In the past I usually answered questions in the language they were asked. I had understood this to be a general recommendation/consensus from what I read at my occasional browsings at Meta.

Triggered by a discussion in the comments here I checked various past posts regarding the language recommended for answers – German or English. There are many regarding the language of a question (as of today: “use whatever you are comfortable with”), but I found only one discussing answers to a question in German and one that could be read as German answer to a question in English (“both languages allowed”).

So to put this as a question:
What language should we use when answering a question – the one the question was asked in or are we free to choose between German and English?

(I would be happy to see my question closed as duplicate, provided the comunity feels all cases are covered and agreed upon by the two questions linked above. The heated discussion at the linked answer suggests this issue still isn’t resolved yet.)

  • @Wrzlprmft That's what I found - it's linked above.
    – Stephie
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 8:33
  • Sorry, I had only time for a quick look and didn’t know when I could find more time (which turns out to be now). Could you narrow this question down to which language should be used to answer questions in English, so it is distinct from What language is preferrable for answers to questions written in German??
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 8:40
  • @Wrzlprmft I considered that before asking, but chose to include the "questions written in G" one instead of writing a complement. Is that a problem? I'll hop over to chat for a bit.
    – Stephie
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 9:00
  • Possible duplicate of What language should be preferred for questions? Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 8:55

4 Answers 4


The language of an answer should match the language of the question.

This is primarily based on the Principle of Least Astonishment. If a user who is only proficient in one language searches for a certain problem and finds a matching question on deSE, the whole transaction is invalidated if the solution to the problem he was looking for deviates from the language context he used while searching. However, it's ok to voluntarily include a translation to the "other" language, when posting answers.

From this line of reasoning, it also follows that

If a user requests that his question is to be answered in the "other" language, the answer should still (in addition) contain the gist of the solution in the "matching" language.

  • 3
    Do we need to address the fact that some users have only limited abilies in either German or English? Would they be discouraged from answering or is the "should" crucial here?
    – Stephie
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 7:55
  • This may become even more important in respect to our decision to keep duplicates in the other language open, but I too feel it is important to not discourage anybody from answering with a post different to the question's language.
    – Takkat
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 7:59
  • 1
    @Stephie well my personal assumption is that proficiency levels in Reading and Writing are always roughly the same. So in my opinion, it can be expected that a user who understands a question of level X in the "matching" language is able to contribute an answer in the "matching" language that's also on level X. Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 7:59
  • @Stephie as for the should: I do think it's significant, yes. For example, RFCs use a strict vocabulary for defining the criticality of a rule. I'd like to avoid stronger terms like must because community enforced rules on the internet should not read like you may go to jail if you are not able to comply for the love of it ;) Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 8:02
  • That said, should as I'd like it to be read above is defined like that: "This word, [...] mean[s] that there may exist valid reasons in particular circumstances to ignore a particular item, but the full implications must be understood and carefully weighed before choosing a different course." This is taken from the RFC vocabulary definition RFC: ietf.org/rfc/rfc2119.txt Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 8:06
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    @hiergiltdiestfu i think a simpler way of putting it: "if you do it differently you should be able to justify why it was necessary"
    – Burki
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 9:33
  • 2
    @hier ‘my personal assumption is that proficiency levels in Reading and Writing are always roughly the same’ — I can tell you from my level of knowledge in Finnish that your assumption is utterly wrong. Reading Finnish is a lot ‘easier’ to me (think deduction by context, traceback of words to roots, recognising sentence structures) than writing and I’m sure that that goes for any language.
    – Jan
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 10:09
  • @Jan thank god it's an en/de site then, and not a fi/de site :) Sorry for being unspecific, I thought the context was obvious: proficiency levels for English from a German, or for German from an English Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 10:10
  • @hier there you go, edited in the important words 'to me' ;)
    – Jan
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 10:11
  • @hiergiltdiestfu: Jan & Stephie make good points. Reading (receptive) & writing (productive) don't tend to be equivalent - it takes time & effort for words you understand to become words you can actively use. I can read books & understand technical content in German, but struggle to compose a grammatically correct, coherent paragraph about "how my day went." This is typical (see: visualthesaurus.com/cm/booknook/…). Though I need practice, I'm far more likely to stick to English questions or read passively than attempt to answer in German.
    – mc01
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 23:55
  • @mc01 thanks for your feedback. Did I understand correctly, that you agree with "question lang = answer lang" then, so you can safely read passively? Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 22:19
  • @hiergiltdiestfu - I suppose so, but as I wrote below I think German should be the default regardless, w/English in addition for questions asked in English.
    – mc01
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 1:59
  • Ich habe heute erst erfahren, dass es eine Konvenienz von Höflichkeit ist, für Fremdsprachige auf englisch zu antworten. Ich werde diese Frage gleich in der meta stellen: Wenn jemand in der Lage ist, sich auf SE zurecht zu finden und der englischen Sprache mächtig ist um eine knifflige Frage auf Deutsch zu stellen mit "google translates as" wird er auch eine Antwort mit Hilfe von verstehen. Er will letztlich doch Deutsch lernen, dann sollten wir uns nicht aus falscher Höflichkeit mit ihm in seiner Sprache unterhalten. Meine Überzeugung. Bgeründung folgt. Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 11:57

When ever possible try to give an answer in the same language as the question was asked.

Some reasons why you might use the other language:

German answer to an English question

  • Your English is way worse than your German and you think, that the question's topic deals with something that is more interesting for people with high skills in German language (for example: Questions on regional aspects of German language or questions on language styles in old poems)

English answer to a German question

  • Your German is way worse than your English, but good enough to understand the question. So it's much easier to write your answer in English.
  • It seems to me that, in some cases, adding an answer in a different language should be encouraged as well. For example this question, asked and answered in German, basically just asks for the translation of a single idiom. I come along 5 years later looking for an English translation for the same idiom, but, not being fluent in German, the answer is just as mysterious as the original idiom. But if the same question is asked again in English it will be closed as duplicate. It seems like having answers in both languages would be best.
    – RDBury
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 2:12
  • @RDBury: "But if the same question is asked again in English it will be closed as duplicate" No, this shouldn't happen. Questions on the same topic, but in different languages do not count as duplicates. This was discussed here: german.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/807/… Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 6:18
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    In fact I just found a duplicate (almost) for the German version here. Thanks for the clarification.
    – RDBury
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 6:45

This may best be answered by considering the various audiences who use the site:

1) Novice students of German, from many countries, who might only share basic German or English as a lingua franca.

2) Intermediate/Advanced non-native speakers of German seeking to improve their proficiency.

3) Native German speakers who are younger or still in school themselves(?)

4) Advanced native speakers more likely to answer than to ask questions.

People in all 4 groups:

  • benefit from responses in German
  • benefit from responses they can fully understand

People in Group 1 are most likely to:

  • ask questions in English (even if it's not their 1st language)
  • misunderstand German-only responses & need additional English explanations

People at the "Intermediate" end of Category 2 might:

  • not fully/properly understand responses given only in German & may require English clarification

So, in a perfect world, every response would be auf Deutsch

Warum nicht? Even if the person who asked in English doesn't currently understand it all, it helps them improve and adds to the repository of German text available to people at a similar proficiency level, or those seeking related answers.

This also ensures that more answers remain accessible to German speakers of all levels who do not read English (whether Chinese, Russian, Turkish, Arab, or even younger Germans).

BUT, questions asked in English should ALSO be answered in English.

These are the people least likely to understand a German-only response. If they can't understand your answer, what's the point? You've just generated more questions. Answering English w/English (in addition to German) also assists other novice German learners who may be more familiar w/English than German, even if it's not their native tongue.

What about questions asked in German?

For novice German learners, if they don't understand the question itself the response language is irrelevant. If they get part of it, the responses help improve their reading & vocab. The other 3 audiences likely prefer German responses anyway.

For "Intermediate" German speakers, perhaps it's best to place the burden on the person asking to request clarification in English if necessary? I've often run into questions/responses that I have a hard time fully understanding, and would benefit from English/bilingual explanation ... At the same time, I appreciate the challenge of having to first try German & then fill in the gaps, rather than have a tantalizing English translation handy to enable my lazy tendencies.

Can/will everyone who answers questions be perfectly bilingual & take the time to write everything twice? Probably not, so this is kind of moot ... People are going to write in whichever language they're most comfortable with.

  • The question this answer boils down to is ‘how likely are the people not from group 1 to ask their question in English?’, because assuming they don’t, this is basically saying ‘answer in the question’s language’ ;)
    – Jan
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 23:44
  • @Jan - I'd suggest the default should be "always answer in German," which would not be the case if the "rule" is to respond in the language of the question. However, if asked in English, answer in English as well. I think that's a distinction from the either/or option posed in the question above.
    – mc01
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 2:01

Answer in German!

Since this is a place for learning German, you'll do the asker a favor, answering in German. Most learning concepts today teach a language in that language. People, not able to read an answer, are probably unable to formulate questions of public interest.

Answers aren't just meant to be a service for the person, who asked, but a general, searchable reference for everyone.

We're reducing the possible audience of the site from people, learning German or with questions about the language, to such, which are also fluent in English, without necessity. I guess most people, asking questions here, are capable to ask in German but do, what the majority does. Of course this is segregating against many learners without a wider English experience, such as many refugees.

  • 3
    I disagree. I have seen some users here who are clearly not able to understand german on a level that would allow them to understand a sometimes complex explanation. But i don't think that a person who does not understand enough english will land anywhere on the stackexchange network,
    – Burki
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 16:03
  • @Burki: Never underestimate the power of Google. Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 12:38
  • @Burki Yes to your first bit, no to your last sentence.
    – Jan
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 18:10
  • While non-english speakers may actually land on a page in the stack exchange network, i doubt they will find it useful and stay around. And since the network is intended to provide useful answers, useful to more users than just the OP, i think my above statement holds true, although it may have been shortened too much.
    – Burki
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 12:58
  • a) This is pure speculation. b) A different policy, with a clear favor for german questions and answers, would probably attract more people trying to improve their German, independent of their abilities in English. As long as most of the questions are written in English, many of them might feel excluded. So the current habit to prefer English produces the demand of English which is then used to justify it's usage. Btw.: It's uppercase I for ich in English. Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 19:25
  • "The current habit to prefer English" is based on the fact that there are roughly ten times more English users than German users. The German language site is certainly of interest to people who don't speak enough German to understand an answer in German, especially beginner language students. I, for one, enjoy questions about other languages I cannot properly read. German users who cannot read English are, I speculate, a vanishingly small minority here, so the damage done by using English is small, compared to a large benefit. Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 6:35
  • @PeterA.Schneider: Den Usern bleibt immer noch die Möglichkeit die Fragen/Antworten von DeepL übersetzen zu lassen; das ist inzwischen meist so gut, dass man damit was anfangen kann. Ob Flüchtlinge beispielsweise immer Englisch können, oder Studenten aus Russland oder Fernost, bezweifle ich etwas. Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 21:01
  • "Use a machine translation": With this argument one could run the site in Hindi. Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 5:57

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