This is in the context of Flagging a question for improvement without voting to close, which suggests that there should be, in addition to a "Close" button, an "Edit" button to indicate that the question badly needs editing if it's to avoid being closed.

Some of the questions that most need editing seem to suffer from the inability of the poster to express himself in English. Some of that may be from people who cannot express themselves in any written language, but I think that many could express themselves in their own language. The only problem is that I don't speak their language. But maybe other SO users do.

Consider the following:

  1. Allow us to specify in our profile one or more languages that we speak. This information would be private.
  2. Allow us in our profile to indicate a willingness to help with translation for people speaking one of a list of languages.
  3. When one of our questions is flagged for edit, allow us to press a button asking for translation help.
    • We'd have to enter a more extensive version of the question in a language we speak well enough to express ourselves.
    • The users who have opted in would receive a orange envelope (I think email might be too much).
    • One of these users may choose to edit by translation. He'd get a screen showing both the foreign-language and the new English version of the question. He'd enter the translation into the English box.
    • When finished, the translated post would replace the original

What do you think? Too much? Too condescending?

  • 1
    +1 Love the sentiment of the idea - really feels to me that it embraces both the wiki like sides of SO and the community participation/assistance sides.
    – David Hall
    Commented Dec 17, 2009 at 1:22
  • +1. Brilliant. I may speak with an accent, but I don't think with an accent - Antonio Banderas
    – Otaku
    Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 18:07

9 Answers 9


So many questions that are poorly worded seem so because the original poster seems not to have English as a primary language. I think having them simply include something along the lines of:

I am sorry my English is somewhat weak. Please help translate my question into English: "Recapitulation of question in questioners native language"

As a social construct, this would require no new programming overhead, no vetting of translators, etc.

  • 6
    If stated in English and native language, the questions will be cluttered. We don't like clutter. If only native language, just about everyone will be frustrated since most people don't understand most language, so everyone will constantly see questions posted in languages they don't understand (depending on the frequency of questions needing translation). Commented May 10, 2013 at 9:25

I believe this is an interesting idea, but I don't think it's going to work: people here in SO answer questions in a matter of seconds.

Suppose the following scenario in a question: you have two answers, one is badly written, (but correct, written by a foreign user) and the other is correct and good written. The second one is going to be upvoted more - and becomes more relevant to the thread itself. This is SO's nature.

Is this unfair to people who doesn't have english as a first language? Well, it can be. I've lost how many times I was writing an answer and 3 people answered before me because I'm can't be as fast as someone who is proficient in english.

...but you can only get better in a second language writing and reading it. If we can become better at programming by exercising our skills in SO, why can't we get better in english as well?

This is one of the many reasons I'm in SO. I just forgot how many grammar errors I made along my answers (this one included). I don't care. I believe I'm improving. If I'm earning reputation, people are understanding me: and improving communication skills is programming related.

  • Great answer. >This is one of the many reasons I'm in SO (me too)
    – Jeriho
    Commented Sep 8, 2010 at 11:00
  • Not sure how this is applicable to questions that needs translating though... Commented May 10, 2013 at 10:52
  • +1 you're totally right. I'm not a native English speaker and spending time on SO helped me a lot. Commented May 10, 2013 at 13:20

Sounds way too complex to me. Why can't we just keep the site as it is now?

I pretty much already do this for the horribly mangled English questions. I think it is working fine, especially if we can move past "OMG EDITING IS TEH EVIL!" and into "How can we all help with editing?".

  • 2
    @Rich B: Who are you talking to? Commented Jul 15, 2009 at 16:48
  • 1
    @Pesto: What????
    Commented Jul 15, 2009 at 16:49
  • I've edited the question to clarify the context. This would only happen for questions flagged for editing. Besides, Rich, you do a great job of editing, but how many languages do you speak? Commented Jul 15, 2009 at 17:16
  • 2
    @John: Just one: Horribly mangled English. That is all I need.
    Commented Jul 15, 2009 at 17:17

This is all born out of very good faith, and I respect that everybody doesn't have an iron grip on the English language. Many native speakers can't decipher between you're and your. I've had people tell me that "plethora" was a big word. It's not! But, I regress. Now that I've publicly declared respect, it's time for me to sully argue it.

This idea only creates a ton of noise on the site, and it leaves us open to poor translation, to boot. How often do we see competent programmers make boneheaded mistakes? I'm not saying I'm competent, but I earned my Disciplined badge today because I misread the question and gave an incorrect answer. Luckily, a few people saw it (after a bunch of upvotes!) and let me know that I was wrong. This whole crowd-sourced thing only works if a lot of eyes see what it is and evaluate it. There is so much room for error (especially in idioms and in our field where a bug is not, in fact, creepy nor crawly, but it is annoying as hell). I often click the Edit links to see what's changed throughout the life of the question, so I can get some history.

Moreover, the language of programming is analogy. We often liken abstract concepts to something physical. I find that most translations, especially hasty ones, fall flat in this area.

As an additional example, let's say somebody asks an MDX question in Hindi. I don't even know how to identify Hindi, let alone read it, but I'm one of a handful of people who have ever answered an MDX question on here, and most of those questions only have one answer. It's an obscure topic, sure. So now there's an MDX question, with nobody but myself and maybe somebody else following the MDX tag. We don't speak/read/write Hindi. How likely is somebody going to be to take the time to translate a question that they don't care about?

To that point, are you ready to deal with the whining? We see how many "gaming the system" posts we have now. Wait until the translator gets a head start on answering the question! Especially for those piranha tags like C# and Java where if it's not answered in ten seconds, just wait two more. Anyway, talk about a headache.

Like I said here, localization is rife with complexity, mistranslations, misunderstandings, frustrations, and the constant threat of obscurity. Why go down that path when English is already the de facto language of programming? We're one of the only communities in the world where we have a universal language out of necessity, not out of convenience. Setting the expectation of English allows us to reach as many people, as quickly as possible, and in as consistent of a way as possible.


I proposed the option of allowing users to translate accepted-answers at their will, and it started to get some support from international SO-users. If there were an option to "Translate this answer" into Portuguese, for example, I would in many cases depending on the length of the answer. Then, when somebody from Brasil or Portugal visits, they would see their flag beside the answer - click, and the translated version shows up.

  • Interesting idea. I can see it sharing some of the same UI with this one. Commented Jul 15, 2009 at 17:34
  • If the license on all the content of the site is basically open source -- "user contributed content licensed under cc-wiki with attribution required" -- then other parties are basically free to do the translations. If a translator gets good enough to be worthwhile, and keeps the same kind of identifiers as SO, then this would be simple. From what I see there seems to be resistance to having formal translation apparatus on SO itself.
    – artlung
    Commented Dec 17, 2009 at 12:42

I'd like to see StackOverflow remain in English. It's still the lingua franca of the business and IT world.

Sometimes a machine translation isn't a bad thing. I often use Chrome's translate feature and have recently discovered a Chrome extension called "Social Translate" that I use for Twitter and Facebook to help keep up with my Chinese speaking friends.

I think you should leave the translation up to the user.

Although it would be nice to see an option for StackExchange owners to add a small icon to each post/answer that let's the user open the item in Google Translate or something.


Some of the questions that most need editing seem to suffer from the inability of the poster to express himself in English.

Yes, but the volume of such questions is so low that this is a corner case, and the proposed system involves a ton of work that is likely unwarranted. If people really need help translating their question, they should post it in english, and then below in their native language and ask users for help with the english portion which may not be fully correct.

If you really want to help people out in their native language, though, start a stackoverflow type site for programming in their native language.

  • I must admit that the number of such badly-written questions seems to be lower now than it was back when I asked this question. I don't know why. Commented Dec 17, 2009 at 15:17

My proposal would be to request non-english native speakers to write on SO their question in English, then write "Please excuse any spelling or grammatical mistakes, English isn't my first language", then add a paragraph translating their question in their native language.

So that people knowing both languages but not the answer would be able to correct the English. And competent people will then be able to answer an understandable question.

It would more be in line with Jeff's views.


I think any sort of notification would likely be too much. Well, it really depends on the amount of posts needing translation and the number of translators for any given language and the number of languages a translator is subscribed to.

I'm somewhat indifferent to this request, but here's just a possible solution.

Possible solution:

We currently have review queues. We can just add another 2 queues for questions (or answers? or comments?) - "Needing translation" and "Suggested translations".

Questions in different languages must be marked as such upon posting (can be an issue, given that many people don't even tag a questions with a language).

Once these questions are posted, they are not visible on the general site, only on the "Needing translation" review queue.

When a user goes to the "Needing translation" review queue, he/she will only see questions for the language he/she specified in his/her profile.

Once translated, the question will be added to the "Suggested translations" queue, which then requires 3 approve/reject votes to get approved/rejected (exactly like suggested edits).

Once approved they become visible on the general site. If rejected, the original post goes back to the "Needing translation" queue.

An optional extra is a privilege to allow translation without needing approval, like this privilege for suggested edits. Would high-reputation imply good translating skills? Probably not.

Additional notes:

Eric makes a good point in that, for example, why would I want to translate an Javascript question in a language I understand, given that I don't care about Javascript so probably couldn't care less about the question itself? Not to mention the fact that I may be unable to accurately translate concepts I'm not familiar with. And trying to present users with an overlap of things they know about with language they understand will likely turn into a royal mess.

Not to mention - how many programmers will be willing to do that much work in translating? We are, after all, programmers, not linguists or whomever usually does translating.


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