Proposal: English Language Learners

How shall we clearly define what is on-topic for this site and what is confusing enough that it should properly go to English Language and Usage?

  • 4
    The expertise being requested is different. Questions for this site need the expertise equivalent of an ESL teacher. Questions for ELU need the expertise equivalent of a researcher: a linguist, an etymologist, etc.
    – MετάEd
    Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 18:10
  • 2
    @MetaEd: I would say that ESL teachers are also experts on English SE when you look at the majority of questions asked there.
    – awe
    Commented Jul 24, 2012 at 13:00
  • 3
    This proposed site worries me considerably. I think it will be virtually impossible to draw a reasonable distinction between ELL and EL&U and people won't know on which site to ask a question on nor will they know which site to search for answers. The grey area between EL&U and the proposed ELL is too broad.
    – Joel Brown
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 11:59
  • @JoelBrown: Considering how narrow the entire area of EL&U is, this shouldn't be hard: Define subjects unwelcome here as subjects welcome on ELU (which is a rather short list). Allow most of the rest - the whole base of the pyramid. I wouldn't worry about the very tip too sophisticated for ELU. Only restrict sides - literature, crosswords, translations, proofreading, etc.
    – SF.
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 14:10
  • (actually, include both "Word choice and usage" and "Spelling" as allowed; most of those are very disliked and regularly closed on ELU - Pretty much all of spelling is "General Reference" and "Word choice" is all too "Non-constructive".)
    – SF.
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 16:11

5 Answers 5


The issue of forming a site exclusively around "beginners questions" is one of reciprocity. Most sites at least perport to be experts talking to experts and answering each other questions. They, in turn, attract a fair number of enthusiasts and beginning learners asking interesting (albeit, beginner) questions.

In contrast, an ESL site is setting itself up as a core group of teachers willing to help a site full of beginning learners. There will be little, if any, reciprocity.

English SE has not panned out as an "expert-level" site. There is very little pretense that this site is only for advanced users discussing on the "finer points" of the English language. I don't see any (good) questions in this proposal Definition that are not perfectly acceptable in English SE. The only questions being rejected by English SE are ones that should not be asked anywhere — https://area51.meta.stackexchange.com/a/5702/5.

I'm not seeing a case a separate site at all.

  • 5
    I agree. The only way I can see to make it different would be to allow general reference questions, but that seems counterproductive.
    – kotekzot
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 5:09
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    I disagree. Language learners have a unique perspective on the language they study. Other, perhaps more experienced, language learners can offer answers in a context that native speakers simply lack, and at the same time are likely to ask more advanced questions of their own. Sounds like ground that is ripe for reciprocity to me.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 11:53
  • 1
    I disagree. The reward I would enjoy on this site would be subjecting myself to the discipline of explaining complicated matters as simply as possible in a context which provided 'expert' feedback on whether I succeeded. . . . I'm upvoting the answer, however, because I think it raises a critical question in very enlightening terms. Commented Aug 11, 2012 at 18:52

If the question is one where the main source of confusion comes from being a non-native speaker – that is, if the question is justifiably confusing to the O.P., but just about any native speaker could probably answer it without doing any research, simply by recalling basic lessons in middle school – then the question would be a better fit for this site than for EL&U. However, some users may not realize how basic their question is, so the tricky part becomes stating this such that it becomes obvious which site would be more apropos.

Maybe something along these lines might work:

If your question stems from not having the same level of familiarity with English as a native speaker, and most native speakers could answer your question based on first-hand knowledge, then it's probably a good fit for the ESL board.

However, if your question is more abstruse and less straightforward, if it might cause even a native speakers to ponder, and perhaps even prompt them to do some research, then EL&U might be the better place to ask the question.

I'm not really even 100% satisfied with that suggestion, but it might be useful enough that someone could refine it, or use it as a springboard to describe the difference even better.


Lets take the question "Then or Than, Which to use when comparing time?" This is clearly too basic for EL&U. Just check a dictionary and it will tell you that then and than are used in very different circumstances. (OK, it's been closed as a dupe, but the first 4 votes were general reference. Things have changed a lot over the last year and a quarter, and the dupe would be closed as GR these days.)

Is that enough for a person who is beginning to learn English? Someone who is not a serious (i.e. knowledgeable) English Language Enthusiast? I would say no. The definitions in a dictionary are separate, and don't compare the two words (because why would you? they only look alike). They don't help enough to aid remembering when to use then and when to use than.

An answer for someone beginning ESL, or even maybe someone who is intermediate, would explain how, even though the words sound similar, they are not used for the same thing. The answer would show how it is illogical to use than in place of then and vice versa.

General Reference for EL&U is not necessarily gen ref for this proposal.

So words that cause confusion for people learning English should be on topic.

  • The difference between then and than is general reference and is easily found in a grammar book (and not a dictionary) for EFL/ESL learners, or on the internet, as (here or here). And I have met quite a lot of English natives who would benefit from knowing when to use than or then! So I would find the question you are referring to as general reference on both, EL&U and ESL.
    – None
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 7:09

I'm not convinced that 'clear definition' is called for.

In the first place, supposing it can be achieved, will it have any effect? Do the 'clear definitions' on ELU actually inhibit bad questioning? Perhaps they do, but the fact that this alternative site is proposed indicates that their effect is inadequate.

In the second place, is 'clear definition' desirable? It seems to me that clarity is achieved more through practice than through definition, and that whatever definitions are put up will yield eventually to actual usage.

I suspect that after a relatively brief shakedown cruise the best definition will be ostensive: "Browse around both sites and take your question to the site where you feel most comfortable - where the questions asked and the answers returned speak to your needs."


How can one draw a line between English as a Second Language and English for natives of English (or whatever one might define EL&U in comparison) when one knows that English speaking natives sometimes ask questions non natives who have actually learnt grammar wouldn't? Of course you can object that people don't always advertise their native language in their profile and one can't be sure. I agree to that.

I will take an example in the usage of the possessive where I have found natives of English have a far lesser knowledge than ESL learners and make more mistakes because ESL learners will be more careful and know where to look for the information when they hesitate.

As example questions I have looked for some that seem to have been asked by natives of English and haven't been closed as General Reference :





Admitting I'm right and these questions have been asked by natives of English, would the OPs have spontaneously posted on English as a Second Language ?

And wouldn't other English natives benefit from any answer on these particular points?

  • 5
    There is no difference in my mind between native speakers and non-native speakers as far as this site is concerned. That's why we changed the title from English as a Second Language to English Language Learners. It's an important distinction. English could be your first or your fiftieth language; this site is for posting questions that are specific to learning English, questions that are about basic grammar and common constructs, regardless of whether it is a native speaker or non-native speaker asking.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 12:01

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