14

Nearly three years ago, someone wondered aloud: “Is ELU becoming ESL?” (Actually, this bit of soul-searching reaches back to one of this site's first meta questions.)

When people who are struggling to learn English find a site about English, they see it as a lifeline of sorts. However, depending on who you ask, many resulting questions do not necessarily fall under ELU's intended umbrella. To address this problem, an English Language Learners was proposed in Area 51. About a year ago, that site went live on beta, where I think it's serving a useful function, getting over 4,000 visits a day.

All along, some cautioned that having two language sites would be too confusing, that newcomers would have a hard time figuring out where to ask their question, and that it would be very hard to definitively define when a question should go on one site vs. the other. Those reservations have proven to be well-founded – although I still believe that, more than anything else, most “asking on the wrong site” problems stem from newcomers not being aware of both sites.

A concept may be hard to define, but that doesn't mean it's hard to understand; sometimes, you simply “know it when you see it.” And that's how I feel about some of the more novice questions still popping up on ELU with regularity.

Is that a problem? Personally, I enjoy helping non-natives understand tricky nuances of our complex language – but very beginner questions such as these aren't what I hope or expect to see when I log onto ELU:

Which one is correct?
  • An apple is green.
  • Apple is green.
  • The apple is green.
Please describe for me.

or:

Which one is correct?
I'm a beginner to English, today I saw my friend in restaurant, we have spoken bit, then I have said let's we will meet the same place on next to next Monday Or let's we will meet the same place on next on next Monday

or:

Is there a difference between 'unknowingly' and 'unintentionally'?
  • Sorry, it was unknowingly.
  • Sorry, it was unintentionally.

These are not “bad” questions; they are interesting to think about, and it can be rather satisfying to formulate a suitable explanation, such as:

unintentionally means “I didn't mean to,” while unknowingly means “I didn't know any better.”

However, while I expect to see such questions when I log onto ELL, they don't necessarily strike me as the sort of thing that would appeal to “linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.”

As an analogy of sorts: I enjoy watching our local high school's drama club, and I enjoy going to professional productions. But when I go to a Broadway theater to watch a professional production, I don't really want to watch a high school drama club perform there. Some of these more elementary questions strike me as being the wrong production troop on the wrong stage.

At any rate, the creation of ELL hasn't seemed to stem the tide of novice questions pouring onto ELU. Some have recently pointed out that, as things are going now, there doesn't seem to be much difference between the two sites. Maybe not, but does that mean we should merge them? I guess that depends on what the community wants to be. If the community really wants ELU to be peppered by such questions, then I suppose ELL should not have been created in the first place.

As for borders and dividing lines, after giving this a bit of thought, I've come to agree with StoneyB that the difference isn't always so much about the question itself – or even whether or not the O.P. is a native speaker – as it is about what the O.P. is looking for in an answer. One good example is a question recently asked by ESL:

Is there a rule or something, that explain where to put “even”?
  • You don't even have a chance.
  • You even don't have a chance.

If the O.P. is actually only interested is knowing which of those seems more grammatical or sounds more natural, then it was probably an ELL question. However, if the O.P. is indeed interested in learning more about limiting modifiers and the proper placement of elements with focus, then ELU was the right place to ask.

Lastly, it matters not to me how this conundrum ultimately resolves itself – we can keep the two sites, or abandon one and keep the other. If we keep them both, though, I would hope there would eventually be considerably fewer ELL questions – and ELL answers – on ELU.

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    In my opinion, you hit the nail right on the head when you entitled your last example as: " a question recently asked by ESL:" The fine dividing line would be more clearly understood by those who are struggling to learn English as a second or third language and find a site about English if, the "English Language Learners (ELL)" site was entitled "English as a Second Language (ESL)." – skullpatrol Dec 7 '13 at 12:22
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    @bad - if memory serves me right, "ESL" was considered as a site name, but that suggestion was eventually dropped because some folks are learning English, not as a second language, but as a third or fourth language. In any event, the differences are spelled out pretty clearly here and here, I think, but I reckon not too many newcomers will look at both of those pages and make a side-by-side comparison before asking their first question(s). – J.R. Dec 7 '13 at 13:13
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    What exactly is your question here? Are you looking for suggestions on how to move ELL-like questions from ELU to ELL? – Mitch Dec 7 '13 at 17:21
  • @Mitch - I would take that, but I'm also open to anything anyone else has to say on the matter. – J.R. Dec 7 '13 at 18:44
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    OK, here's a suggestion. On all questions on ELU that you think should be migrated to ELL, give a comment to that effect. – Mitch Dec 7 '13 at 18:45
  • @Mitch - In the case of new users, do you think that first comment should suggest migration, or merely point them to ELL for next time? Also, would you recommend flagging the question for moderator attention, or just writing the comment, and leaving it at that? – J.R. Dec 7 '13 at 18:50
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    What really bugs me is the number of questions asking: "Is this correct?" As soon as I see one of those I think: ELL. But sometimes those questions are even too infantile for adults to respond. People moaned about SWR but at least they were fun and 75% of the time formulated by native speakers. (I don't have the precise figures but that's my general impression). Very clever title by the way, I do like it. – Mari-Lou A Dec 8 '13 at 0:59
  • @Mari-, however, do you know why is it a sin to eat the apple? – Elberich Schneider Dec 8 '13 at 2:03
  • ElberichSchneider: Seems like you are referring to this, but that looks like a sidetrack to me... – J.R. Dec 8 '13 at 9:17
  • But we do not want to migrate every single ELL-appropriate question from ELU to ELL. Migration is a tool to be used sparingly, when a question is too amazingly wonderful to be simply closed, and might have a home elsewhere. If you see a stellar question that would have a better home on ELL, let's migrate! But whatever problems ELU might have with its current question pool, simply offloading anything it doesn't want to ELL can't be the solution. What would you do if there was no ELL? Do that. Because migration is the exception, not the rule. – WendiKidd Dec 16 '13 at 4:19
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    That doesn't seem to be how migration to other sites works though. A question on boiling into oblivion was migrated to Cooking, and I wouldn't call that a stellar Cooking question. It seems to me that if we routinely moved ELL questions to ELL, then people might pick up on that. – Jim Dec 16 '13 at 6:44
  • @Jim Well, maybe it isn't how it always works in practice, but it's how it's supposed to work. There's a blog post on it somewhere. You don't want to flood a site with mediocre questions. That's just not good practice. – WendiKidd Dec 16 '13 at 15:15
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    @WendiKidd: What's mediocre for ELU may be stellar - or at least on-topic - on ELL. Should these be closed? – user9383 Dec 17 '13 at 20:49
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    Apples are not always green. Some are red. Same with tomatoes. – Robusto Dec 19 '13 at 14:05
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    @Robusto - Absolutely! Some tomatoes are yellow, some are orange, and some are a rich purple. And a lot of violets are violet, not blue, though some are blue. – J.R. Dec 19 '13 at 14:10
23

Is the problem for first time users not simply that the site is called "English Language and Usage"? — yes, the tag line & FAQ sections give a more detailed description and if you know about both sites, you'll probably pick the right one — but it's a little ironic that we're expecting the type of people who post "Apple green. Please describe me" to even understand what "Linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts." means.

If I was learning Spanish & looking at a Spanish Q&A site, and I still wasn't that great at the language, if I understood that it was for "Spanish language and usage", I too would probably ask my question before reading the FAQ page or trying to work out if I'm an etymologist or not.

Added to this, the link to tell you about ELL in the help section seems a bit buried. Checking just now, I had to go Help (in the menu) > Help Centre > " What topics can I ask about here?" — & once there, scroll half-way down the page to get to a link to ELL. (Is this really the quickest way to find ELL from ELU?)

I know we're probably constrained by the StackExchange format, but I think if we could have a more prominent banner:

Learning English? Try English Language Learners

on the homepage or first Help page, it would help a lot.

That, combined with changing the name of the site to reflect its true nature, even if it meant having a title that doesn't use "English Language" — e.g. the OSX exchange has "Ask Different (Apple)" as its title — something that's obvious to Mac aficionados, even if other people may not understand it as an Apple site at first (maybe they were getting questions about "Apple is green" :) )

(I'm assuming that I'm coming late to the party here & that these points have probably been made a dozens time before on meta, but just my 2¢!)

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    I think the banner is a very good idea. – anongoodnurse Dec 9 '13 at 12:51
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    I believe that adding "Learning English? Try English Language Learners" is very effective. I've seen similar phrases in many public chat rooms, and they are quite effective. – Damkerng T. Dec 12 '13 at 12:42
  • I completely agree with you ad far as making ELL easier to find. In fact, I just now learned that ELL exists, although I can't speak for actual ELLs. As far as the FAQ goes, I still don't know where to find that. A banner would be very nice--prominently displayed on the main page, and possibly in multiple languages. – Ian Dec 17 '13 at 14:52
15

What we need is simple, quick, easy migration between the two sites. Doesn't matter what the sites are named, what we write in the FAQ, how many times we explain the difference on the various metas, because people don't read. So the best way to tell a new person that their question belongs on the other site is to move it there.

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    Yes. There should be an automagic migration route like there used to be to Writers. And probably a reciprocal one from ELL to ELU. – Andrew Leach Dec 8 '13 at 19:51
  • +10 if I could. For this to work, though, ELL needs to be taken out of beta, right? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 10 '13 at 16:32
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Anything is possible. But TPTB may not want to make an exception to some policy or other. – Andrew Leach Dec 10 '13 at 18:13
  • I thought someone said at some point that there was an SE-wide, hard-coded limitation to the migration API (if you can call it that) that makes migrating to beta sites something that has to be done manually. Even site-wide things can be changed, of course, but if it's there to begin with, that's not a good sign of TPTB's willingness to allow it. :-( – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 10 '13 at 19:03
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - I feel like that inhibits the splitting of a site, which is more-or-less what ELU/ELL is. It's not the creation of a totally new one, it's a budding process. – Bobson Dec 13 '13 at 15:17
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If "linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts" aren't capable of naming a site with the degree of clarity needed to exclude questions they don't want, then perhaps we are all exactly where we belong.

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    The site was named by just one person, who as far as I know never even registered to participate. Your point, of course, is still a fair one to make in that we could have renamed it, and perhaps still should. – RegDwigнt Dec 8 '13 at 18:22
  • The question is not whether such people can come up with a good name for their site, but rather can they name it with such pellucid clarity that a person with limited English skills can immediately tell that there's another site on SE which would serve them better. – user9383 Dec 17 '13 at 20:52
10

Perhaps we could detect what language the user is coming to the site expecting (the navigator.language property comes to mind) and if its prefix is anything but "en" we could show them a banner, translated into the requested language, which suggests that they might be more interested in ELL.

This might not work better than any of the other ideas, but it would at least annoy the hell out of @RegDwigнt.

  • My upvote was cast for the hilarious joke more than the idea... – J.R. Dec 10 '13 at 14:32
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    I actually rather like this idea. It will obviously fail in many cases (non-native speakers who have just moved to an English-speaking country and use English-speaking computers, but speak very little English yet; as well as native English speakers living abroda and using local computers). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 10 '13 at 16:35
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    … but it should still work in the majority of cases (non-native speakers in their own countries trying to improve their English). Yes, I forgot to finish the sentence yesterday and am just finishing it now. No, I’m not easily distr---ooh, butterfly! – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 11 '13 at 23:04
4

As a person who learns English as a second language I'm on the other side of the table, and I see the problem in a slightly different light. I have also difficulties to decide which site to use, but not because I'm not aware of both of them or didn't read the faq.

I haven't been using these sites for a long time, but my main concern is how to have a detailed answer from a native speaker without hurting the goals of Stackexchange and the users. I'm aware that ELU is mainly used by native people who are here to discuss the more complicated aspects of their mother language, and I know it can be tiring to answer to basic-level questions of language learners. On the other hand I'd like to have detailed answers from native speakers. And this happens with a much greater possibility on ELU, than on ELL.

Maybe I'm wrong, but if you compare the quality (and the quantity) of most of the answers on the two sites, you will see it by yourself. Perhaps the reason is that ELL is a newer site, and less people know it, but it doesn't help on the problem of the general quality and quantity of the answers. I understand that it's not fun for a native speaker to answer to basic questions, but it is also not fun for a non-native speaker to have an answer on ELL from an other non-native person who probably speaks the language worse than the poster him- or herself. As far as I can see a lot of answers come from non-native folks on ELL.

On the whole I'd rather ask my questions on ELL, because this way I don't break the rules and troll a linguistic site asking simple questions, while I know I would have a better chance to have a proper and detailed answer on ELU full of high-quality native speakers (which doesn't mean that there are no high-quality native speakers on ELL, I'm just talking about the chances).

Anyway, I don't know a good solution, I just wanted to show the other side of the coin and the concerns of a non-native learner.

3

I'm quite new here (7th day), so perhaps I shouldn't be voicing an opinion at all. I answered that Apple question, and some worse than that, because I assume users don't know where to go. If they could be directed easily and quickly to this site, I would feel better about not answering them. I myself only found this site yesterday when someone moved a post from ELU that I was in the midst of answering. And I did read the introductory material.

I know nothing about this site. Is there sufficient interest here such that moving questions will result in as rapid a response? Do people split their time between this site and ELU?

Is that a problem? Personally, I enjoy helping non-natives understand tricky nuances of our complex language – but very beginner questions such as these aren't what I hope or expect to see when I log onto ELU...

I understand this. The number of homework-type questions and obvious non-native questions was surprising to me yesterday. That said, I want to be helpful, but I'm not sure how to best do that.

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    I'd say your feedback is valuable precisely because you're new to the site, it gives a perspective of those who don't know Stack Exchange :) When people are mentioning moving questions, they mean to the [English Language Learners][1] site (a site specifically for ESL users or beginners) rather than to here (which is purely for discussion about ELU itself). [1]: ell.stackexchange.com – anotherdave Dec 9 '13 at 13:32
  • Aargh! I'm so sorry. I knew that. It's the background color, if you can believe that, which threw me off. :( FWIW cool frey isn't nearly as cozy as tan. – anongoodnurse Dec 9 '13 at 13:37
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    This site is the "meta" site ~ all Stack Exchanges have a corresponding meta site where issues related to the site can be discussed without interfering with the "on-topic" questions. As for the surprising number of questions, that's good feedback, too. Maybe ELU shouldn't have so readily accepted its grandfathered status when so many of the language sites recently changed names. Anyhow, I'm glad took the time to weigh in. As I've said hundreds of times before ;^) welcome to ELU! – J.R. Dec 9 '13 at 13:48

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