If I may, I would like to share some of my feelings about this website with you.

I used to think of english.stackexchange as a welcoming place for educated people from all around the world who are interested in the depths of the English language. I loved this website and used to feel at home. Lately, every question that is suspected to be asked by a non-native speaker gets downvoted and it feels like people who used to feel at home here get kicked out of here into ELL.

I don't feel personally offended for anything, as I'm mostly just a reader. I'm just starting to feel unwelcome and uncomfortable around here. This is very frustrating.

  • 2
    Do you have any example questions that you feel were inappropriately downvoted?
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 21:38
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    People do not need evidence to prove how they feel. I agree with the sentiment. As a former ESL teacher, I'm used to the differences between learners' questions and natives' cluelessness. But others aren't, I think. And there is this passion for eradicating duplication, which strikes me as totally bizarre on a language site; repetition is the best thing in the world for language learning. Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 22:05
  • 3
    @JohnLawler: I don't doubt the feeling, I just want to have something objective to at least attempt a coherent answer.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 23:00
  • 3
    @john but "I feel X" can't really generate actions if there aren't examples to help people understand the issue
    – user10893
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 23:00
  • 4
    I freely admit I don't have John's "manly fortitude" in respect of the ever-increasing number of "same ole same ole" questions. But I have neither the knowledge nor the communications skills to provide truly "definitive" answers. I'm certainly not against non-native speakers asking things on ELU - for example, I always look forward to Yoichi's questions, because they're invariably interesting to me personally. But I think questions where almost every native speaker knows the answer shouldn't be mixed in with genuinely intriguing issues. Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 0:11
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    Manly fortitude? Jeez, gimme a break, willya? I'm a teacher; I teach. I like teaching. I taught English grammar -- first to ESL students, then to graduate and undergraduate students, most native but plenty not -- for about 40 years. When you do that (it's roughly the same as playing blues guitar for 40 years), you get a lot of riffs that you can pull out and perform practically anywhere. That's all I'm doing here, really. Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 0:59
  • 4
    Yoichi's name coming up in a reply to similar questions expressing unhapiness with this site has almost become a cliche. :p
    – Soulz
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 15:20
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    @JohnLawler repetition is indeed important in language learning however it is extremely undesirable in a StackExchange. Surely we only want each question asked and answered in one place?
    – user24964
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 17:10
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    I don't think that's worth a Surely, at all. To start with, I don't understand what you mean by "each question"; there isn't any each. They're all different, and they're phrased in different ways and for different purposes. Are you proposing to singlehandedly (or by clever algorithm) divine what the Underlying Question is, and what its Correct Answer is? The fact that somebody has answered some question before doesn't make it the right answer for a different question, except in very uncommon circumstances. Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 18:04
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    Regarding people feeling like they're being kicked over to ELL, I sincerely hope that's not the case. I know several ELL users who, when viewing a question on ELU that could fit on either site or is better for ELL, mention ELL as a resource for the future. I think our general feeling over at ELL is that not a lot of people know about us yet, so spreading the word is a good thing. But we're not trying to kick anyone anywhere, I promise! We just want you to know we're there. If this is a popular feeling we might consider rewording our comments; we don't want anyone feeling this way. (ELL Mod)
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Jun 21, 2013 at 0:35
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    IMO, english.SE should not be for non-fluent speakers. There are more resources for the non-fluent than the fluent. I think it's worth making an effort to make english.SE a forum for fluent English speakers who are passionate about the language.
    – Hal
    Commented Jun 21, 2013 at 3:36
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    @WendiKidd If you want something to back up my feeling, just look at the front page of english.SE and count the questions with negative votes. Right now 10 out of 45 questions have a negative number next to them, and I interpret this as a sign of hostility. ELL is not mentioned in most threads, but you can see that the questions that get downvoted mostly come from non-native speakers. Do some people think that the level of English of the OP a good reason for a downvote? If so, it is very sad. Commented Jun 21, 2013 at 7:20
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    @Ilya: if you interpret a downvote as a sign of hostility, that's the actual problem right there. This is a subject that has been brought up before, countless times, and not just on ELU, but on all sites of the network. And the answer is always the same: do not interpret downvotes as a sign of hostility. And yes, the level of English of the OP is a good reason for a downvote, though it is an even better reason for an edit, but often enough that is simply not possible. (And I am saying that in my capacity as the top editor of this site.)
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jun 21, 2013 at 12:59
  • 3
    I just looked at the first page and all the ones with negative votes, and to me all of them looked like either poorly asked questions or off topic (meaning of quotes?) and of those only one could I tell was a non-native speaker. In my own experience, poor English doesn't make for a bad question, it is poor thought (which also means not doing some research prior, not explaining oneself). But that is my perception, not yours. I can see a non-native speaker feeling a bit self-conscious with lots of self-doubt, but on the first page today I don't see some kind of disfavoritism towards them.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 21, 2013 at 13:28
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    Separating the chaff from the wheat is the worth the effort because sometimes the most intriguing questions come from non-native speakers that challenge what we native speakers overlook or take for granted. Commented Jun 21, 2013 at 19:25

6 Answers 6


A recent comment said:

Right now 10 out of 45 questions have a negative number next to them, and I interpret this as a sign of hostility. ELL is not mentioned in most threads, but you can see that the questions that get downvoted mostly come from non-native speakers. Do some people think that the level of English of the OP a good reason for a downvote?

I'd like to address that in two parts...


Right now 10 out of 45 questions have a negative number next to them, and I interpret this as a sign of hostility.

I think it's sad that you jump to that conclusion.

I looked at the first 5 questions with a negative number, and here's what I saw:

#1 My question is that which adverbs are equivalent to ‘unwishfully’?

This is essentially a thesaurus question. I believe if I had posted that same question, even in more polished English, I probably would have garnered roughly the same number of downvotes – especially if I, like the O.P., didn't bother to explain why the six alternatives provided weren't satisfactory.

#2 If i say "I am the person who doesn't mind" , is that wrong?

Who knows? This question might have earned its downvote just because of the lower-case "i" and the improper punctuation and spacing in the question. (There are two additional such errors in the question itself.) I have no problem with someone downvoting that question, just based on its sloppiness. Such a downvote may prompt the O.P. (and others) to be more careful in the future, so that others don't have to spend time editing their work just to make it presentable.

#3 Could anyone make me understand by explaining these two quotes from the movie The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman

This is a very interesting question, in my mind, but I don't see how it's on-topic. I've tried to explain why in a comment I've left there. I don't think it's really deserving of a downvote, but I would guess that any downvotes were primarily driven by frustration with the off-topicness of the question, rather than hostility toward a non-native.

#4 “At a future events” vs. “at the future events” – which one should I use?

Before this question was closed, one person answered it, and another left a comment. But the question is about such a basic issue that I suspect most stack exchange sites would have downvoted a question this basic. The main "hostility" I see here is that no one bothered has to post a link to ELL – where that question might still garner downvotes for being not well-researched, although perhaps not as many, because it would have at least been asked in a more appropriate venue. Still, it's worth mentioning that no one has told that user to bug off – the downvotes are an indictment on the question and its scant research, not the user or the user's inexperience with English.

#5 I want to go 0.3 of the distance from point A to point B. What word describes the 0.3?

Even though this question has several downvotes (one of which is mine), I still fail to find "signs of hostility toward the non-native speaker." After all, the question has four answers, in addition to a few helpful comments. That's not hostility. Probably the most challenging question is mine, and I stand by it. The O.P. didn't do anyone any favors by writing about something different then was really being asked about. That wastes time for a lot of people.


...you can see that the questions that get downvoted mostly come from non-native speakers. Do some people think that the level of English of the OP a good reason for a downvote?

No, I don't think that's a good reason for a downvote; I think it would be a terrible reason, and I suspect an overwhelming majority of regulars would agree.

However, when questions are worded so hastily that I'm reminded of Yahoo! Answers, then I believe the question is vulnerable to downvotes, and that's a good thing. We expect a higher standard here, a higher level of effort. You shouldn't just come here and ask a question flippantly. If all I saw was drivel for questions, I wouldn't spend much time here. When I'm feeling frustrated with an O.P., it's because they've asked a question without providing sufficient context, or written it out in sloppy SMS-speak. Such shoddy work is detrimental to the community.

In short, I only downvoted one of the five questions I've analyzed, but I don't have a problem with the other downvotes that were cast, for the reasons I've already explained.

Lastly, I noticed that all these questions were asked by very new ELU users with very few reputation points. I suspect that the downvotes are rooted in inexperience, rather than the fact that they might not be native English speakers.

It seems like a lot of non-natives mistakenly assume it's the quality of the English that is being downvoted, as opposed to the quality of the question. My downvotes are solely based on the latter, and I don't think I'm in the minority on that.

  • 4
    Thank you for going through the hard work of coming up with examples.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 21, 2013 at 17:53
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    Even if I agreed with you that all these questions deserved a downvote, none of these downvotes would be fine if they went without explaining. A downvote is nothing but discouraging for the person who asks a question. How can a person be expected to remember from now on that "I" should be spelled with a capital letter, or that "a events" is not grammatical, if he just gets put down? I must agree with Yoishi that there is some cowardness about this behavior. Commented Jun 22, 2013 at 9:50
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    @IlyaK: I don't disagree with you, although I don't think I'd be so emphatic about it. It might be worth mentioning that I did leave a comment in the one place where I cast a downvote. Maybe some of this is plain cowardly, but there may be a more pragmatic reason, too: constructive comments take time to write. Sometimes it's easier to simply hit a downvote button, and hope someone else will take the time to gently explain how a question can be improved. I've been pulled into this debate before, and reminded the person, there's nothing stopping you from leaving comments, and setting an example.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 22, 2013 at 10:40
  • J.R., yes, like you I, also, agree and disagree with Ilya, but, even if it means nothing, I'd add that the people to fear are not those who disagree with you, but those who disagree with you and are too cowardly to let you know. Neverthless, it is an open question whether any behavior based on fear can be regarded as ethical or should be regarded as merely cowardly, even when there is no time to post a comment.
    – user19148
    Commented Jun 23, 2013 at 11:20
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    @Carlo_R.: I don't consider it cowardly, really. People are free to disagree with me, and downvote as they'd like. I think the SE designers were wise to implement a system where upvotes are rewarded more than downvotes, so that it takes multiple downvotes to offset one upvote. Some judge more harshly than others, but, overall, the better questions and answers get upvoted, and the inferior questions and answers get downvoted. That's the way the system is supposed to work, and, for the most part, it does, occasional stray downvotes notwithstanding.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 23, 2013 at 11:42
  • I think you've summed up very nicely why so many people I've tried to introduce to this site find its members arrogant and unwelcoming.
    – Basic
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 16:07
  • @Basic - There's another side to that coin. Sometimes I wonder why some people who are introduced to this site are so quick to make such sweeping judgements.
    – J.R.
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 16:57
  • @J.R. Touché... It also wasn't aimed directly at you but - rightly or wrongly - humans tend to form opinions very quickly. I admit that page relates to person-person impressions but all the website-specific ones I could find were regarding design not content. If the first few comments you read on a site are negative, that impression is going to stick. If more comments were along the lines of steering newbies to what they should be asking, things may appear more positive.
    – Basic
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 17:18

I'm surprised to find my name come up in the foregoing comments. So I'm tempted to add my answer to your question.

As an EL&U user and non-native English speaker, I really and honestly sympathize with your feeling, because personally I’m experiencing a similar problem.

I’m a two-and-a-half year old user of this site, and am always in the asker's side as a non-native English speaker. Since late last year to date, I keep getting either one or two down vote(s) or close vote(s) to most of my posts immediately after posting it. This never happened in the first two years. I think it is strange that I get down-votes and close votes no later than I post a question almost every time, even to a question that eventually results in 10 plus up-votes and 500+ views. I wrote the following comment in a recent post of mine:

To those who casted for “Close” votes:

Would you cast “Close” after giving your own answer or comment to each point of my question? Even if it looks a naive and self-explanatory question to you, it can be a big and worth-for-trying-to-ask question for us, non-native English learners like Japanese, Chinese. Korean, Thais, Indonesian, Malaysian, Mexican, Brazilian and you can name it. I don’t think EL&U is the site only allowed to English language specialists and fluent native English speakers.

It’s unfair, mean, coward and shameful to simply cast a ‘Close’ and ‘Down’ vote, without giving any clear reason under your name. At least, it’s autocratic practice, and not a democratic way of behaving, which I think you should attach special importance.

IIya. I really sympathize with you, and I pray that EL&U users are all fair in treating our posts, and not biased to native or non-native distinction.

  • I'm not an avid ELU-er, but I'm a moderator on ELL and there's a decent overlap in userbase, so please pardon my chiming in for a moment :) I've heard good things about your questions from the users who frequent both ELL and ELU (who I highly respect). Maybe keep in mind that as a site grows, there are more people with the ability to closevote and therefore more will be cast. ELL is still pretty small but there are already closevotes I disagree with cast on a semi-regular basis. As long as the question isn't ultimately closed, maybe it just comes with the territory of a large site? /my $0.02
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Jun 21, 2013 at 0:31

ILya Kogan your sensations are shared by quite a few other English language enthusiasts; however, I do not think this "coldness" is reserved exclusively to non-native speakers, if that's any comfort. Take for instance this comment on Meta:

The site owners want the site to attract experts and become the place where experts gather to ask and answer questions. Questions which are not of interest, especially to experts, are not helpful.

This, I think, pretty much sums up what some members of EL&U strongly believe.

On the same page you will read this comment from an ex-member criticizing the community's attitude:

I have often had people object to my questions, as in the top comment here, maybe not explicitly but the tone of disapproval is unmistakable. [...] But objecting to it or downvoting it simply because one doesn't like it on subjective grounds, is something I find disappointing and discouraging. Most users who downvote don't even mention why they think the question or the answer is downvotable. Does that in any way help the poster improve what he or she posted?

Now he or she may or may not be a native speaker but without doubt their command of the English language is definitely advanced level, if not proficiency.

So these are examples of how some "language experts" use or would prefer EL&U to be and those who, like yourself, feel there is a type of unspoken hierarchy existing among its ranks.

I have only been a member for 31 days, and despite my own insecurities and hesitations I have jumped right in the pool and swam along with the professionals. It's intimidating but invigorating also. Along the way I have made mistakes, some of my answers have been criticized, quite a few (an ever growing number!) have been down-voted, and some have been complimented on. In fact where I realize that my question or answer does not contribute anything worthwhile, I will try to delete them myself (not always possible) with their corresponding rep points too.

This community is made up of all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds and different levels of education, not all share the view that non-native/non-expert questions are boring and should be closed. Not all will exasperate and silently scream: Argggghhhhh! when faced with yet another question on the difference between the present perfect simple and the present perfect continuous. In my short stay I have also found some members to be extremely helpful, friendly, open, non-judgemental, kind, funny and awe-inspiring. I would like to think some of their expertise, their knowledge, and their enviable skills in explaining grammar and usage will one day rub off on me.

Therefore, how someone experiences this website I think depends, in part, on how you view yourself. Obviously, those whose self-confidence is low, and this definitely includes some learners of English, will be especially sensitive to what may appear as criticisms, when in reality users are asking for the OP to be more specific in their questions. If people took the time to read (or had the time, presently I have loads) Meta to get a truer feeling of what the community is asking, there would be less friction and fewer disappointments. This answer written by J.R is an example of the friendliness and generosity, which should be practised by all.

All that said, the EL&U community is very welcoming toward questions – even very basic questions – that do a good job of explaining why the question is being asked. Let me point to two examples:a downvoted question, and this upvoted question, both asked by community newcomers on the same day. The upvoted question is actually the more basic of the two, but the O.P. does a good job of explaining why he is asking the question: [...]If an O.P. can accept a downvote or comment as helpful feedback, meant to indicate that a question has inadequate information, or is simply not a good fit for the EL&U forum (neither of which makes it a bad question, by the way), then I think you'll find this to be a very friendly, welcoming, helpful community.

  • 1
    An excellent and thoughtful answer. It does point out, though, that overall attitude is largely dependent on the user--I myself vacillate between being vastly helpful and a strict cleanup crew member. Do you think we should aim towards a better attitude, while keeping with the same goal?
    – user10893
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 6:58
  • 1
    In answer to Simchona's question: definitely a better attitude would not only be more constructive but also more considerate towards the user him/herself. Language is not a science, there are no exact measurements, and I suspect that because SE stemmed from asking and answering questions on programming etc... many feel the same logic applies to language.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 9:49
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    Well, I am sure you have had both friendly and unfriendly exchanges of opinions! We're people, we're all the same and we're all unique. We have our own baggage and the fact that we read each other's responses mean, whether we admit to it or not, that we attach to those words our personal experiences and tag on meanings, intonations, emotions which we cannot know for certain if they exist. This is a public arena, and yet we are anonymous, consequently we can act differently here than we would normally do.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 20:04
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    @Carlo_R. So far I am enjoying my time here. It is therapeutic. I am of the opinion you gain respect if you write clearly, concisely, and with authority. I also suspect this "energy" is driven by male testosterones.This might explain your diatribes with members. It's all about being the rooster, didn't you know!? Like you I am Italian, but also British, female, and not a professional language expert. I ought to feel alienated but I don't allow it to bother me. So neither should any "foreigner". Perhaps EL&Uers need a little more humility, and a bit more patience.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 20:25

Lately, every question that is suspected to be asked by a non-native speaker gets downvoted and it feels like people who used to feel at home here get kicked out of here into ELL.

I hope that's not the sentiment people feel. There are still many users who ask questions that would be well-suited for ELL, but those questions get asked on ELU, simply because the users aren't yet aware of ELL. (I directed one such user there not too long ago, and the user seemed thankful for the pointer, not hurt for being "run out of" ELU.)

That's not "kicking somebody out" of anywhere, that's just showing them an additional resource where some of their questions will be more fitting for the community, and therefore more appreciated by the users.

ELL wasn't designed to make people feel less welcome at ELU; in fact, it was meant to do the opposite. It was designed so that anyone on the StackExchange with a very basic question about English could have a place to ask it, even if that question was too rudimentary for ELU.

Every once in a while, I read a discussion like this one on meta, and I wonder how much miscommunication is going on. How many folks are only trying to be helpful, saying, "Your questions might be better at ELL," yet somehow that's being misconstrued to mean, "We don't like your kind here on ELU – go someplace else."

  • 2
    Incomprehension, feelings of rejections, or worse impressions of discrimination will be reduced, I believe, as soon as a multilingual FAQs is made available. However, the number of questions sent by new non-native users who then simply vanish is suspicious, and discouraging. Understandably members will feel weary and irritated, and "moan" about the quality of questions arriving.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 21, 2013 at 4:26
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    Please let me theorize that another kind of miscommunication may exist between helpful folks mentioning ELL in their comments, and other users who are also native speakers and find it convenient to interpret these helpful directions as a guideline about which kinds of questions belong here and which don't. The latter may be the source of the massive downvoting going on on english.SE. Commented Jun 21, 2013 at 7:34
  • 4
    Downvoting is a separate matter that does get brought up from time to time. Yes, unexplained downvotes can be frustrating (I get them, too). As for "massive downvoting" – I've observed that most instances of "massive downvoting" tend to be accompanied by a rash of bad questions, many of which are quite deserving of downvotes, though some of them probably get judged more harshly than they should, because many regulars become accustomed to a lot of flippant, unresearched, off-topic questions. (I'm not justifying those downvotes, I'm merely saying I've seen plenty of blame on both sides.)
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 21, 2013 at 15:34
  • 1
    But what good does an unexplained downvote do except for discouraging the OP from asking for help again and reserving this site for something that can be perceived as a language elite? Why call the site "EL&U" and not something like "advanced research in the English linguistics", if you don't even bother explaining the learner why you downvoted the question? Commented Jun 22, 2013 at 8:33
  • 1
    @Ilya: I agree that unexplained downvotes are not as useful as explained downvotes, particularly for a new user. That's why I often leave comments when I downvote, and sometimes leave comments even when I haven't downvoted (but others have), speculating what might have prompted the downvote, and coaching the new user on how to do better next time. Sometimes such remarks are considered helpful and received graciously; other times, they are not. (In other words, sometimes I'm thanked, sometimes berated, and occasionally I see questions improved – which is what I'm ultimately hoping will happen).
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 22, 2013 at 9:14
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    Unfathomable why ell is not the first item in the "off-topic/belongs on another site" selection
    – mplungjan
    Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 15:19
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    @mpl: I think that's the plan eventually, but, for some reason, the powers that be don't care to do that until after ELL is more firmly established.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 17:02

I have a specific example of this that I would like to put forward. Check out this question in ELU, found HERE:

I need to write a short story of 2000 words for a writing contest but I'm unfortunately bounded with given themes or what they call topics. These topics are The Meaning of Me, Paved or Unpaved ways, Because this is what matters and the Bravest place on Earth. I can't understand the topics and particularly the second one 'Paved and Unpaved ways'! Need Help!

In 2 hours the question acquired four downvotes and a Hold ("put on hold as unclear what you're asking"). I understood exactly what he was asking, even if he was somewhat awkward with the question. I don't believe that those who dumped on the question couldn't have edited it to be more clear, as opposed to downvoting and putting on Hold.

Or, if it should have been posted to ELL, at the very least they should have either suggested it, or attracted the attention of someone with power to actually put it there, so the guy could get his question asked instead of being dumped on.

  • 1
    I would like to put forward that at least one ELU user did make that suggestion, and the question now resides on ELL with two answers and two helpful comments. Moreover, I believe your example is irrelevant, because I don't see any evidence that the downvotes were motivated by an "unwelcoming" attitude toward non-natives. People are allowed to downvote if they feel like a question is not useful or shows little research; they are allowed to vote to close if the question seems off-topic. That's how the Stack Exchange works.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 29, 2013 at 9:55
  • Lead by example. If you understood the question exactly but did not edit it into shape yourself, then I'm afraid you have no business criticizing others for not editing it — especially if they, as opposed to you, did not understand it.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 11:40
  • @RegDwighт I did not edit it, because with my rep at the time I could not edit yet -- or so I understood. I did restate the question and posted it under my own name. Is that perhaps exemplar enough? I am glad that someone migrated the question to ELL. Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 23:11
  • @J.R. "...and the question now resides on ELL with two answers and two helpful comments." and got closed for being opinion-based. This is not the place to argue about that, but it came to an ignominious end in both ELU and ELL. Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 23:22
  • @Cyberherbalist: The question was always borderline at best; and the community had their chance to vote. I still don't see any evidende of "hostility toward the non-native." Had a native asked the exact same question, I have no reason to believe it woudn't have met the same fate. The question got two answers on ELL, and received only one downvote there.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 10:20

@Yoichi -san, Domo arigato gozaimasu! I hope and pray that this site could be a place to 'learn' together for Native and Non-Native Speakers. Humbly to say that the 'soul' to educate is always needed here. Let's just share one another, thank you All! ♥

  • mystic. Doitashi-mashite. I'm non-native speaker who is 84-year old. It is my honor to be one of moderators while being a non-native English speaker, which means that the EL&U site and most of all community members are international-minded and fair to any member. I learned and witnessed it through almost six years experience of being a member of. this community, although I've engaged in disputes on on/off topic issues of questions which non-native English speakers are liable to be involved several times. I take it a good excercise of debate in English language. Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 12:38

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