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I have been seeing a somewhat increasing trend lately of questions which end with a variation of this sentence:

I would like to hear a native speaker's opinion, please.

Though I am sure that the OPs do not intend any harm, I do not feel this is a productive addition to a question. Honestly (and keep in mind that I am a native English speaker) I find it a tiny bit offensive. We have so many amazing users, and a good portion of them are non-native speakers who write excellent answers. It's true that there are some questions which naturally lean toward asking "Does this sound right to native speakers?" (especially when discussing differences between AmE and BrE, etc.). But I think there's a difference between that and simply appending a request that only native speakers provide answers to any question.

Native speakers can make mistakes. Non-native speakers can post the most excellent answer you've ever seen. And vice-versa. I think it's counterproductive and goes against community-building to attempt to exclude a group of people from answering your question. And anyway, the request cannot be enforced... Anyone can post an answer. If it's right, it'll get upvotes. If it's wrong, it'll get downvotes or comments saying so. If the OP's goal is to make sure they get a correct answer, trying to limit the responses to those of native speakers isn't going to do it. I've posted a few incorrect answers before, and I was glad to receive corrections. If there are users assuming everything I post is 100% guaranteed to be true and correct simply because I am a native speaker, well, that's probably not good for anybody.

So... As I felt this was counterproductive, unenforceable, and had the potential to make non-native speakers feel bad, I have been editing the sentence out of questions when I see it. But as I see this is something which isn't going away, I thought it was time to bring it up on meta. I'd like to propose that we make this official policy, and that others join me in editing sentences like these out of questions. But I also recognize that there might be another side to the discussion, and I welcome hearing the community's thoughts.

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    At first I thought this was an innocent request for native expertise, but, after reading the answer given by @Damkerng, I see that maybe there was a darker side to this than I initially supposed. Thank you, Wendi, for bringing this issue to the community's attention. In a way, getting an answer from a native speaker is what ELL is all about. However, asking for NO answers from non-natives goes against the Stack Exchange model, and such exclusionary requests have no place in our community. I would go so far as to say that such requests, if repeated, should be grounds for suspension. – J.R. Jan 9 '14 at 2:12
21

I'm a non-native speaker and also a new face around here. I suspect that I might also be part of the cause of this recently increasing trend of such a sentence and those similar lines. Although I'm quite certain that this elephant in the room had existed before I signed up with our ELL community.

With good intentions, I usually answer questions when I believe that I can provide a good answer, and even when I have only an incomplete answer (which happened often enough when a question is actually a set of multiple questions), I usually posted a comment. I hope that my answers and comments can be helpful to the OPs and those who might find them later. And yet, I still found my answers downright wrong sometimes. It's a good thing that many users here, both native and non-native speakers, are kind enough to correct me nicely and politely. And I'm grateful for that.


It would be a lie if I said that I didn't feel uncomfortable at all when reading such sentences. In any case, I believe that non-native speakers, myself included, are reasonable enough not to answer a question such as "What would native speakers think when they hear this sentence ...?" But, when it's obvious that anyone could answer a question, I couldn't help but wonder why the OP had to add that line. For me? And for others like me?

However, I understand the OPs perfectly. They want their answers and they believe that the best answer should come only from native speakers. The same thing also happens in my country. Many well-to-do people spend 25,000++ U.S. dollars a year just for their kid to have a chance to study with native English speaking teachers. I've also once seen a mother who gave an interview proudly about her five-year-old son speaking English very well, even better than his mother tongue. It's crazy!


With this understanding, I learned to avoid to answer questions from such OPs, once I had some idea about their attitudes after a few exchanges. Most of them are reasonable enough. As I said, they just want their best answers, which is fair enough. They just don't know for sure which answers of mine are right, and which are wrong.

TL;DR The best thing for the community, in my opinion, is to leave such a sentence untouched, because that's what the OP wants, until the OP has got a good answer, then we remove it.

  • 5
    The beautiful thing about the Stack Exchange format is that your answer doesn't preclude anyone else from answering – it's not like there's a cap of three answers per question, or anything like that. If you think you might have something to say about a question, then say it. If something you say isn't correct, someone will leave a comment, and everyone will learn. By the way, you've left some pretty darned good answers of late, some of which I've upvoted. If someone doesn't want you to answer their questions, they should find another place to ask their questions. You keep up the good work. – J.R. Jan 9 '14 at 1:59
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    By the way, if there's one thing our beta site lacks, it's getting multiple answers to questions. Take a look at our stats; we have "Excellent" ratings in all categories but one: Answers per Question. It's going to be users like you who change that, provided you don't get discouraged by exceedingly inappropriate "Native Answers Only" requests. I appreciate your frankness in your answer here, but I implore you to not be discouraged from answering by an O.P.'s rude remarks. – J.R. Jan 9 '14 at 2:09
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    +1 I upvote this not because I think you are right to avoid answering (I think you are wrong!) but because the answer illustrates so clearly why it is critical that users like you must not be discouraged from responding: because you see more deeply than we do what sort of answer is being sought, and why. – StoneyB Jan 10 '14 at 1:58
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    +1 for the same reasons as StoneyB. Please keep up the good work. – godel9 Jan 10 '14 at 3:01
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    I think many of your answers are spot on! Your command of the English grammar is admirable and your high rep points is proof of your expertise. When an OP sees a low rep user answering his or her question, then they just might have a just cause for concern. That's why multiple answers is the way forward. – Mari-Lou A Jan 14 '14 at 0:40
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As a native English speaker -- and thus having no reason to be biased against such a request -- I agree that 90% of the time it's pointless. Sure, most of the time, the thoughts of someone who has been speaking and writing a language every day for the past 40 years are likely more helpful than someone who started attending a language class yesterday. But there are plenty of non-native speakers who know the language very well. In some ways a non-native speaker may have an advantage: because he had to actually study the language instead of just picking it up, he might well know the rules better. You could, of course, say "I am looking for an answer from someone knowledgeable about proper use of the language", but ... as opposed to what? "I am looking for an answer from someone who doesn't know what he is talking about"?

There are contexts where a native speaker would be more qualified. For example, questions about how someone learned the language as a child. But for the most part, yes, I'd just drop such statements.

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    I was going to write pretty much the same thing. Reviewing the list of top users, a significant fraction of the first page appears to be from non-native English backgrounds. (Or at least they self-identify as being from countries where the national language is something other than English.) It is ludicrous to claim on that basis that 20-40% of our userbase isn't qualified to answer a question. – Jonathan Garber Jan 7 '14 at 18:18
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    I have a question about Esperanto. Please, answers from native speakers only. – Jay Jan 7 '14 at 18:23
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I'm not sure I see this "exclusion" that you speak of. I never thought:

"I would like to hear a native speaker's opinion, please"

implied:

(A) "I'm not interested in hearing a non-native speaker's opinion"

or:

(B) "I only want to hear a native speaker's opinion."

I've always interpreted the remark to mean:

(C) "Everyone is welcome to answer, but I'm hoping at least one native speaker answers my question."

If the remark was meant to convey (A) or (B), then I'd be very much bothered by the remark, too. If the remark means (C), though, I'm rather indifferent about it.


That all said, even if my more inclusionary interpretation is the accurate one, I agree with you that the remark doesn't really add much to the question.

Here's my advice to those hoping for a range of opinions from knowledgable people: If you want a wider range of opinions, then ask a compelling question. The more one can put into a question – more context, more background, more insight about why you are asking, more about why or how, and less about a simple yes-or-no – the more likely the question will gain positive attention from well-qualified people who will want to join in.

In other words, I'm a native speaker, but I don't think I'm any more likely to answer a question because it includes an appeal for a native speaker's opinion.

Unless the community comes up with a compelling reason to leave this appeal as a footnote in the question, I have no problem with Wendi – or anyone else with sufficient rep to make an edit – doing a quiet revision and removing the sentence from the question.

12

I agree with WendiKidd's OP. There's nothing to be gained from restricting who should answer.

However some questions may be specifically about a particular branch of English, i.e. British, American, Indian, etc. and the nature of the question will make it apparent that answers from 'natives' of that area will be preferred. Even so, the question is best phrased "how would a Brit say this" rather than "Can a Brit native speaker please tell me how", precisely because it invites a wider discussion that may elicit comparisons with other Englishes (is that a word?) that help the OP's understanding.

English is very widely dispersed and it is useful to remind people that 'their' English is not the only one.

10

I don't think it's unreasonable to want a native speaker opinion. Native speakers of any language are much better at identifying whether a sentence sounds natural or unnatural, too formal, etc., even though they are not better at identifying why.

I post French questions at french.stackexchange.com because I want to sound more like a native French speaker, and I definitely do not want Americans telling me "rules" they learned in high school. To me the definition of "this is grammatical French" is "a French native speaker would say this."

Of course non-native speakers can achieve native levels of proficiency, but it's very rare -- when is the last time you met a person who started learning your native language after the age of eight or so and was so good that they tricked you into thinking they were a native speaker? For me, it has happened once in my life.

However, there is a flip side. Namely, native speakers are likely to be worse at giving good guidelines for rules in a useful way (e.g. how do you know adjective order in "big red house?") because we have never studied these rules. A lot of the time, answers written by native speakers tend to be full of prescriptivisms that we learn in school about "mistakes" that native speakers "make" and not so helpful to someone trying to learn the language.

I also find that native speakers don't know so much about other dialects; the other day, a question made me think "nobody who speaks English says that" turned out to be about an Australianism.

In short: whether a speaker is native or non-native is highly relevant, both negatively and positively, to how an answer to a question should be interpreted. I don't think it's rude to ask.

  • 2
    Have you met RegDwigнt? – Jim Jan 14 '14 at 5:49
  • @Jim I'd love to know about his language adventures. After I visited his page I googled for success stories to learn from. – learner Jan 14 '14 at 16:44
  • By the way, I don't find any problems asking for native answers. Though I don't go as far as asking others not to pitch in. I had an unpleasant experience when a non native speaker unvoted my one of first posts and made an incomplete answer in the comments that was misleading. It forced me to write a request on my page for non native speakers to think twice before answering my posts. – learner Jan 14 '14 at 16:52
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    I've seen this go both ways, though. Sometimes it's the non-native who has learned something in English class and clings too tightly to the so-called rule, while the native speaker is more comfortable explaining when that "rule" can be safely ignored. But you make a lot of good points here, mate – especially that one about the Australianism. – J.R. Feb 21 '16 at 11:36
8

My answer could be repetitious but I also want to show my opposition toward addressing native speakers in a question,

  • It is read like an offense to a non-native speaker who can answer the question.

  • Even native-speakers don't need to be addressed to answer specific questions, it's an offense to them too. (it is read like a demand)

  • ELL as it implies is a place who language learners gather together to lean English, nothing implies that even a native-speaker should be present in this community

However, the OP may be interested to know what is natural or common among native speakers, it differs from addressing native speakers, it just should include sentences like

What a native speaker may think of ....

What is common or natural among native speakers ...

But not

As a native speaker, what do you think?

-4

There are just some aspects of language which linguists can describe adequately only by examining native speakers' judgments. I have found some answers from non-native speakers inadequate at best, if not downright misleading. That's why I hope answers to my questions come from educated native speakers. That doesn't mean, of course, that answers from non-native speakers are definitely incorrect. It might be a good idea for non-native answerers to identify themselves as native or non-native speakers before we can decide for ourselves how much faith to put on an answer.

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    How do you know that the person answering your question is an "educated" native speaker? There are some very fluent non-native speakers in our community that are really good at explaining things. Many native speakers might be able to tell you the "right" answer, but not be able to explain why it's the right answer. I would recommend you read this discussion also: ell.meta.stackexchange.com/q/2655 Judging an answer by who wrote it is a mistake. There are much better ways to decide if it is credible. – ColleenV Jun 25 '17 at 3:15
  • I don't know if you have had any formal training in linguistics. But linguists base their analysis only on native speakers. It's true that many native speakers, who have never consciously studied their language, cannot explain why their language works the way it does, but their judgment on what sounds natural often cannot be reduplicated by a non-native speaker. – Apollyon Jun 25 '17 at 3:40
  • It is very true that many native speakers make stupid claims like " 'might' is the past-tense form of 'may' as in 'he might be ill.'". But their judgments on matters such as whether "that" is acceptable as in "Who do you think (*that) hired John?" often cannot be elicited from a non-native speaker. – Apollyon Jun 25 '17 at 3:46
  • @ColleenV If a non-native speaker cannot even get facts, i.e. whether certain things are natural, right, how can I rely on their supposed explanation? – Apollyon Jun 25 '17 at 3:49
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    If you don’t want to hear from the whole community, leave. ELU is a site dedicated to “linguists and serious etymologists.” If that’s who you want your answers from, ask there. As for your concern about "some answers from non-native speakers inadequate at best, if not downright misleading,” that’s what downvotes are for. Most of the time, the community catches those erroneous answers and speaks up. Moreover, nativeness is an unreliable litmus test. I’ve seen some bad answers from native speakers at both sites. – J.R. Jun 25 '17 at 18:43
-7

I do not see it as a problem if a poster requests answers from native speakers. In my short time on this site, I have seen many answers by a non-native speaker that have just been downright wrong.

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    If they're wrong or otherwise useless, we downvote them. If they're right or especially helpful, we upvote them. Same as anybody's answers, really: as several of the other answers here have noted, native speakers don't always get things right, and even if they know the correct end result, may not be especially good at explaining how to get there. (I've had to refrain from answering probably several dozen questions because I couldn't easily distill my instinctive "well, you say it this way" response into anything useful.) – Nathan Tuggy Jul 27 '15 at 19:06
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    I've seen a lot of answers by native speakers that were very wrong, and those are worse because they're stated with seeming authority. I do think native speakers and folks living in a particular region for a long time have an advantage when it comes to questions about idioms, formality, and whether some construction is common, but in general, non-native speakers have a better grasp of the rules and have an advantage explaining why something is correct. – ColleenV Jul 28 '15 at 17:18
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    -1; do you know how bad I feel when I see a crappy question excluding me from the answerer list inheritedly just because I'm not a native speaker? If the comments below suffer a lack of logic, I'm very eager to hear your arguments against them. – M.A.R. ಠ_ಠ Jul 28 '15 at 19:50
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    Rather than simply claiming that "the two comments below suffer from a lack of logic" perhaps consider explaining why you disagree with the comments... as far as I'm concerned, both comments are perfectly correct. – Catija Jul 28 '15 at 20:04
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    Don't throw stones when you live in a glass house. The "logic" in your post in light of the other commentary in this thread is essentially "I've seen some answers by non-native speakers that are wrong, therefore it's OK to perpetuate (or at least not discourage the perpetuation of) the myth that only native speakers of a language can properly answer questions about it, even if it makes a large portion of our actively contributing community feel like second class citizens." – ColleenV Jul 28 '15 at 22:00

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