few minutes to read through the FAQ.

Even if we have the FAQ in non-English languages and if the new users do understand the FAQ based on their language (assuming if we have it translated), they still have to formulate the question in English. So, that means they will still have trouble formulating a question in English even if we provide FAQ in all the languages in the world. Based on what I have read in meta, SO site will be available only in English.

I am a non-native English speaker and most of the times (not always) I can understand the question being asked by a non-native English speaker (based on their names/location I can see they are non-native English speakers). I have answered very few questions where few users couldn't understand what OP's question is. I cannot teach the new users how to write a good question. However, I am sure that if I know the technology in which the question is being asked, I can try to help them to rephrase the question so that others can understand too.

I believe that new users should take some accountability if they want to participate in the community. At the same time, community members also should try to help the new users instead of scaring them right away because their English is poor. Most of the times the intentions of the community members are good but few times they show lack of patience, probably they might have come across very bad questions over a period of long time. I don't know.

Anyways, those are my thoughts. I hope that I am making some sense here. In a nutshell, translating the FAQ different languages may not solve the problem. I am not saying that it won't. Your idea is worth discussing but irrespective of the language the FAQ is in, the responsibility lies with the new users. Will they read it? That's the question.

  • Fair enough, good points. There is only one cure for the group of people you mention in your first paragraph: Downvoting and closevoting, until they bother to take the time to ask a good question.
    – Pekka
    Aug 23, 2011 at 7:34
  • @Eat: Yes, I agree with downvoting and closevoting if the users are repeat offenders. However, I am not a big fan of downvoting someone without giving them a fair warning or a chance. Sometimes, people need direction. Most people (not all of them) take it in good strides to become better.
    – user162697
    Aug 23, 2011 at 7:38
  • I understand and totally see where you're coming from, but the consensus is that bad content needs downvoting, no matter whether the user is a newbie or not, simply because so much bad content is coming in, and so many users don't care to clean up their posts. (Related discussion here) I'm not completely happy with that either but have come to accept it. Leaving a comment underneath the downvoted question outlining what needs to be done often helps
    – Pekka
    Aug 23, 2011 at 7:40
  • 2
    @Eat: I definitely understand your point. I follow only 1 tag ssis. I usually ask users what they are trying to achieve if I don't understand their question. I give them an opportunity to rephrase it before downvoting/close voting. That's what I meant by giving a chance. My idea is to make the content better.
    – user162697
    Aug 23, 2011 at 7:48
  • that sounds like a very good policy.
    – Pekka
    Aug 23, 2011 at 7:51
  • Based on what I have read in meta, SE sites will be available only in English. - Actually, there might be added more SE sites in other languages by the Area51 process, and these then obviously need a native-language FAQ. But this question is about Stack Overflow, which will stay in English. Aug 23, 2011 at 13:24
  • @Paŭlo Ebermann: Good point. Thanks. Corrected the post accordingly.
    – user162697
    Aug 23, 2011 at 13:28

If they can't read/understand the FAQ written in English, how are they going to understand all of the rest of the content (such as questions and answers), also written in English?

I'm also not excluding the possibility that it's all a wasted effort.

Honestly, it does seem like a bit of a wasted effort to me. The site is all-English for a reason. If you think things in the FAQ are worded in an unclear, confusing, or particularly idiomatic way, then we should improve those specific aspects to be more clear and unviersal, not try to rewrite the whole thing in other languages.

For example, Samthere recently expressed concern that Using Jeopardy! as an example in the FAQ is potentially confusing to people from cultures that haven't been exposed to the show (or even to people who have that might misunderstand the implication).

I think that's the more productive way to approach this problem. Becoming at least passably familiar with English is a requirement for meaningful/successful participation on Stack Overflow anyway. The FAQ should by its nature actually be easier to understand, even to a relatively poor speaker of English, than many peoples' answers.

  • Good points as well.
    – Pekka
    Aug 23, 2011 at 10:24

Perhaps we could get some value from translating something smaller than the FAQ. How about a document for users with poor English skills. Maybe something retrospectively obvious like:

If you are having trouble formulating your question in English, then those users you would like to answer your question will probably have trouble understanding your question, and will therefore be unable to help you. Try asking your question of someone who speaks your language fluently and who can help you translate it into English.

Of course, that last part would also help native English speakers who can't formulate a question so that others can understand it.

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