I will start by referring to a question on MSE (Math Stack Exchange) (this) and an answer on Physics Stack Exchange Meta (this). Let me cite the questioner on MSE:

Imagine I want to ask an extremely precise question with a lot shades in one of all possible subjects on Stack Exchange but I am not fluent in English. Can I find someone here to help me to translate my question?

My question is much the same - but instead intended for Physics Stack Exchange. Also, let me cite the answerer on the Physics Stack Exchange Meta:

I do agree that multiple languages on one site cause confusion. But we should not "ban" non-english speakers, ... try to translate things to english as good as possible. As soon as the correctness of the translation is verified, the original text should be removed - it will still be available by clicking on the edited by link. Maybe one can edit in a original version in russian ...

But this is not, at least not according to me, an answer that clearly tells Physics Stack Exchange how to behave should this situation occur. Instead, someone tells you how you should behave.

Please forgive me if I have missed some already written rule on Physics Stack Exchange about what I'm asking for here.

  • $\begingroup$ To me personally, it is likely better to write the question in English, and if there are unclear points work with folks to clarify them. The alternative is hoping that somebody else can and will translate your question as precisely as you want. Given the very nature of translation between languages, this is an unlikely outcome a priori. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 18:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If someone has a 'very precise question with a lot of shades' but they do not know enough English to phrase the question to their satisfaction, I do not think it is at all guaranteed that they will be able to verify the correctness of the translation. How do you envision this step as happening? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 18:31
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty I know that and have thought about that. To be honest, the only answer to that question, that I can come up with, are that another speaker of the written language translates the post. But it may be a bit of a long odds of that happening. But let me cite a comment from my MSE link: "This has been successfully done at least a couple of times. cont'd $\endgroup$
    – Andreas
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 18:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @EmilioPesanto I recall friendly users having given translations from German, French, Spanish and Portuguese at least. Do try to give an English translation. That may speed up things, because some of us are very good at guessing what is actually meant. There are hotheads who start shooting at such questions, but ignore them. Asking bilingually is IMO most likely to succeed. Then it will be clear to all that some of the illogical parts of the question may be errors in translation." $\endgroup$
    – Andreas
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreasAlmgren I have to disagree with Lahtonen's comment there. Those "hotheads" are the reason the site's signal-to-noise ratio is high. Opening the door to a bunch of untranslated questions, just to see whether some kind soul will translate them, dilutes that SNR. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 18:45

3 Answers 3


The official faq Do posts have to be in English on Stack Exchange? on mother meta refers to the official blog entry on the topic. Note that the focus on "programming questions" is because back then there were only SO, SU and SF around, but the essence still is valid:

It is not, nor has it ever been, our goal to be the one place in the world for all programming information in every possible human language.

  • Direct question posters to native language resources.
  • It is not the community's goal to teach English.
  • The question asker should put some effort into the question.

As a corollary, questions not in English will be closed. Questions that include both an English version and the original non-English version are fine if the asker is uncertain about the correctness of their translation, but this should be the exception rather than the rule, and in particular all further communication, in particular answers, should be in English. Questions in bad or broken English are also completely fine - they should be fixed on sight by more fluent speakers, but it is rare that mere language issues make a question so incomprehensible that it would need to be closed.

In the end, I oppose the posting of non-English language posts without an accompanying translation attempt, and prefer broken English over a non-English language post because using more than one language within a community splinters said community into smaller camps of users who share a certain language. Things like the review system only work because all users can communicate with each other and the idea of meta discussions (such as this one!) is wholly absurd if we do not expect everyone to speak the same langauge. And everyone able to follow the average meta post should also be able to make an intellegible attempt at writing a question in English, no matter its actual grammatical correctness.

Finally, content needs to be moderated. When a question is posted in a language I do not speak, how am I, or any other moderator or reviewer, supposed to decide whether the question is on-topic, or, worse, whether it even is a physics question and not just spam or some abusive rant? Wait for someone who actually speaks the language? How does one find such users? From this point of view, it's completely impractical to allow non-English content while upholding our quality standards and the idea of forming a single community.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I agree when I hear your reasoning, and have upvoted. $\endgroup$
    – Andreas
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 18:58
  • $\begingroup$ That blog post is a bit old (SO was 10 months old at the time; it's now 8 years old), but it's important to note that SE has diversified its language scope - by opening up what are now three separate language-specific SOs, i.e. as traffic allows. This makes the single-language-per-site focus as valid as back in the day. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 19:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ One of the concrete examples of @EmilioPisanty point is Stack Overflow in Spanish. If there was a large community of people interested in doing physics Q&A in, say, Russian, then there no barrier to creating a new site for that purpose. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ In my opinion, the reviewing capabilities is probably the most important aspect. $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 2:09
  • $\begingroup$ "it is rare that mere language issues make a question so incomprehensible that it would need to be closed" Strongly disagree. I'd guess that a good 10% of all questions closed as unclear have language issues as the root cause of what makes them so incomprehensible. At very least, it's easy to imagine how improper translation can take a good question and make it nearly impossible to determine what is being asked $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 12:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "It is not the community's goal to teach English." I guess this should be updated to "Except on EnglishLanguageLearners.SE" $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 12:27

The very welcoming Mathematics policy is consistent with my personal preference for having patience with non-native speakers and writers. However, I'm not immediately sure whether I have had the presence of mind to respond that way myself when I've seen foreign-language questions in the past. You raise an interesting question.

I think that my first response to a question in a non-English language would be to put it "on hold" with the close reason "unclear what you're asking." The addition of a translation by editing would put the question in front of the re-open queue reviewers, who would judge the new question on its understandability and appropriateness for the site like any other. However if the question never developed an acceptable translation, it would remain closed. As Jon Custer points out in a comment, the probability that another user would (a) speak the language of the question and (b) take the time to produce a translation that is (c) substantially correct --- those are long odds.

(I'm thinking out loud here, rather than wearing my moderator hat and generating policy, but this got too long for a comment.)


It is not our decision. Stack Exchange is a U.S. company and for mysterious reasons they mainly unwelcome any non-English content. They somehow won't understand that it would cause a five times growth in their potential visitor count.

There are some workarounds around it: SE sites about languages can use non-English, and there are Stack Overflow clones in four languages (one of them is Russian). Even the fast growth of these sites isn't a reason for them to change this never directly admitted policy.

In theory, on the meta sites, English is always preferred to help the CMs to track the topics, but it isn't enforced in practice very heavily.

I have multiple hypotheses for their reason, but none of them is really proven. There are some explanations from SE sources, mainly about individual cases as they blocked non-English content/sites, but these are contradictory and aren't very realistic.

Currently there is an explicit ban on the Area 51 for non-English SE sites. Thus, a non-English PSE here is unthinkable.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure here, but maybe the reason is that English is the most common foreign language on the internet? $\endgroup$
    – Helen
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 7:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Helen It is a reason to prefer English, but it is not a reason to essentially forbid any non-English. Btw, around 80% of the humanity is not capable to use English sites. Maybe the also the Facebook could have profited from this very productive and logical insight. $\endgroup$
    – peterh
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 8:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Helen I think, they would most like to explicit ban any non-English content on the whole network. What I can see, the few non-English content is much more a compromise and not a rule. $\endgroup$
    – peterh
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 8:45
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Can you substantiate your claim of a language ban on Area 51 with evidence? If not, then you should remove that claim. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 9:29
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty I experienced already many times that people not following the SE behavior about non-English things are regularly surprised if they read my similar posts as this. Thus, I will collect the references and initiate a meta SE thread about the topic. It will cost me probably around 60 rep on the meta SE, but I think it will worth its price. I will give you a link to it. But don't expect too much from me in CET work time, sorry. $\endgroup$
    – peterh
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 12:09
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ "on mysterious reasons they mainly unwelcome any non-English content" - since there are multiple posts on the issue, and I also gave a well-received answer to this question why we (not just SE-as-a-company, but we-as-PSE-users) shouldn't really allow on-English posts, claiming the reasons against non-English languages are "mysterious" is unsubstantiated. $\endgroup$
    – ACuriousMind Mod
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 13:15
  • $\begingroup$ 5 x growth at what cost? My prediction would be a total crash in the site's quality and attractiveness. The policy to restrict topics, languages, and low-quality content is arguably a major reason why Stack Exchange is successful and popular. $\endgroup$
    – tripleee
    Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 6:53
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I'm not particuarly attempting to engage you in a conversation, let alone provide judgment on your character; I am pointing out a fact for future visitors which is often stated in these discussions but seemed to be missing from this particular one. I have reread the question a third time and it still seems to me to be about whether non-English posts are acceptable on Physics.se, not about the broader Stack Exchange network's development and policies. $\endgroup$
    – tripleee
    Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 9:39

You must log in to answer this question.

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