This question is prompted now by this post: https://history.stackexchange.com/questions/10096/a-martial-art-person-who-got-injured-by-his-hand-when-he-broke-so-many-tiles-wit, but it has been simmering for a while:

I understand that this site is open to anyone in the world to post a question or answer, and that is one of great things about the Internet - each of us has a virtual world-wide symposium on their own PC.

But English is the language of this site, and posts in other languages are not allowed. See Can I ask question in Bangla here? .

Having said that, we do get a lot of questions in less than fluent English, which is not IMO a reason to disqualify, particularly if the question itself has merit. Sometimes I will even edit what I think is a good question, to improve the English.

But this question - the martial arts question - is borderline indecipherable, the English is so poor. Needless to say I am less sympathetic in this case than I might be in other cases, due to the question itself. In all frankness, I am bit embarrassed by such a poor question, in terms of both its substance and its English.

And unfortunately, sometimes this problem isn't only applicable to non-native English speakers. To echo T.E.D.'s comment: "This isn't about cultural imperialism, its about being able to communicate."

Should we set some kind of "bar" for English proficiency in questions and answers, and down-vote or vote to close questions and answers based simply on the grounds of really poor English?

3 Answers 3


I don't know about "require", but IMHO its perfectly reasonable to downvote a question for being in severe need of editing. If its just a word or three, I'd much prefer to see edits to fix the problem. But if its so much that it would be a serious effort to clean up, it seems perfectly reasonable to downvote.

In extreme cases (eg: you really can't understand what they are asking), putting the question on hold would also be appropriate.

It would still be better to fix the question up instead, but its quite unreasonable for posters with poor English skills to regularly expect people to do that for them. We are here for History, not because we love cleaning up crappy writing. If some folks who want to post here don't have their English up to snuff, perhaps they need to work on that and come back when they are ready.

  • Maybe they should try google/translate?
    – user2590
    Sep 5, 2013 at 20:06
  • 2
    I know it can be uncomfortable for some of us native English speakers to express this sentiment. However, I've seen the same said on this stack to poor posters by some of their own contrymen. This isn't about cultural imperialisim, its about being able to communicate.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Sep 5, 2013 at 20:06
  • 5
    @Vector Google translate really isn't that good. I tried it on an email I got in French once, and sent back a nice technical reply. A few minutes later, I realised what I'd actually gotten was an automated "Out of office" email. :-(
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Sep 5, 2013 at 20:08
  • I know it isn't that good. ""Out of office" email." ROFLMAO.
    – user2590
    Sep 5, 2013 at 20:09
  • There is something called "timed suspension." More to the point, I believe that "low quality posts," which would include bad English (in extreme cases), would be adequate grounds.
    – Tom Au
    Sep 9, 2013 at 16:29

As I am not native English speaker, I think this is ok if someone edits my post and correct errors, even if they are minor. This helps me also to learn what mistakes I make.

As far as I know an edit should be at least 5 characters long, so in case of very small corrections I would ask the OP to correct his error in a comment; then I can remove the comment. For example I made some mistakes in comments under this question and I'm very grateful to Felix and Samuel Russell for their help.

I think it is not a good way to remove the question if the English is bad. For me, especially, it is harder to read a text with spelling errors, but a native speaker could give assistance to the poster, there is a chat, or you can ask him/her to write the text in OP's native language and help to translate.

This community is intended to share knowledge and help solving problems, why shouldn't we assist in asking questions too?

Of course this is when the language problems are obvious; somebody who writes poorly because of his laziness can be down-voted, but if it is that somebody used wrong word, wrote "I had asking" or something like this, I think such help is always welcome.

(if there are any errors or mistakes in this post please correct them :) )

  • I think a lot of it has to do with the merit of the question itself - I will edit a question to improve the English if I think the question itself is good. There are some questions that are poor, regardless of the language. But as T.E.D. said, we are on here to talk about History, not to be English editors.
    – user2590
    Sep 5, 2013 at 20:54
  • I'm talking about good questions but poorly written. I'd wish a native speaker correct all errors so that I won't learn bad habits. Even if errors seam to be minor for you (like writing "i" instead of "I"), they are not for me. I'm not that good to dare to correct anybody, but sometimes there is a problem for me to know that writing "Main" the OP meant "Maine". By helping OP who knows little English you also help many other people. In my opinion poor English should be no reason to close or down-vote, but should encourage you to help.
    – Voitcus
    Sep 5, 2013 at 21:03
  • Despite the apparent dichtomy, I actually agree enough with this that I'm +1ing it. I really don't want to see folks killing otherwise good questions that have some easily-corrected grammar issues. (And I'm kind of afraid some might take my answer as license to do so).
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Sep 5, 2013 at 22:11
  • @Voitcus - I have taken you into consideration in my answer. Your usually ask very good questions.
    – user2590
    Sep 6, 2013 at 18:16
  • @Voitcus - the issue isn't poor English per se (heck, mine isn't up to snuff) but writing so bad that a reasonable reader does not understand what's being asked.
    – DVK
    Sep 13, 2013 at 14:22

IMO the answer is that it all depends on the question:

  • If we encounter a good question with some language problems, those of us proficient in English should take the time and effort to edit/correct it, so as to bring out the question clearly and articulately.
  • If it's not a worthy question, leave as is and vote to close, etc.
  • Notwithstanding the above, sometimes the language is so poor that it's probably asking too much of any of us to try and fix it, regardless of a potential gem that might be contained within. As T.E.D. remarked in his answer, "We are here for History, not because we love cleaning up crappy writing."

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