What should we do when faced by a question which looks like it may have been translated (very poorly) from a language other than English?

Example: thread-and-control

The OP may have asked this in perfectly clear and readable Japanese for all I know and had it translated into the mangled garbage you see.

  • Should the question be closed?
  • Is there someplace we can point the OP to for better translations?
  • Should it be downvoted?
  • Should a tag be created called unreadable and some bot user (like Community) perform some cleanup based on some kind of "is this readable" metric?
  • 1
    Frankly, I'm a bit disappointed that it went 6 hours without anybody editing it to be RCIX's translation. Yeesh.
    – Eric
    Sep 1 '09 at 13:27
  • Well, Eric, I don't have editing powers on SO :) Sep 1 '09 at 13:33

Maybe the question could include the native tongue version and somebody would be able to translate it more meaningfully. I think that closing it after a while of grace would be OK, once commented. I second John that we do not need an unreadable tag. I would rather, in bad cases, flag for moderator attention.

Maybe a feature like "needs translation" would be neat? Not as a tag, but somehow searchable. Flag for translation, and people can voluntarily join a translator pool? But then, So far we did not need translation as we encouraged use of English as Lingua Franca.

  • We had this suggestion of translating the stuff before. IIRC it was declined. Sep 1 '09 at 7:29
  • 2
    I like this idea, but I think it runs the risk of answers being posted in the language of the question rather than the question being translated. The non-existant threshold for answering vs. the high threshold for editing will also reinforce this.
    – Eric
    Sep 1 '09 at 8:29

For sure we do not need an unreadable tag! Comment it and wait. If nothing happens, you can downvote it later, because the question is unclear (as the tooltip of the down arrow suggested).

  • I won't downvote but I actually think [unreadable] is a good idea (just maybe another wording) - it helps direct users with non-english proficiency to that question where they may be able to help improve the situation. If you only comment, there is no way for those helpful users to help unless they also happen to be interested in the subject matter of the question.
    – David
    Sep 17 '09 at 18:42
  • Tags are used to categorise questions, not to ask for help. Unreadable as tag would be as useful as belongs-on-.... These are discouraged. If it is unreadable, most people have to guess, what the OP means. I think it is better only people interested in the tag care about that, becaue it's more likely that they do not mess it up. Sep 18 '09 at 7:00

For the first five or so months of SO, there was a reasonably effective solution to this: close the question until the author (or someone else) comes and cleans it up. This helped to prevent "wild guess" answers, and provided a strong incentive to improve questions quickly.

With the introduction of "vote to close", the use of this technique took a big hit. In all but the most blatant cases, it takes far too long to close a question - and more importantly, far too long to re-open it again - for this to be used effectively.

I recommend you immediately down-vote poorly-asked questions. If they lack sufficient detail or specificity to answer, vote to close; otherwise, edit them. In both cases, give the original author a few minutes to respond to criticism and provide the edits himself. Once edited, you should be able to retract or reverse your vote, if you feel it is no longer appropriate. Voting is not as effective a "stick" as was closing, but it's what we have.


This particular question was bad even it its original language. No matter what language, it sure didn't contain any details, no code, no information regarding language and frameworks used. Nothing. Close it.

  • Granted, but if I am writing in a language I am very poor in, I am much less precise then when I know the language. I'm glad to get something out there.
    – malach
    Sep 1 '09 at 7:33
  • 1
    The problem in most of these cases is not lack of precision, but rather insufficient detail. I assume that, if you were asking a question on a forum in a language you're bad at, you'd at least include your programming environment and some semi-coherent explanation of what you're trying to do and how it's failing. There are questions out there without that much. Sep 1 '09 at 20:47

Essentially this is no different from a poorly worded question by a native speaker. All you can do is post a comment asking for clarification.

  • I don't think it's quite equivalent from the perspective that I'm likely to have much less patience with a native speaker who can't be bothered phrasing the question properly Sep 1 '09 at 14:13
  • Then have more patience! What more could you possibly do?
    – innaM
    Sep 1 '09 at 14:36
  • Patience is often not the issue. If I can't understand a question, I can't answer it. It doesn't matter whether the the questioner's native language is English or Tagalog. Sep 1 '09 at 20:48

I would not close a poorly expressed question, but I might ask to clarify the question somewhat. If the question was too elementary or whatever to my taste, I would rather skip the question than blame it being a bad question. Of course if there was a dublicate question and answer, I would link them. And finally if the question went under community edit, then editing is one possibility too, but I wouldn't edit very many questions.

Programming forums are for exact question-answer pairs. But I like to also discuss things. So I wouldn't close a discussion question, rather I would want to move it to discussion area.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .