"German Language & Usage" is the first site we created with significant activity in a non-English language. Many of the "problems" being discussed in meta seem to revolve around issues of accessibility; Not all users are fluent in both English and German.

I wanted to get your thoughts about establishing a convention that all content could be translated by members of the community as part of the normal use of the site.

I have no idea if this will scale or if it will be maintainable. It shouldn't be that difficult. If you see a post, pitch in once in awhile and translate it. English to German; German to English. For the "students" on this site, wow, what an awesome learning experience.

If we start early, and everyone sees fit to pitch in once in awhile, that will be the best way to make this site as accessible and useful to as many users as possible.

What do you think?

  • Should translations only be attempted by experts in both languages?
    – Tim
    May 24, 2011 at 21:58
  • 2
    I am not convinced that everything should be translated. I am also not sure how reputation is counted for edited posts. Would it give reputation to translate? Would there be an incentive to add bad translation to posts? I am a native German speaker and would not be happy to see a mediocre translation of my English post. Also, not every post makes equal sense for translation. But it is late and I will sleep on this.
    – Phira
    May 24, 2011 at 22:10
  • @thei not everything, but everything that makes sense (as determined by an editor willing to do the translation). Under the current system, there would be no reputation for translations, it would be an entirely voluntary act.
    – Pekka
    May 24, 2011 at 22:12
  • 1
    @thei: Translating everything may never happen but near-100% translation should be the stated goal (assuming you want this at all). Otherwise, the definition of "everything that makes sense" will drop off significantly over time until it is rarely being done at all. It's like saying, "I'll exercise when it is convenient." Soon it is almost never convenient. But, pragmatically speaking, I'll take what I can get. May 24, 2011 at 22:31
  • @Robert actually, I have a lot of trust in the "translate when needed" approach. It's usually easy to recognize whether something needs translating (i.e. is difficult to grasp for a non-native speaker, by being complicated or using esoteric or slang vocabulary). I think it might work.
    – Pekka
    May 24, 2011 at 22:38
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    Whatever happens to this policy in detail, I strongly support a "please-translate" tag that can be added to posts that are in need of translation.
    – Phira
    May 24, 2011 at 22:50
  • 1
    Could the translation effort mean fewer answers?
    – misterben
    May 24, 2011 at 23:39
  • I've just added an English translation to one of my answers. I'm not convinced it adds anything to the answer's usefulness, esp as the question is German-only. Going through the process though,something occurred to me. The translated version might need to be written for a different audience - I've made points in that answer that assume an level of understanding of German declination that someone who can't read the German might not have. Also I've toyed with using flag icons to visually separate the versions. Does this help? What's a better symbol?
    – misterben
    Jun 4, 2011 at 12:33
  • @misterben, that is the basis for my answer below. The same question in another language will have a totally different "feel" and tone, and two separate question threads might be beneficial.
    – BudgieInWA
    Jun 15, 2011 at 4:48
  • I think it should be the community norm to translate questions. (Consider meta.german.stackexchange.com/questions/246/…)
    – Arthaey
    Feb 7, 2012 at 23:19

6 Answers 6


As discussed in the comments, I think ultimately special markup for translations would be great to have, especially to provide a translated question title. The math sites got their math markup, so it's not an unrealistic proposition. Jeff! :-)

What needs some thinking about is what to do if a translation of the question would already provide the answer.

What is the correct German equivalent for the English ____?

I think that doesn't need a translation, only an answer.

Ultimately I think it's a great idea and would add significant value to the site.

  • A correct translation of that question would still be asking the meaning of an English word, so wouldn't be answering the question.
    – misterben
    May 24, 2011 at 23:37
  • Fair enough, but then again, if you don't understand the question in English you probably won't be able to answer it in the first place… :o)
    – deceze
    May 25, 2011 at 0:07
  • 2
    Yes, I asked for a German -> English translation and someone translated the whole post, leaving that word and my contextual example. Trying to be helpful I know but I don't see the point in it. Tempted to rollback.
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Jun 2, 2011 at 17:05

I suggest a convention of editing translations into the contribution whenever a community member sees the need for it.

The formatting could go like this:

(German content)

(horizontal rule)

(English translation)

and vice versa; alternatively

(German content)

(English translation in a block quote)

I have full confidence in the community's ability to fix translation errors quickly. This could become a positive learning experience for everyone involved.

However, I strongly suggest only people reasonably fluent in the target language should attempt translating. Broken or incomplete translations help no one, and will do more harm than good.

Edit: After trying out both, I favour the blockquote version. See this example.

  • 3
    I like it... and I'd go farther by suggesting that the vast majority of the posts be translated, as long as it scales and everyone is willing to pitch in on wherever they can. May 24, 2011 at 21:59
  • @Robert I did a test translation here. The "horizontal rule" version is not very well readable, the block quote one is much better, albeit not entirely semantically correct. I favour the latter
    – Pekka
    May 24, 2011 at 22:09
  • 1
    I think there would need to be special markup for such translations and the site coded to allow them to be displayed or not by default, and for display to be able to be toggled. Otherwise each question and answer contains redundant (for some) content which will make it less accessible.
    – misterben
    May 24, 2011 at 22:19
  • @misterben: Hmm... I tried it here, and I kind of liked the way the horizontal rule looked. But I'm getting ahead of myself. May 24, 2011 at 22:20
  • @Robert: I'm not sure that would work as well with longer questions though.
    – misterben
    May 24, 2011 at 22:24
  • @misterben: I'm not discounting the possibility of "special markup" but a user-configurable display would almost certainly never happen. That's just speaking from experience; This is our worst UI nightmare. See what I mean here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/44618/… May 24, 2011 at 22:25
  • I would favour special markup for this as well, but I can't see this happening in the near future. It might be nice though, because otherwise it becomes too easy to confuse translations with normal quotes
    – Pekka
    May 24, 2011 at 22:25
  • 2
    Agree that it's not likely to happen quickly. Really think it will need to though for SE sites of this type. Japanese Language & Usage is due to hit beta soon, so it would be worth conferring with their members as they'll have the same issues. Well, perhaps they'll have less of an issue as a block of Japanese and a block of English can be more rapidly distinguished when skimming down a long list of answers.
    – misterben
    May 24, 2011 at 22:37
  • Quotation doesn't fit, because it is no quotation, and what do you do if you have a quote in the original? Jan 30, 2012 at 2:44

I feel that each question should be predominantly in one language.

For example if an English speaker is not fluent enough in German to understand the language used to describe the answer, it should be answered in English. This means that a German translation of the question would not increase the number of people who can answer the question helpfully.

If a German speaker has a similar question but can't understand the English used in the question and answer, they can ask the question again in German, and it will have German answers. This will lead to translations of questions being created only when needed, and also, both versions of the question will be (might be) slightly different, focus on different points and have a different tone. You might expect that the questions need to be slightly different in each language.

I think there are a lot of questions that wont gain anything by being translated, for example questions that are trivial to native German speakers don't need to be translated into German.

The only drawback I can think of, is question discovery, especially in the early stages of the site. I might fully understand a question and answer in German, but not be able to find the relevant question without an English translation. I could of course simply ask the question in English.

I've based some of this on Jeff's blog post: Dr. Strangedupe: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love Duplication

  • 2
    Sorry to say but you're missing a VIP (very important point): Stack Exchange is also about finding answers to your questions because others have asked it before. Disabling an english google user to find something because it was asked in german isn't in what I perceive as the intention of the platform. Jun 1, 2011 at 1:08
  • @Samuel, that is true, that's what I meant by 'question discovery'. I think this wont be a massive problem, because over time, the good questions will get "duplicated" into the other language (at least when the site is full of people). Maybe while the site is growing, this will be a problem.
    – BudgieInWA
    Jun 1, 2011 at 2:48
  • Yeah, thats the point. With 5k active users there won't be a prob. But since we're a enterprise project for handling multilang content on SE I'd suggest to also think about a possible smaller community. English e.g. has 8k Users now, and they're running their business quite a while. It won't be funny to reanswer the same questions over the course of a year, would it? Jun 1, 2011 at 2:53
  • Hmm, let's see what others think.
    – BudgieInWA
    Jun 1, 2011 at 2:57
  • 1
    Good point. I usually compose my answer in the same language the question was asked. If you start translating questions, you would need to translate the answers, too!
    – ladybug
    Jun 9, 2011 at 10:52

It would be nice if the questions TITLES were translated, too, without cluttering up the title display.

From the question view, the body of text is previewed. So how about translating the title as the first part of the <body> of the question.

On the main screen, it would look like this:

German translation title


After reading through the list and thinking I would suggest the following route:

  1. Special Markup for translations like we have special markup for code (multiline & singleline) on Stackoverflow.

  2. Some possibility to translate the titles and "prefer" displaying titles in one language (thats the hard part for the developers, it will break the data structure and therefore should be debated a lot, but we need some good way of scanning through titles for german & english natives)

  3. Community translation in a slight color variation of markup like 1, used to translate question & answer bodies.

  4. A good set of rules or set of rules of thumb for questions worth to be translated

  5. The most upvoted questions and accepted answer and highly voted answers should be marked for translation or translated as a community duty

  6. Maybe a new privilege to do official translations morphing questions in Tabs with German or English body (like wikis Article, Discussion tabs but more in-stream?)

Another question which I hope to be of interest soon: on Area51 I think to remember it was proposed that any native may ask questions in his tongue about german, if we should happen to have e.g. turkish people beginning to ask questions then none of these models will be usable.

Also citing sources should get an additional marker for the language it is written in. Its really disturbing to read complete-english answers with the most important information in a quotation of a german text. Those may need to have an [Original] and [English]/[German] tab (to continue this idea).

  • 1
    I denfinitely agree that we need the developers' assistance. Trying to use other markup for translations is convoluted and won't scale.
    – Tim
    Jun 1, 2011 at 6:54

Since this is a site for German Language and Usage, it should all be in German. It is common practice to teach German in German, French in French and English in English.

I expect every visitor to ask his question in German, and to understand an answer. Else I would ask, what he's doing here. And why discriminate all except the english language?

Da dies ein Platz für Deutsche Sprache ist sollte sie auch auf Deutsch benutzt werden. Schließlich unterrichtet man Sprachen auch in dieser Sprache, Deutsch auf Deutsch, Französisch auf Französisch und Englisch auf Englisch.

Ich erwarte, dass jeder Besucher seine Frage auf Deutsch stellen kann, und Antworten auf Deutsch versteht - was sonst will er hier? Und wieso alle außer der Englischen Sprache diskriminieren?

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