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The help page on asking questions (formerly part of the faq) says:

Should I ask/answer in French or English? Both languages are accepted. If you are learning French, we suggest that you learn by doing and ask in French, but there is no obligation. ...

Is this good advice, and is it a canonical/authoritative policy deserving of placement in the official help?

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This advice comes from early discussions on the of the site, mainly Quelle est la langue principale du site? What is the primary language of the site? and May I ask a question in <language>? Est-ce que je peux poser une question dans <langue>? The formulation was proposed (by me, as it happens) in Que doit contenir notre FAQ ? What should our FAQ contain? and adopted after minor feedback and no opposition.

There is an ever-present tension between French learners (who might not understand French well enough to ask and answer in French) and French experts (who might not understand English well enough to ask and answer in English).

Yes, you will learn more by asking in French, if you can. (If you can! That's why there is no obligation.) Both because asking in French is an exercise in writing French (and we'll correct your French for free), and because you'll reach more experts that way, you'll have a better chance of getting a good answer.

Don't forget that by pushing English, you're pushing away French speakers who don't speak English well. Indeed it is quite difficult to market FL&U with the experts because of this. FL&U is perilously close to being a site for French learners — and the problem with a site for learners is that it excludes the experts.

  • Hm, I can see that point of view too (+1). I guess the thing that nagged at me was that it seems to say "you should but we won't make you" rather than "you should if you can but we won't make you". Maybe something as simple as "ask in French if possible"? – Cascabel Jul 14 '13 at 15:57
  • @Jefromi The help section on asking questions states: "Both languages are accepted. If you are learning French, we suggest that you learn by doing and ask in French, but there is no obligation." Personally, I think this is a very polite way to encourage asking in French for the sake of your own learning but it is no way obligatory. I have seen users ask questions in very poor French, which made it very hard to answer. After some clarification comments, the OP is usually edited, becomes clear, and then the user learns by seeing the edit. ... – Patrick Sebastien Jul 26 '13 at 14:51
  • ... On the other hand, I have also seen many questions asked in English with excellent results. Indoxica is an excellent example of a user that started out asking in English, was unsure of his/her French, but gave it a try and now asks questions that are written well in French. I use a mixture. I also usually add "Answers in French or English are fine for me" on my question, but this seems to be edited out by moderators. I will probably be putting that as a comment on my questions in the future. – Patrick Sebastien Jul 26 '13 at 14:54
  • @indoxica I would be interested to see your opinion on this topic. – Patrick Sebastien Jul 26 '13 at 14:56
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I think it is only sometimes good advice, and should be left out of the help. As it says, there's no obligation, and both French and English are accepted. The help should be about asking good questions, not telling people how to learn.

Speaking as very much a beginner, I feel this is likely unhelpful advice for the person posting the question. While I do appreciate the notion of learning by doing, writing in a foreign language by using a dictionary for most of the words is a very arduous process.

Further, it's been fairly well established that answers are preferred to be in the language of the question. Someone learning the language may be able to, with effort and subsequent editing from the community, ask a simple question in French, but then they'll have to decipher answers in French, likely written at a higher level than the question.

Both writing the question and reading the answers can of course be learning processes, as suggested, but particularly for beginners, they are unlikely to be efficient or productive learning processes. I know that if I have a basic specific question, the thing that will help me most is a quick, understandable answer and returning to my lessons. But the help seems to be trying to tell me that I'd learn more if I asked in French.

If on the other hand, I were comfortable enough to ask and read answers in French, it'd be a great idea - no argument there. But at that point, I wouldn't need the help page to tell me so either. It's great to encourage people to learn, but I don't think the help needs to be quite so prescriptive.

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