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I think information about users should contain information about the country they live in and their mother tongue. Speakers of languages without articles tend to ask a lot of questions about articles. If his or her mother tongue is known such questions can be better understood.

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    There is space for users to provide these details in their profiles, if they so choose. We might label doing so "best practice" and encourage it, but I would be very uncomfortable -- and I doubt you'll get popular support for -- making it mandatory. – Dan Bron Mar 4 '16 at 7:02
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    Here's how this one turned out: meta.ell.stackexchange.com/questions/256/… I think you should edit this post and add that we should encourage this somehow, not oblige it. – M.A.R. Mar 4 '16 at 11:17
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    Besides the fact of lacking "support" for making it mandatory... There's no way to enforce it. We can't go around suspending accounts until they post their native language on their user page.. – Catija Mar 4 '16 at 14:19
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    @Catija Also, you can't prevent people from lying or putting in "Klingon". – ColleenV Mar 4 '16 at 14:33
  • While it is useful in some questions ( for example ell.stackexchange.com/q/81308 ) to know the native language of the asker, in my experience, we usually figure it out by asking. If the poster won't answer a simple query about their native language if we ask, why would you expect them to put it in their profiles? – ColleenV Mar 7 '16 at 13:56
  • I don't think the duplicate is applicable, since it only deals with IDing English dialects, not foreign languages. – user3169 Mar 7 '16 at 18:08
  • @snailboat Sure... but how do you encourage it? The site already gives everyone the chance to say where they live... which is an optional part of their user profile. But why does that matter? As I say in my answer, where they live != the language they speak. Part of my issue is that the way I interpret "should contain information about the country they live in" sounds like the OP is asking SE to tag every user with their IP address country... which isn't ever going to happen. – Catija Mar 7 '16 at 21:16
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    @snailboat The way the discussion is framed makes it seem like a policy proposal. If the question said "How do we encourage folks to share their native language in their profiles?" it might have been received a little differently. I object to having that information in profiles because it will cause folks to make judgments without actually interacting. If my profile says that I'm a fluent speaker of Southern AmE, certain folks are likely to assume that I'm a provincial, Bible-thumping, barely educated, rural bumpkin and misunderstand what I'm trying to say. Just ask if it seems relevant. – ColleenV Mar 7 '16 at 21:52
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I think this would be a major issue for several reasons.

First, and most simply, there's no way to force people to say where they're from or what their native language is... and there's no way to make them tell the truth.

Yes, it would be helpful but if it's really important for the question, ask in a comment.

There are some other downsides to this...

We have several very capable non-native speakers of English who are as good if not better at helping learners than native English speakers are.

Tagging them as non-native speakers somehow could make newer users less trusting of their answers.

We have several meta questions here about whether it's OK to ask for help from a "native speaker" (no, it's not)... so clearly some people take the word of a native over the word of a non-native speaker, regardless of their fluency.

We are here to form a community of learning and part of that is allowing learners to help other learners and, in doing so, solidify their own knowledge. Forcing (or even encouraging) people to label themselves as non-native speakers could damage that experience.

We want to avoid explanations in the asker's native language

Our site is generally English-only, which is somewhat unique of the language learning sites, which generally allow questions in both the site's language and in English. This helps make the content more useful to everyone. One thing we want to avoid is having people trying to help by explaining the answer in the asker's native language. This is not useful content and will likely be removed (or at least translated). If it is unknown what the asker's native language is, it will reduce the likelihood of non-English comments/answers.

Finally, remember that, while a single person asks a question, answers are for the benefit of everyone. So, while knowing the asker's native language may help address their specific concerns, answers should be broad enough that anyone can gain from them, regardless of their native language.

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  • The forum of The Free Dictionary treats this in a different way. forum.thefreedictionary.com/postst143609_Would-vs--Will.aspx – rogermue Mar 6 '16 at 16:12
  • I don't understand what you're saying... I don't see how that link relates to this discussion. – Catija Mar 6 '16 at 16:14
  • In the forum of TFD the location of posters is mostly given. – rogermue Mar 6 '16 at 16:17
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    That doesn't mean anything... some of our native speakers are teachers overseas... there are also many people living in the US and other English-speaking countries who aren't native speakers... so either way, where someone lives doesn't mean anything about their fluency in English or what their native language is... and it certainly doesn't prevent them from lying or simply not filling out that part of the form. We have "location" on our user pages, too... it just doesn't appear in our posts. – Catija Mar 6 '16 at 16:20
  • As I read this question, it is about knowing the OP's native language and whether it would be acceptable for the OP to add some supporting non-English explanation in their question. In this way, someone knowledgeable in that language may be able to add some extra insight. Especially in questions like "How do I say (something) in English?". Answers should be in English (all or mostly). Any problem with such an approach for questions only? – user3169 Mar 6 '16 at 18:30
  • @user3169 I've seen quite a few questions where the learner writes how they say something in their native language and it's been received as helpful. Do you see some questions getting closed or edited because they have other languages in them? – ColleenV Mar 7 '16 at 13:59
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    @ColleenV I was replying to the detail under "We want to avoid explanations in the asker's native language". All I am saying is that native language information in addition to English (not in place of English) should be allowable in questions. This was not clear to me when I read the above section. I am not aware of any problem here; I just wanted to clarify the point. – user3169 Mar 7 '16 at 17:45
  • Saying "In my language we say this phrase "phrase in language other than English", which roughly translates to "rough translation of phrase in English" and means ____. Is there a similar phrase in English?" This sort of question would be fine... but if the bulk of the question (or even key points) is in a language other than English (and not ever translated), that is not a good question because only a limited number of people will be able to answer it and it will be less useful to other people asking similar questions. – Catija Mar 7 '16 at 17:51
  • Another thing to consider if too many key points of a question or answer are in a language other than English, it makes it difficult to search for. However, I have yet to find a post where this is an obvious issue. Most of the time it is used like this ell.stackexchange.com/a/83074 – ColleenV Mar 7 '16 at 19:14
  • Regarding ""In my language we say this phrase "phrase in language other than English", when I recall seeing this, there usually is no mention regarding what "my language" is, nor how it is written in that language. The addition of these may help find a better English equivalent, and do not subject the OP to divulging personal information. – user3169 Mar 9 '16 at 3:29

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