Here is attempt #1: That which doesn't kill you. StoneyB is happy to offer bounties to questions like this. Great, I appreciate that since rep points are still kind of precious to me on this site. Even for such a valid reason, it's hard to just give them away.

Now, look at the edit history of that question and the comments.

What's right here? The whole point is to offer an interesting topic, a bit of a cookie, and an "E" for effort. I also want to actively discourage native-speaking-know-it-alls from answering the question. There are plenty of real questions on this site that need that expertise. On a thread like this I'd say, "Move along folks, nothing to see here." (except of course to offer knowledgeable and kind feedback as appropriate)

What I'd really love to see is learners who are still struggling to put phrases together giving it a shot. This thread is a safe place to spread your wings.

How best can the questions be worded?

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    I'll be interested to see what people say about this one. My first suggestion would be to consider creating some kind of tag for such questions. – J.R. Mar 25 '14 at 2:55
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    Or a title 'tag', sorta the opposite of Canonical Posts: Learner Challenge, or Maiden Race or something of the sort. – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 25 '14 at 3:36
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    I am all for the idea of encouraging learners to answer questions, but I really dislike discouraging anyone at all from answering questions. It rubs me the wrong way, just like a while back when we had some people asking for answers from "native speakers only, please." It's not inclusive, and you can't actually prevent anyone from answering, and I think it generates bad will to try. – WendiKidd Mar 25 '14 at 15:57
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    I totally appreciate the spirit of what you're trying to do, but I don't know that it comes across right in practice. I feel like if, on any SE site, there is a question which a certain category of users are discouraged from answering, we're doing it wrong. So... I don't know. Meta is absolutely the right place to bring this up, and I am very glad that you're wanting to encourage learners to participate in answering. But personally I disagree fundamentally with trying to request only certain types of answerers for your question. More answers don't hurt anything, after all. cc @j.r. – WendiKidd Mar 25 '14 at 15:57
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    As an aside, I was actually very intrigued by your "that which doesn't kill..." Question, and I was going to post an answer, which is something I haven't had much time for lately; it's been taking a really interesting question to spark that answering spirit in me. And then I got to the part about learners-only, and I wanted to discuss this then, but in the end I decided it was just one question and not really worth it, so I just didn't answer. (cont'd) – WendiKidd Mar 25 '14 at 16:08
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    But I do have to say from experience that getting excited about a question, half-composing an answer in your head, and then realizing your answer isn't welcome is not a good feeling. (I also object a bit to the description in your meta Q that these proposed questions are not "real"; every question should bring value to the site. It should be both a question and answers that will be useful to future readers. Now, I think your question was useful. (cont'd) – WendiKidd Mar 25 '14 at 16:09
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    But if in the future we intend to come up with "fake" questions for the sole purpose of letting learners answer, and not to leave value around for future visitors, I think that's a problem too.) – WendiKidd Mar 25 '14 at 16:10
  • I apologize if this has seemed a little harsh; I don't intend for it to be. I was aiming for candid. I really, truly do appreciate the spirit of wanting to encourage learners to participate and answer, and I'm overjoyed that you came to meta to discuss with the community how to do that. I'd like to accomplish that goal too! Just at this point, I don't agree that this is the manner in which to do it. – WendiKidd Mar 25 '14 at 16:10
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    @Wendi - Six comments? :^) Methinks you should consolodate those into one answer. You've done a good job of discussing the on one hand..on the other hand issues that are at play. – J.R. Mar 25 '14 at 16:21
  • @j.r I know, I fail! At first it was just 2, and then I thought of more and that turned into 3 more, and then I thought it sounded bad so I wanted to qualify... hides in shame. I'll wrangle it into an answer as soon as I get the chance. – WendiKidd Mar 25 '14 at 18:11
  • @WendiKidd I'm totally cool with eliminating the "discouraging" part of the issue, but that still leaves the rest of it. I want to get the point across that the questions aren't as much looking for a single correct answer as looking for creative answers and effort. – Jolenealaska Mar 25 '14 at 18:54
  • "Future Value" is another consideration, that one I hadn't really considered. – Jolenealaska Mar 25 '14 at 19:10
  • @j.r Though I didn't actually answer the question, now that I think about it... I agree with Jolene that encouraging learners is great, and I wonder what we could do. – WendiKidd Mar 25 '14 at 20:46
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    I appreciate WendiKidd's points about exclusion, but I do think this is a great idea. This is a site for English Language Learners, after all, but the situation seems very much Learner posts question, Native/Fluent speakers answer it. When a learner does answer, votes are so often strongly in favour of native/fluent speakers' answers. I think giving learners the chance to formulate answers and be in control of the answering is great, and will hopefully encourage their participation as answerers in general, rather than this site be all about learners asking "experts" for answers. – nxx Mar 26 '14 at 2:56
  • I got to thinking about the "Future Value" issue and I've decided that such questions will continue to have value. Even if we offer bounties and those bounties have been awarded, and after answers have been accepted, the challenge will remain. If a new person chooses to answer the question, the question will be bumped and the answer will get feedback. The question will remain as it was originally intended - an opportunity to write and get feedback. – Jolenealaska Mar 26 '14 at 9:40

First of all let me say that, as a non-native speaker, I find these questions brilliant (although probably not for the reasons you originally had in mind :) ).

I think they are brilliant because they give me a chance to learn about a part of the English language that it's never found in books for English learners. The kinde of knowledge that a learner can only hope to learn by living in an English speaking country.

I also think they are brilliant because these questions have proven to be very attractive to native speakers. I imagine a native speaker enjoys very much explaining this kind of language, more familiar and closer to their own experience.

Please, carry on and keep asking these questions :)


I've decided to try an experiment.

Here's the question; it's got a new tag. We'll see what happens, and maybe we can learn more about how to hone this idea.

Meanwhile, here on meta (Jolenealaska in particular), feel free to comment if you think this is the kind of thing we should promote, or if it's a step in the wrong direction.

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    I'm going to have to continue to say that I'm just not in favor of it. 1) Discouraging native speakers from answering feels wrong to me. 2) I don't feel that the paragraph explaining the purpose of the question is appropriate for SE; I edited it out of Jolene's original question before this even came up. A question should contain only the actual question; meta information is just not something that belongs. I encourage the spirit of this, but I think two things are very important: – WendiKidd Mar 25 '14 at 23:16
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    1) no discouragement for native speakers 2) this whole process should take place on meta, not main. A meta post with the explanation and a link to the question would be completely appropriate. We can even mark it featured and do one weekly or monthly. (Maybe make a contest for highest up voted answer?) But none of this information belongs in the actual question. The question should be stand-alone, have nothing to do with the "contest", and no one should see it as any different from any other ELL question. – WendiKidd Mar 25 '14 at 23:18
  • Encouraging learners-yes, meta discussion and pointing out these special questions-yes, adding meta information to an actual ELL question-no. I'm pretty sure we're not supposed to do that. /$0.02. (I do like the question itself, though!) – WendiKidd Mar 25 '14 at 23:18
  • @WendiKidd - All fair remarks. I thought it might be easier to figure out what we liked and/or didn't like about the idea if we tried a prototype. – J.R. Mar 26 '14 at 0:07
  • @WendiKidd - I've changed the wording of the disclaimer; see if you find it more palatable now. I like Jolene's idea of encouraging non-natives to "jump into the pool," but asking non-natives to hold back does seem awkward. The tricky part is, will a non-native want to offer an answer after a native has already given a good answer to a question? All in all, it's a lofty goal, but a wicked problem. – J.R. Mar 26 '14 at 10:45
  • I like it much better now that it's inclusive, and I love the addition of the story about how you came up with the question; I actually think that's a really valuable part of the question itself, rather than a disclaimer; when we ask users to add context to their questions, I think that's exactly what we're looking for! I think the way to get learners to keep answering even when there are existing good answers is to try and popularize this on meta (which also solves the problem of disclaimers not really belonging in the question text.) – WendiKidd Mar 26 '14 at 13:13
  • We can try this now with your prototype, if you like? I suggest drafting some language for a meta post explaining the stuff you said in your disclaimer, we can add something about suggesting everyone pay extra close attention to the question and keep reading and voting for new answers (encouragement). (Maybe too complex for this first try, but later we could make some kind of a contest/recognition piece.) – WendiKidd Mar 26 '14 at 13:14
  • Then I'd integrate the good information about why you're asking the question into the question itself, and remove the disclaimer from the question text. Oh, and if we mark the meta post as featured it will be more visible. Then see if that draws enough attention! Maybe the title should be something like "Calling all learners-we want your answers!" Only more clever than that. ;). What do you think? – WendiKidd Mar 26 '14 at 13:14
  • @WendiKidd So instead of a disclaimer or a paragraph explaining the nature of the question, we link to a meta thread? I guess that would work. We should take care to write the meta thing so that it applies, even if the questions on main differ wildly. I like the idea of it being a weekly or monthly thing. If we do it that way, it would make sense that we have a discussion here about each question before it's posted. – Jolenealaska Mar 27 '14 at 10:27
  • How much text does the "bounty" field allow? I think I have only ever done one, but can we put an explanation there? StoneyB did that a bit with the "Stranger" question. Can we do more with that? BTW, if we do questions like this regularly, it would make sense to kind of "share the wealth". If we take turns, I'm happy to offer my own bounty :) – Jolenealaska Mar 27 '14 at 11:04
  • @Jolene - I clicked on the add bounty button a few days ago; it doesn't look like it allows any comment. I suppose you could just leave a comment on the question when you set up the bounty – something like, "In the spirit of meta question 980, I'm really hoping to award this bounty to a non-native speaker." – J.R. Mar 27 '14 at 11:06
  • @J.R. It must allow some comment because StoneyB added his "come on learners!" to the bounty he attached to my question. – Jolenealaska Mar 27 '14 at 11:12
  • I vaguely remember offering a bounty on the cooking site. The opportunity to comment in the bounty field itself came late in the process. – Jolenealaska Mar 27 '14 at 11:15
  • @Jolene - Perhaps I'm mistaken then. That's good information, and I'll be looking for that when I get around to offering a bounty. Thanks! – J.R. Mar 27 '14 at 11:17
  • Yes, you can add a couple lines of text. Perhaps there should be a standard text we can cut and paste in. ... I am by the way perfectly fine with continuing to bountify. – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 28 '14 at 2:19

Based on what we have discussed so far, I propose (pardon the will be language, my dad, the lawyer extraordinaire, raised me) the following. My mind is very open to suggestion:

Questions of this type will include a link to a Meta thread that explains the nature of the question.

Questions of this type will have a bounty, but not necessarily immediately. The bounty message will reiterate why such a question is being asked. When to first offer the bounty will be up to the one who offers the bounty.

Whoever offers the bounty chooses who wins it. (That person has the final say, but that doesn't preclude campaigning for a favorite)

The author of the question can accept (or not) an answer at any time.

The author of the question and the one who will offer the bounty (if different posters) will have a basic agreement before the question is posted. (That agreement could be as simple as, "You post, I bounty.") :)

The language of the question, the Meta link and the bounty will be inclusive, but particularly encouraging to learning authors.

In as much as possible based on participation, the authors of the questions will vary.

I like the idea of doing it on a fairly regular basis. I'd be happy to maintain a Meta thread for the purpose of "tweaking" the next question. For now, every three weeks feels right, but like everything else, that's open to discussion.

How do you feel about that?

  • One of the earlier comments suggested that questions like this risk becoming "fake". I think that is greatly underestimating the native/fluent speakers here. I haven't been here long, but I sense a lot of creative brain power here. This exercise could be valuable for the "learners" and the "teachers". – Jolenealaska Mar 29 '14 at 13:15
  • RE: Questions of this type will have a bounty, but not necessarily immediately – I think three days must elapse before questions are bounty-eligible. – J.R. Mar 30 '14 at 0:58
  • @J.R. Ah! Great minds and all that. :) – Jolenealaska Mar 30 '14 at 1:00
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    Bounties were meant to be a tool used to renew interest in a question that was never satisfactorily answered. I suppose "satisfactorily" is in the eye of the beholder. Suppose an ELL regular wants to see a non-native take a shot at a question, and is willing to offer some of their own hard-earned rep to incentivize that – the bounty system may not have been implemented with something like that in mind, but I wouldn't consider it an abuse of the system. – J.R. Mar 30 '14 at 1:05
  • HeeHee Is "incentivize" really a word? I agree. Bounties may have been invented for a different purpose, but I have been known to use shoehorns to help open pickle jars. – Jolenealaska Mar 30 '14 at 1:12
  • Is incentivize really a word? This author begrudgingly admits that it is; it seems to be catching on despite the unfavorable reviews. :^) – J.R. Mar 30 '14 at 1:19
  • You have no idea how much I needed that giggle. – Jolenealaska Mar 30 '14 at 1:23
  • @J.R. It beats hell out of the loathsome pseudo-backformation incent. – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 30 '14 at 13:05

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