I've noticed here (and in other music-related forums such as Sibelius and Dorico) that a lot of questions and answers, especially from newer members, suffer greatly from a language problem, or maybe it's me that's suffering from the problem. Namely, I can't for the life of me understand what the poster is saying. It's usually pretty clear in these cases that English is not his or her native language and that the attempt to render the question or answer into English results in a mangling of the intent.

Do we have a consistent way here of trying to deal with this issue?

  • 1
    When I can figure out what the intention is, I usually edit to clarify on behalf of the asker. Mar 9, 2017 at 21:54
  • Understood, but sometimes that's a big 'if'! For me, I mean.
    – L3B
    Mar 9, 2017 at 22:35
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    There is also the ell.stackexchange.com stack that we could leverage for sorting out terminology. Or we could refer people there if they express a lot of confusion. Mar 12, 2017 at 20:22
  • @Todd Wilcox - Wow! I had no idea that exchange existed. That's a great resource, and thanks for sharing.
    – L3B
    Mar 12, 2017 at 23:18

4 Answers 4


I would recommend, In friendly and clear words, welcoming the user to the site (if new) and asking for clarification, being as specific as you can about what isn't clear. The poster may not understand, but what else can we do?

I would like to be able to recommend voting to close as unclear - however, unfortunately on this site the re-open mechanism often doesn't work as smoothly as the close mechanism. Once clarification has been asked for, I would perhaps suggest having a little patience before piling on the close votes.

I would not recommend down-voting too quickly, either. If someone has made a mistake with language, but then shows the good faith to come back and fix it relatively quickly, a downvote seems rather unfriendly. If of course they just leave the unclear question messing up the site, that's rather unfriendly on their part, so a down vote might be justified.

I would also strongly recommend looking for duplicates of (what might be) the question asked - often users with lower English skills do tend to post duplicate questions.

  • In regard to your last paragraph, I am a tiny bit hesitant to do that routinely for fear the language-problem poster will see that as "putting the question down," if you know what I mean. I could be wrong though. Other than that one hesitance though I really do like your answer a lot.
    – L3B
    Mar 4, 2017 at 1:50
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    @L3B Sometimes if it may not be an exact duplicate, rather than vote to close as duplicate I add comments to link to what I think might be similar questions. Hopefully that will give the poster some useful information and also alert other site users to not themselves spend a lot of effort duplicating answers that may already exist. It may also act as a prompt for the asker to clarify how their question is different. Mar 4, 2017 at 8:45

My native tongue is not English, so yes, sometimes I also misunderstand something. The real issue comes in when someone is really English illiterate (if I can state it this way) and they ask questions. I have found that sometimes these users make use of online translators which messes things up really bad as they cannot define the context in which some words are used.

If things are such messed up, it is sometimes useful to politely ask such a user to get someone like a friend or family member who understand English to get involved to clear things up.

There is also always the option whereby someone in the community can edit such a question if they understand the context.


The best way is to ask for clarification in comments, don't ask for help in answers, that is exactly what the comments are there for. If you edit, edit in a charitable manner.

Don't vote to close without at least an attempt to get the question clearer and do answer the question that is asked and not the one you think the OP want to be the answer.


I don't see a difference between this and any other issue that makes a post hard to understand. As usual, editing and asking for clarification in the comments is highly encouraged. There is also downvoting and flagging/voting to put a question on hold:

  • The downvote arrow hover text says (emphasis mine)

    This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful.

  • The "unclear what you're asking" on hold vote reason says

    Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question.

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    My personal dilemma is that if the person struggles enough with English to make the question unclear, what are the chances they are going to understand my request for clarification !?!
    – L3B
    Mar 3, 2017 at 21:36
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    Can't know until you try. Ultimately we're an English-only site, but not an ESL service, so I'm not sure if there's anything we could do specific to this issue. A speaker of the asker's mother tongue might take it upon themselves to pull them into a chat and see if it could be sorted out, but that's far from a consistent way of dealing with it :)
    – user28
    Mar 3, 2017 at 21:48

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