• Stack Overflow is a site by programmers, for programmers. Programmers ask and the same group of programmers answers. Since askers are also answerers, the community can thrive.
  • Gaming is a site by videogamers, for videogamers. Gamers ask and the same group of gamers answers. Since askers are also answerers, the community can thrive.
  • Skeptics is a site by skeptics, for skeptics. Skeptics ask and the same group of skeptics answers. Since askers are also answerers, the community can thrive.

Whenever there is a disconnect between askers and answerers, there is a problem. A tension starts between those who only answer and those who only ask, causing drama and outright refusal to answer questions. Some of the posts on this meta make it even sound like this is a ghetto for those who aren't born native English speakers. To me, an "English Language Learner", this reeks of segregation, rather than an attempt to better answer my questions.

I am worried that the main force driving this site might be disgruntled ELU users who really don't want questions that are "too easy" on their site, but also don't want to close or downvote these questions. This force won't last forever, for the whole point of such a drive would be to stop having those easy questions asked on "their" site in the first place.

So, since "audience and expertise" is one of the essential criteria for survival of the proposal — since a site's topic is supposed to be mainly determined by its audience, the audience that will be able to give expert answer to itself — what is the self-serving, self-sustaining audience of ELL?

(See also Robert Cartaino's post about reciprocity and ELU.)

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    Every Stack Exchange site exists because there are users with more experience on a topic who answer questions asked from users with less experience. If the level of experience would be the same for every user, the site would probably slowly die. On ELL, that is not different, and it is not different from what happens on Drupal Answers, or WordPress Answers. – kiamlaluno Feb 1 '13 at 14:45
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    @kiamlaluno But what differs here is that within pieces of technology there are many, many different domains. You may be an expert on Wordpress templates, but know nothing of optimisation. There's a symbiosis here between lots of different people with different areas of expertise. Since language learning is a more linear process, the same does not apply here. – Tom Medley Feb 1 '13 at 14:57
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    @kiamlaluno That's not quite it. On Stack Overflow, even the top contributors can ask and answer questions between themselves because their fields of knowledge, while being about the same in magnitude/area/depth, don't quite overlap. This site, however, doesn't seem to be like that. It's meant for people that are "still learning" and thus can't quite answer each other's questions "properly" without linking to, rephrasing and regurgitating what the actual native speakers or English teachers have said elsewhere. – badp Feb 1 '13 at 15:00
  • @TomMedley I don't know much WordPress, but with Drupal there aren't experts on Drupal template files. To be a Drupal expert, you need to know how the theming system works, what are hooks, what the difference between a theme and a module is, how the permission system works, what batch operations are, etc. If you know just a part of that, you are not a Drupal expert. – kiamlaluno Feb 1 '13 at 15:03
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    @kiamlaluno ...completely disagree. In any, any piece of development software there are different areas of expertise, and in my experience nobody, not even any single developer, knows the whole system inside out. – Tom Medley Feb 1 '13 at 15:05
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    @bapd Notice that learner and native speaker are not mutually exclusive. I am not a native English speaker, and I consider myself still a learner, but that doesn't mean I cannot correctly answer to questions about English. Probably, an answer I would give about how a word is perceived from a native speaker would be secondary respect an answer given from a native speaker, as I can only say what I perceive as not native speaker who listen to a native speaker. I cannot answer about a Japanese being considered offensive, but I can answer about the subjunctive mood. – kiamlaluno Feb 1 '13 at 15:15
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    @TomMedley Uh? Do you call somebody a mathematics expert just because he knows arithmetic well? If you are able just to write a Drupal template file, but you are not able to write a module, or a theme, then you are not a Drupal expert. In Drupal, a template file is always used from a theme, or a module. You normally don't write a template file without writing the code for a module, or a theme. – kiamlaluno Feb 1 '13 at 15:20
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    @kiamlaluno That answer would still be a regurgitation of our grammar books. Call it, if you will, "general reference." – badp Feb 1 '13 at 15:22
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    @kiamlaluno Absolutely yes. There's a ground understanding you need to do anything, but for most other SE sites there's a whole lot of different directions you can go in after that. Language learning is much more linear. – Tom Medley Feb 1 '13 at 15:23
  • @bapd Are you saying that all the questions I answer should be closed as general reference? Then, there are things I didn't learn from any grammar book, but chatting with an American friend of mine for 10 years. – kiamlaluno Feb 1 '13 at 15:56
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    @TomMedley Probably you are making a distinction that doesn't exist. To me, learning Drupal has been as linear as learning English. Then, for Drupal there are sub-topics, in the same way there are sub-topics for English. – kiamlaluno Feb 1 '13 at 15:59
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    @kiamlaluno I don't know if all the questions you answer are about the subjunctive mood. I do know that it's not usually the kind of question I as an "English Language Learner" I have. – badp Feb 1 '13 at 16:31
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    I'm a native English speaker and I like to think I can still learn. I may ask a question, I just haven't yet. I learn new things everyday – Deco Feb 4 '13 at 8:55

I absolutely see your point, but I think you're drawing too much of a correlation between native speakers vs non-native speakers and "those who answer questions" and "those who ask questions". Just because I am a native speaker doesn't mean that I will never have a question to ask on this site. On the other hand, just because English is not someone's first language doesn't mean they can't write a comprehensive and correct answer to a question.

Native speakers don't always know everything about their language. That's true of everyone, not just those who natively speak English. And so it's very appropriate that native speakers will ask questions here as well. You also have to consider that being a non-native speaker does not mean that the person is just beginning to learn English! They could have studied English for 15 years, be very capable of speaking it fluently, and want to give back to the community by answering questions--and still, sometimes, wonder about something they don't know and decide to ask a question. And even among those who are just beginning to learn English, there are many facets of language! It's entirely possible that someone who has only been learning English for a year could have mastered a certain concept that someone else has a question about, and be able to correctly answer it--even though they have many other questions about other aspects of English.

So while I see what you're saying, I don't think it's a problem and I think you're drawing too hard a line between native and non-native speakers. On StackOverflow, Jon Skeet has answered 24,332 questions to date--and asked only 27. It's okay that there are users at different levels with different ratios of asked and answered questions. That's what makes stack exchange work!

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    So what kind of questions would you ask here rather than on ELU? Because this page remains devoid of such a necessary answer. All two upvoted posts say the topic is "something a non-native speaker would ask", but that's just (for lack of a better term) a prejudice, not an actual topic. – badp Feb 7 '13 at 9:17

I don't accept OP's contention that an SE site must suffer problems if there's a disconnect between askers and answerers. Over on ELU, I've asked more questions than anyone else in the top half-dozen - but at 52, that's dwarfed by my 1336 answers as I write.

I also don't accept the accusation that I and others who supported the ELL proposal did so purely in order to get rid of unwanted questions on ELU.

Don't misunderstand my "purely" there - yes, I do want to see learners' questions on a dedicated site, but that's primarily because I believe that language questions asked by learners often merit a completely different kind of answer. Learners are normally more interested in knowing how English works 99% of the time, whereas native speakers are often more interested in the atypical 1%.

Finally - I don't understand what OP means here by self-serving "experts". It seems to me if I spent hours researching and phrasing answers (on either site), I'm serving the questioners and the community, rather than myself. Sure, I probably wouldn't do it if I didn't get some kind of feedback indicating that my efforts were appreciated, but you might as well say questioners are "self-serving" because they wouldn't keep asking if they didn't get answers which satisfy them.

I don't see ELL necessarily needs a self-sustaining audience, if by that OP means a static pool of people who ask lots of questions. There probably will be some long-term users who regularly ask, but rarely answer. But I don't see that's necessary for the site to succeed. All ELL needs is enough competent people willing to provide quality answers, and I think it's already gotten off to a good start on that front.

There's no reason to suppose the existing competent answerers will desert ELL en masse any time soon, nor any reason to suppose they wouldn't be swiftly replaced by others even if they did.

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    This is not a tribunal and I'm not here to accuse anyone. Frankly, a few things about this site stink and it's not my problem. :) A "long-term [group of] users who regularly ask, but rarely answer" is exactly what an SE site doesn't need, because questions without answers are worthless. – badp Feb 7 '13 at 9:25
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    Also, for your completely different kind of answer, compare this and this; this and this; this and this. The only real difference between questions in the two contexts is often only one of quality of the answers. – badp Feb 7 '13 at 9:42
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    @badp: The last of those pairs is not the same question. Either way, the idea is that some questions will be migrated to ELL, while others could go on either. The same applied when Linguistics was created: we have lots of questions that could go on either, but the questions that are mainly about linguistics are now migrated. It works well and everybody is satisfied. As to your "questions without answers": there is no evidence of that at all, on the contrary: I struggle to find a question on ELL that hasn't already been answered (well)! – Cerberus Feb 7 '13 at 11:36

The way I see it, we have 2 groups of experts. People who teach English and non-native speakers who have learnt English to a high degree.

Below the experts we high functioning native speakers and intermediate level non-native speakers.

At the bottom we have people who can't speak English very well.

English teachers teach English, but they also want to learn techniques for teaching English. These will be the questions experts ask each other.

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    I wasn't aware that "questions about how to teach English" fell into the current topic: "questions that a non-native English person will likely have." – badp Feb 7 '13 at 12:16
  • I disagree with Waiwai. I disagree fundamentally with defining our topicality relative to EL&U. – Matt Ellen Feb 7 '13 at 13:25
  • @Matt Ellen: Per Cerberus's comment above, there's an (admittedly vague) demarcation between ELU and Linguistics, and that seems to work fine so far as I can see. I don't think ELL should be defined relative to ELU - but there is a boundary, and we should attempt to define that boundary more precisely as time goes by. – FumbleFingers Feb 7 '13 at 13:48
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    @FumbleFingers we will have to at some point. Not right now, though. Right now we have to define what we want here based on how best it will help the users, not based how much it overlaps with EL&U. – Matt Ellen Feb 7 '13 at 13:52

Interesting question and even more interesting discussion below it. Let me express my understanding of ELL (and all SE in general).

First of all, lets discuss yours:

What is our expert self-serving, self-sustaining audience?

As you mentioned also I think that the "expert" here as a driving thing for every SE site. However I would not put it like you did. Obviously, every part of SE has its own group of "experts". For example, LaTeX site has the people who learned and programmed in LaTeX for a lot of years. As it was discussed, hardly one person will know everything therefore "experts" can ask "experts".

However, how many people "speak" LaTeX? If I would consider people around me I would say that maybe 1% of people I know know more or less LaTeX. And now, how many people around me speak more or less English? 60% maybe 70%? (I am from Croatia, please do not judge :D) And that is huge potential for a community.

And now, how many of them I would me able to teach something? Regarding LaTeX like 5% (read 1 or 2 of them), regarding English like 60% I think and most likely they would be able to teach me something.

On the other hand how many people of them would be able to contribute by answers to ELU? 5%? And also lets imagine that LaTeX would be a normal language same people would speak from their birth. Would these people be interested in discussions about "basic issues they learned at high school"? I do not think so. Simply, English language has such a large community that I can not see any problem to have 2 sites for it. People who study language for all their lives will obviously use ELU, for rest of us (how many people on the world are not native speakers?) is there ELL.

So let me answer your questions... What is our expert self-serving, self-sustaining audience for English Language Learners site? ---> English language learners.

OK, now we can discuss a lot of thinks like, will be level of English here same as on EUL? NO,..that is the point. Will be here a community of people who studied English language for whole their lives? Not likely. Just these native speakers who like to explain basic things to others, like to teach and talk about English language used and seen by foreigners. But in general, I hope that this will be a community of people who learn English and we will help each other on our way to improvement (as a community of any other language (C++,Java,LaTeX, whatever)).

All in all, the time will show us if the site has its potential or not.

  • This post makes no sense. LaTeX is not a natural language. Splitting a topic being okay because a lot of people are "experts" in the eare doesn't begin to make sense. It also doesn't make sense to have ELL be a site "for the rest of us", given that "English language learners" can't be an authoritative source of original, expert answers to begin with! – badp Feb 5 '13 at 19:01
  • Splitting a topic being okay because a lot of people are "experts" in the eare doesn't begin to make sense. Agree, otherwise, you did not get the point of it at all. The point is that the "experts" as you understand will be not the core or this site, but the learners. But what makes sense to one does not have to make sense to other, that is life my friend. "English language learners" can't be an authoritative source of original, expert answers to begin with! well, maybe you are right but I do not believe that the site actually need it for being useful for people. We will see. – MasterPJ Feb 5 '13 at 22:30

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