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In the comments on this answer, the question arose whether it is a good idea to answer in English to questions written in German. Though there are some related questions here, this question has not been discussed yet. Thus I am asking:

What arguments are there for choosing the language of answers to questions written in German?

Note that I do not want to deduce any rule from this. If somebody is more comfortable with answering questions in either language, this is fine in my opinion (and if this leads to the asker not understanding the answer, he can still request a translation). This is just for people who are happy with either language.

  • Why the focus on German questions? I think this thread could be a perfect counterpart to meta.german.stackexchange.com/questions/1/… – Matthias Nov 5 '14 at 20:09
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  • @Matthias: Because there is a question for every other case already. – Wrzlprmft Nov 5 '14 at 21:09
  • Where is the question dealing with answers to English questions? – Matthias Nov 5 '14 at 21:25
  • @Matthias: Here (the first question linked in your second comment). – Wrzlprmft Nov 5 '14 at 21:28
  • OK, you could read it this way. But strictly speaking the question is only about whether an already written German answer to an English question would be such a bad thing that it should better be translated. Only the answer touches the general case of which language to choose for an answer. I still think that it would be more helpful to have this thread here as the one-stop regarding language of answers - but it's your question. – Matthias Nov 5 '14 at 21:42
  • @Matthias: Yes, the question is about something slightly different, but the relevant arguments are quite similar. Thus I preferred not to duplicate this aspect here. – Wrzlprmft Nov 5 '14 at 21:55
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I don't see why we should treat German questions different than English questions, so I will answer the more general question "What language should answers be written in?".

As a rule of thumb, answers should use the same language as the question. This is how we normally would act in normal conversations, too. It also makes the whole page, which can be considered to explore a certain topic, more homogenuous and so easier to read for everyone. E.g. it is easier to track usage of a certain term when questions and answers use the same word for it. IMO this will also make the page easier to index for search engines, leading to higher ranks in result pages. Note that a considerable amount of visitors come here via search engine hits.

But no rule without exceptions. So consider to use the other language

  • when you think you could then write a better, more precise, more complete answer. The better your answer is, the better it is for the site in general. In particular it is better to write an answer in the other language than to not answer at all.
  • when the language skills needed to read your answer are much more demanding than the level of the question, and you have reason to believe that the OP understands the other language better. For a possible example of this case see ...zum Verhältnis und im Verhältnis zum Verhältnis (according to his/her profile the OP is located in Toronto, Canada and hence is likely to understand English)

If, after considering all this, you are still in doubt, write a German answer. After all, this is German Language SE.

  • As a rule of thumb, this works for me, but not without exceptions. If an (obvious) English native speaker asks me a question in simple or unidiomatic or plain wrong German, I'll usually reply in English. It may be somewhat patronizing to assume that my English is better than his German, but as a rule of thumb this works for me. The only exception here is that it's not a private conversation, but we have a larger audience to consider as well. That's not an argument against English in my book, though. tl;dr It depends. – Ingmar Nov 6 '14 at 10:34
  • In contrast to a talk with a person, this posts are persistet and shall only be postet, if they aren't a specific answer to a single person, but for a broader audience. So the duty of being friendly is far less important. Since people visit the page who learn or know German, answers should be in German. It's absurd, that people have to learn english, to use this site. – user unknown Nov 22 '14 at 5:42
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This answer contains some aspects already considered by Matthias, which I left in for completeness.

I think that answering in German is the better choice in most cases for the following reasons:

  • If the asker uses German, it is most likely that answers in German are more useful to the asker:
    • If the asker speaks German better than English, an answer in German is more likely to be understood. While most (but not all) native speakers of a third language visiting our platform indeed speak English sufficiently to understand most answers, we should not neglect the existence of native speakers of German who hardly speak English, such as children who just started learing English or (mostly) older people, who never learnt English in school.
    • If the asker uses German to train his skills, he is likely to want to train his skills with the answer as well and thus prefer it to be in German. An exception might be wise though, if the answer is much more challenging than the question language-wise and we have good reasons to suspect that the asker is a beginner with German while being much better with English (e.g., I did so in this answer).
  • Other language learners can also benefit from reading answers in German. This can even spark new questions (and has done so in the past, if I recall correctly). Also do not forget that there is a reason why second languages are preferrably taught in that language and not the learner’s native language.
  • There are experts on the German language who do not speak English well and we do not want to miss their constructive input on answers. Consider in particular that the more expertise a question requires here, the more likely it is written in German.
  • Most of our questions and the interface are in English right now. Unless this drastically changes, there is no big risk that new users think that they cannot ask questions in English here, in particular since nobody should be surprised by German content here. However, it can happen that new users get the impression that we only talk about the German language in English here, which might alienate some native speakers (who might ask interesting “expert questions”).
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    Some of these arguments could also be used to encourage German questions (when you have a choice). I now see a value in restricting this thread to this case ;-) --- Taking search engines into account I would even dare say that a German question might attract many visitors who speak German as a non-native language and speak little or no English. – Matthias Nov 5 '14 at 22:06
  • Regarding your last point, why is the site not called "Deutsch"? ;) – Raphael Aug 23 '15 at 16:06
  • @Raphael: See here. – Wrzlprmft Aug 23 '15 at 16:08
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My rule of thumb for the German Language Board is very simple:

Use the same language for the answer that has been used for the question.

But there is no rule without exceptions:

When your skills in the questions language are too weak to write an appropriate answer, then use the other language. (We are talking only about two languages, German and English)

I think this are good rules for all other language boards on stackexchange (except English Language Board where only english is allowed) when you replace »German« by the boards language.

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