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Maybe it's just me, but I get the feeling we are seeing an increasing number of English language learner questions.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but is it what we really want? Aren't we going to scare away (or just plain bore) the experts?

Related question, (to which the accepted answer was "Let's wait and see"): Is this site for “English as a second language”?

Obviously both that question and this one are badly titled - there's no problem with people who have English as a second (or third, or fourth) language, it's the level they're at.

The Question: Are we ok with this? If not, can we think up some guidelines for what kind of beginner questions we accept (and how to identify them)?

18

Maybe it's just me, but I get the feeling we are seeing an increasing number of English language learner questions.

I would agree, especially over the past few days.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but is it what we really want? Aren't we going to scare away (or just plain bore) the experts?

I think that they're generally fine, so long as they're asked in good faith, meaning some effort has been put into the question to make it comprehensible. I don't think the experts are going to leave-the number of expert questions aren't decreasing; it's just that we never had that many in the first place.

Obviously both that question and this one are badly titled - there's no problem with people who have English as a second (or third, or fourth) language, it's the level they're at.

The Question: Are we ok with this? If not, can we think up some guidelines for what kind of beginner questions we accept (and how to identify them)?

I would suggest that unless this becomes a huge problem, that we simply close questions as duplicate if they are, and otherwise just answer them and allow them here. I tend to trust an answer a lot more when it's been voted up and defended on Stack Exchange. Plus, there are those who might learn something from it, but didn't ask the question because they didn't know there was something they didn't know.

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    Questions can always be edited for clarity, etc. The site will not be in danger in any way until the answers become something out of an ESL study group. – bye Feb 18 '11 at 13:39
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    "...there are those who might learn something from it, but didn't ask the question because they didn't know there was something they didn't know." Story of my life. +1 – kitukwfyer Apr 10 '11 at 14:19
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I made this flowchart for Science Fiction & Fantasy because we had a problem figuring out whether a question was too easy to be allowed.

Flowchart to

NB: "General reference" is a close option that Jeff is considering implementing, for questions that are too basic. Until it's implemented, or if it's never implemented, then closing as off-topic seems like the best candidate for the job.

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    +1, +2 if you make it a png :) – Benjol Feb 21 '11 at 5:44
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    Maybe an [ESL] tag would be useful? – Charles May 5 '11 at 20:30
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This is a tough question. We had the same problem emerge at alt.usage.english back in the Usenet era.

Yes, there are obviously many non-native speakers venturing here to get a layman's explanation of idiom, or a clarification of an obscure sense of a word or term. It would be nice if there were less of that.

On the other hand, "out of the mouths of babes" does apply. Sometimes the seemingly simple question a learner asks can be profound precisely because a native speaker would never ask it. The search for an answer can, in such cases, teach us something valuable.

It's a "forest for the trees" thing. Our familiarity with the language can, at times, blind us to the kind of problems that are readily apparent to the learner.

What worked (for a while, anyway) at alt.usage.english was not to drive off the non-native speakers, but to encourage the participation of deeply learned professionals and academics. Grow the power base and the small problems take care of themselves.

7

I'm afraid if you were to submit EL&U.SE to a strict interpretation of such a leash law, we wouldn't have no dogs at all runnin' around over there.

6

How are you supposed to determine what an ESL question is? If it's too simple? Plenty of native speakers have simple questions too. If the question is well formulated, people will gladly answer it.

3

Always assuming we use the "General Reference" reason for closing judiciously, I don't see a problem. The only slight fly in the ointment being that as we get more users with sufficient rep to close questions, we may lose some potentially interesting ones that look superficially trivial.

If there is a problem in this general area, it's that "serious" users don't upvote really interesting questions enough to counteract "trivia-seekers" who upvote things that are effectively just dross. If you don't believe me, spend a couple of minutes leafing through past questions in Votes sequence. That's a really depressing exercise for anyone who wants ELU to be a font of wisdom.

2

I agree, but I've always thought one of the target audiences of this site (but by no means the only one) is people who were learning English as an additional language.

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    I thought the target audience was people who have a question about English and its usage ;-) Regardless of whether English is their mother tongue or not. – Jürgen A. Erhard Feb 20 '11 at 11:35
  • Yes, this is more what I meant to say - just that some people who have questions about English don't have it as a native language. Thank you for phrasing it better. – Andy Feb 21 '11 at 15:36

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