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Recently, I stumbled upon this post, which was posted in Portuguese. When I asked the OP in a comment to restate the question in English, other posters told me that according to this post on Meta, questions in other languages than English should be allowed.

While reading that Meta thread, I couldn't find an actual conclusion to the discussion, but I did see some good arguments to both sides of the story. After reading the thread, there's one major issue that does not seems to be discussed and that bothers me to an extend where I think it deserves its own thread. So, let's just assume that we all totally agree with allowing non-English posts.

One of the main goals of this site is to help people in their pursuit of learning mathematics, in helping them understand those parts of the discipline they find hard. If someone asks a question in a language different from English, this will mostly be due to one of two reasons. Either OP doesn't know any English, or he doesn't trust his understanding of the language to the point where he's willing to actually write in English.

Now suppose it's actually a good enough question to get translated. It then is not unlikely that it receives some decent answer, written in English. At this point some of the main points for this site are satisfied: a good question has been posted, recognised as such, it has been answered and in the process it has entered the extensive library of decent questions on MSE that might be helpful to others as well. However, the answer is written in English and the OP will either not be able to understand it at all or have an incredibly hard time to understand it, without getting any of the nuances in the answer at all.

When a question arrives at this stage, the OP should be able to benefit from having asked a question and having received an answer, which, so far, he cannot. I believe that at this point the answer should be translated back to the original language, so that OP can have all the benefits. Moreover, by translating the answer back, we might obtain a useful member to our community with great questions and/or answers, while otherwise he might be disappointed by the lack of understandable response and leave forever.

At the current time, the whole process of MSE, even if we allow for posts in other languages than English, doesn't seem to provide for situations like this, even though it could be a valuable extension. What do you think? Should this process be accommodated in a multilingual environment? If so, how could we achieve this? And if not, do you think we should allow non-English posts at all?

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  • $\begingroup$ See also meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/12933/… $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Apr 17 '16 at 6:05
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    $\begingroup$ I don't see a need to change the current policy of "Answer if you think you can, as well as you can, in the manner you desire." If a reader was interested enough to translate a question in a language they don't understand, surely the OP is interested enough to translate an answer in a language they don't understand. If the reader knows the language, it's on their own volition to answer in the same language. $\endgroup$ – Robert Wolfe Apr 25 '16 at 17:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Bryan "If a reader was interested enough to translate a question in a language they don't understand" I cannot make any sense of this. Usually, a reader that does understand the language makes the translation. "surely the OP is interested enough to translate an answer in a language they don't understand." They might be interested enough, but chances are they are unable to do so. This circumstance is the very cause of the problem to be discussed. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 28 '16 at 9:05
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    $\begingroup$ If you translate a question, it may be a good idea to leave the original intact, so that the reader sees both the original and the translation, and knows which is which. Readers might want to assess whether they agree with your translation. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hardy Aug 30 '17 at 19:34
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If a question is in a foreign language and you can't figure out what it says, ask for a translation, but don't vote to close.

I have more than once seen extremely rude comments directed at those who don't post in English, but I have never seen a good question or answer which was unreadable because it was in a different language. Why should we enact a rude policy in order to prevent a non-problem?

To me this is a deal-breaking issue: I would stop posting on math.stackexchange.com if it became an exclusive community for English speakers; that is an embarrassment.

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  • $\begingroup$ The site for most practical purposes is for English speakers. (I do not see what is embarrassing about that. There are plenty of other websites for speakers of other languages, too. I for one use them on a daily basis.) To claim otherwise comes close to denying reality. But since it seems to help some feel good about them, maybe just let us keep up the illusion. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 28 '16 at 8:39
  • $\begingroup$ @quid I agree that the site is de facto in English. But there's a huge difference between a friendly site for English speakers that helps non-speakers by occasionally providing translations and a site that has an explicit rule excluding non-speakers. $\endgroup$ – hunter Apr 28 '16 at 8:53
  • $\begingroup$ Obviously, nobody should be rude to posters that post in a language other than English. Still I think it is more reasonable to make transparent that the site is in English and nobody can expect posts in other languages to be handled. If on some occasion things work out, it's fine. Personally, I am more worried about the site pretending to offer something, which it actually does not offer (and likely cannot). By the way it seems you did not yet answer the question asked in the main post, which is actually about how to handle a consequence of allowing q in other languages. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 28 '16 at 9:19
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The week when the referred meta post was created, the site got 415 questions. The week of April 3, 2016 (most recent week in site analytics) it got 4927 questions. It's a very different site today from what it was in 2011.

If you can't tell what is being asked, vote/flag to close as Unclear what you're asking, ancient meta posts nonwithstanding.

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  • $\begingroup$ It occurred to me that this is the same stance you're taking in this post. Still, there don't seem to be many people who are particularly outspoken about their opinion in this. I would love to hear from other people in the community. Only one or two new meta questions about this issue appear every year, with very few different answerers. It's almost as if most people think this question was settled in the 2011 discussion, and should not be re-examined in 2016. Or did I not search well enough, thereby missing essential parts of the discussion? $\endgroup$ – Josse van Dobben de Bruyn Apr 16 '16 at 21:46
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    $\begingroup$ @JossevanDobbendeBruyn as far as I am concerned, I do not try to go back to that old discussion as I consider it as a complete fringe subject. It just does not come up much in practice, and nothing much relevant would come of such a discussion. Like, maybe, I also prefer a post in very good French being translated to very good English, rather than one in hardly comprehensible English, but really how many posts in very good French are there on the site (and how many of authors that could not have written at least alright English). Is it a double digit number? It's just a non-subject. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 16 '16 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ @quid hmm, fair enough. :-) $\endgroup$ – Josse van Dobben de Bruyn Apr 16 '16 at 23:39
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    $\begingroup$ The overall growth is irrelevant: the number of questions in languages other than English remains very small. And the proper response, if you cannot make out the sense of a question in a language other than English, is to ask for a translation; even if the OP can’t provide, it’s quite likely that someone here can. In the case that led to this Meta question, translating the question is pretty easy, and I don’t read Portuguese. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 19 '16 at 6:42
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    $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott the closure as "unclear" is part of the request to translate. When/if it is translated the question can be reopened. The growth is relevant in that on a site with larger turnover there is more need for following the procedures as otherwise too many things will fall through the cracks. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 21 '16 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ @quid: I disagree on all counts. It is not reasonable to expect anyone to interpret closure as unclear as a request for translation, the exiguous number of instances of this largely imaginary problem is relevant, and you're inventing a non-existent procedure. And experience says that requests to reopen are among the things that are more likely to fall through the cracks. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 21 '16 at 16:20
  • $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott first of all, I wrote (added emphasis) 'closure as "unclear" is part of the request to translate' If there is concern a closure is not self-explanatory, as usual, more details can be given in comments. However, I would argue that mere closure is clear enough, but certainly there is no harm in giving extra info. Second, I do not invent anything. I expressed my agreement with the answer, the procedures in place to deal with questions that are "unclear" should be applied in this case. Do you want to deny that there is a procedure of putting on hold questions that seem unclear? $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 28 '16 at 9:26
  • $\begingroup$ What's the difference between "unclear" because you don't speak the language and "unclear" because you aren't familiar with the vocabulary (say, infinity categories)? This kind of "unclear" seems unfair, that's a problem of the reader. $\endgroup$ – Justin Young May 12 '16 at 12:18
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I'm not such an avid user of the site, but I must have read a few hundreds of questions, and I can't remember having seen a question any language but English. I think it's safe to assume that non-English posts are quite rare.

If they're as rare as they seem to be, is it really so harmful to the site to let people post in other languages once in a while? It's not like it will become an epidemic, and tomorrow when we wake up the site will be full of posts in portuguese and spanish. The number of foreing-language posts will stay low, even if explicitly allowed, because they have a much lower chance to be answered.

If a user not fluent in English, knowing that the odds are against him, chooses to post his question in whatever language he feels comfortable, and ends up posting a good, high quality question, I can't see how the community would benefit by closing the question. Again, letting the question sit there, waiting for a translator, would not "encourage" people to post more questions in foreing languages, because it's just not that common (and besides, the question wouldn't even have gotten an answer, which would discourage similar questions). And if the question ends up getting translated and answered, well, then we have gained one more question-answer pair (in two languages!). But, again, I really don't see this becoming a trend.

EDIT: I can see in other answers and comments that one of the proposed procedures is putting the question on hold or closing it until it gets translated. My impression is that this would take visibility away from the question, and then it will become less likely to be seen by a potential translator. I feel that these (closing and putting on hold) are procedures made to deal with questions that need more work done by the OP, and not by the community. Am I wrong?

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    $\begingroup$ "I feel that these (closing and putting on hold) are procedures made to deal with questions that need more work done by the OP, and not by the community. Am I wrong?" Yes, you are wrong. A question is put on hold if changes are needed to make it suitable for the site. // It is also not true that closure gives it less visibility, at least not initially, which is what is relevant. Indeed, it is more the converse. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 29 '16 at 8:49
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    $\begingroup$ "It's not like it will become an epidemic, and tomorrow when we wake up the site will be full of posts in portuguese and spanish." I would not use a pejorative term like epidemic, but I see no reason why it would not (over time) become a frequent phenomenon once it reaches a minimal critical mass. It is not as if there are few students of mathematics that are more comfortable expressing themselves in a language other than English, or that receive homework in languages other than English. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 29 '16 at 8:58
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Some of other answers (and comments) seems to suggest that asking and answering questions in other languages is ok provided that also English translation is given.

In the case of the answerer it is their choice whether their answer only in English or in both languages. But the asker's English is probably not good enough to make a post in English - otherwise they probably would not post in their native tongue.

Therefore it is clear that the asker needs some help with translating the question to English. As far as I can say, usually in the past there were enough users willing to help with this. But the problem is the visibility of this question. For example, let us say that I am one of the few users on this site who are fluent in Klingon. (This is a hypothetical example.) If somebody asks question in Klingon I am certainly willing to help. But the likelihood that among the tons of questions posted here every day I will stumble upon the one in Klingon is minuscule.

My proposal to mitigate the problem is the following: If a question is asked in a different language, we should add the tag . Once the question is translated, this tag should be removed. (This is not the original purpose of this tag, but I think it could be also used for situations like this.) This would help users which want to help with translation of questions asked in non-English language to find such a questions - simply by looking at recent questions in this tag.


Added later:

One additional advantage would be that users who do not want to see questions which are asked in a different language (and have no translation into English) could add this tag to their ignored tags. But this solution is not ideal, since this would mean that they would also lose other questions (not of this type) in the same tag.

After quid mentioned in comment that they recall seeing similar proposal in an older discussion here on meta, I searched a bit and found this question, where the suggestion was to create entirely separate tag for questions of this type: http://meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/21136/tag-for-non-english-questions

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  • $\begingroup$ I believe this proposal came up earlier already. I am against it. We should not do anything that encourages posts in languages other than English or creates the (false) expectation this site is actually fit to deal with the posts in an efficient way. Plus, there are a lot of languages out there. Once there is a reasonable number of requests one will have to sift throw the list to find the language(s) one is able to translate. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 29 '16 at 8:53
  • $\begingroup$ @quid I only found this answer which specifically mentions this tag in connection with the problem at hand. But it is likely that more posts along similar lines can be found. (BTW your disagreement with the proposal would be clearer if you not only mention it in a comment but also add a downvote. You do not have to worry that I will take it personally. After all, meta does not carry reputation. And downvotes accompanied by an explanatory comment is the kind of downvotes which I like.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Apr 29 '16 at 9:03
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    $\begingroup$ Well, it won't be an obligation to anybody to sit through the "queue of questions waiting for translation". If people do it, it will be because they want to. And if they don't do it, then there will not be so much questions in other languages, because these questions will not be getting answers. $\endgroup$ – fonini Apr 29 '16 at 9:05
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    $\begingroup$ @fonini "And if they don't do it, then there will not be so much questions in other languages, because these questions will not be getting answers." I think what will mostly happen in actual practice if such posts become somewhat frequent is that the questions do get answered (in the original language), yet there will be no translations. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 29 '16 at 9:10
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    $\begingroup$ Wait. Are you fluent in Klingon? $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 29 '16 at 9:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Asaf As I wrote it might post, it is a hypothetical example. I am not fluent in Klingon. (The part where I mentioned that few users of this site are fluent in Klingon was not intended to be hypothetical - but I might be wrong and there might be many such users here.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Apr 29 '16 at 9:12
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    $\begingroup$ Well. I just had to ask. :-) $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 29 '16 at 9:17
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    $\begingroup$ @quid I can't imagine someone who could translate the question take the time to answer it but not translate it. $\endgroup$ – fonini Apr 29 '16 at 9:20
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    $\begingroup$ The post you now link to is the one I had in mind. Ďakujem! (But, not to engage in false advertising, I had to check this first, and my general knowledge ends at "Good morning" basically.) $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 29 '16 at 9:20
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    $\begingroup$ @fonini Can you imagine somebody answering a completely garbled question without fixing it? This is very frequent. I see no reason why a related phenomenon should not occur in this context. Besides in the case of translation, it is not even clear the answerer even could translate the question. Thus there is rather more reason it could happen. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 29 '16 at 9:28

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