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Translation requests¹ are on-topic, but on the other hand some translation requests¹ got closed for belonging on English Language & Usage or English Language Learners.

When does a translation request belong here and if not, where can I ask it and how?

¹ that are sufficiently narrow and cannot easily be answered with a dictionary


This is intended to be a FAQ page, summarising our (in my opinion) mostly consistent closing behaviour as well as previous Meta discussions. It may be linked in a new custom close reason. Everybody is encouraged to improve it by editing.

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To keep things simple, this text assumes that you want to translate a word. It analogously applies to translating phrases.

TL;DR

Translating a word can be split in two parts:

  1. Grasping the word’s meaning in the source language.
  2. Finding a word fitting this meaning in the target language.

The general criterion is that questions on this site should be about the part that concerns the German language. Note that there are additional criteria for translation requests.

Translation requests from German to English

If you completely understand a German word’s meaning and have trouble finding a matching English word, your question is off-topic here and should be asked on a site about the English language (see below). An exception is if the word’s meaning is so intricate that you cannot satisfyingly describe it with other words.

On the other hand, if you do not understand a word’s meaning and need to translate it or if you want to understand a word by means of possible English translations, you are at the right place. Please take a look at our guidelines for translation questions before asking. Sometimes it may be necessary to ask two questions, one on this site to find out the meaning of a word, and one on a site about the English language to find a corresponding English word.

Asking on a site about the English Language

If your question for a translation to English is off-topic here, you may ask it on English Language & Usage (ELU) or English Language Learners (ELL). Your question should be phrased as a request for a word that fits a given meaning (the German word’s meaning). Describe this meaning such that your question can be answered without knowledge of the German language. Nonetheless, name the German word you want to translate, as this may be useful background information to your question and enable your question to be found by others having the same problem. Also report what you found in a dictionary and why it did not help you. Tag your question single-word-requests or phrase-requests (ELU) or word-request or phrase-request (ELL).

As a rough guideline for choosing between ELL and ELU (see also here):

  • If you expect most native speakers of English to know the word you are looking for, ask on ELL.
  • If it is plausible that a native speaker of English has trouble finding a matching word (or if you are a native speaker of English), your question may receive a better answer on ELU. This often applies to technical terms or rarely used phrases, for example.
  • When in doubt, ask on ELL.

Here are some examples for such questions:

Translation requests from another language to German

If you do not understand the meaning of a word in another language, your question is off-topic here and should be asked on the Stack Exchange site for the other language. It is likely that we do not understand it either, and we can only translate what we understand. If you understood the word’s meaning through asking on another site and you are still looking for a matching German word, ask a follow-up question on this site linking the other question for reference.

On the other hand, if you do understand the word’s meaning and can describe it, you are at the right place. It is also okay to use an English word to describe the desired meaning. However, if the English word has a broad meaning or multiple meanings, you should specify which exact meaning you want to convey or give some context. Please take a look at our guidelines for translation questions before asking.

Asking on a site about another language

Before asking for the meaning of a word on the respective language’s Stack Exchange, please consult a dictionary and read their guidelines on such questions. There are Stack Exchange sites for Chinese, French, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and English. In the latter case, your question is probably best received on English Language Learners (see here for finding the right English language site for your question). If no site for the language exists, consider joining a corresponding proposal on Area 51 or propose a site yourself.

Relevant Meta discussions

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    I just would like to add a general comment: If this site is among all SE sites the best fit for a question, this does still not imply that the question is on-topic here. – Carsten S Dec 30 '15 at 13:59

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