Proposal: English as a Second Language

ESL will provide a venue for questions that are too basic for EL&U, but how does the new site draw the line for itself?

In the parent site, relatively easy questions are down-voted as being "General Reference." But if ESL, in principle, will be a sort of lowering of difficulty to help lower-level learners, will a sort of looser "General Reference" criteria hold? In short, how do we still tell "basic enough" from, say, spoon-feeding?

4 Answers 4


The nature of beginners means that they often lack the vocabulary needed to know what they're looking for, and may not understand what they find. Still, having some guidelines would be good.

A basic site could provide some standard references in the FAQ (like an online dictionary, thesaurus and grammar guide). If the answer can be looked up there, the author should be expected to explain why what they found was insufficient/unclear.

In other words, show that they put some effort into the question rather than just expecting the site members to be human search engines for them.


No, easy questions are not de facto "General Reference."

Any questions closed as "General Reference" on the English SE site would be just as quickly closed as General Reference on this hypothetical beginner's site, too.

General Reference is intended to dissuade questions that can be easily looked up in a source that is specifically designed to answer that question: "What is the definition of [X]?", "What is the melting point of lead?", "What year did Maryland become a state?" These are not not problems that needs to be solved; They're just a lazily-asked question that can just as easily be looked up. And General Reference is not saying "that question is easily Googleable." Let's not go there.

Should questions that can be googled be disallowed? <-- will be public shortly

I don't see any good questions in the Definition of this site that aren't already hosted by the English Stack Exchange. I'm not inclined to create a site built on the antithesis of another site (i.e. that which is "too basic" or "too low quality" for another site).

I'm not seeing a convincing case for creating another site.

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    Judging by the number of inquiries that stumble upon EL&U (and are dismissed), I'd say there's both a necessity and a practical use to provide a separate venue. I suppose that's the difference between language-learning and the sciences and history, for instance. The people who ask "ESL" questions are looking for the quality of the explanations as much as definite answers. I think we should welcome serious learners who've consulted other references, whether books or online, and are still at a loss. It's just a matter of setting clear-cut criteria
    – Cool Elf
    Jun 27, 2012 at 3:17
  • Any questions closed as "General Reference" on the English SE site would be just as quickly closed as General Reference on this hypothetical beginner's site, too. That is if the new site would have "General reference" as closing reason. As a matter of fact, that closing reason is not available in every SE site.
    – apaderno
    Aug 24, 2012 at 16:07
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    a lazily-asked question Actually, it would be less work to just Google it and click I'm feeling lucky. So by all means, be lazy! Come to us when laziness fails to provide the answers you need. Oct 13, 2012 at 4:17

ELU tends to dismiss as general reference questions that are common knowledge in anglophone countries, but definitely hard or nearly impossible to look up. This is pretty obvious - expressions based on baseball are the very blood of every american, meanwhile "reaching the home plate" draws a blank from a foreigner - and while they may look up the rules of baseball, and find out what that means in the end, understanding the idiomatic expression in case of dating shouldn't require knowing the rules of the sport.

Idioms that are simultaneously brand names. Idiomatic expressions that mutate wildly, with a core too short to look up. Complex phrasal verbs (parsing a cluster of two or three phrasal verbs using a dictionary is hard if you don't know where one ends and the other begins) Common misspellings. Common Pop-culture references that sound like outlandish idioms. Metaphors based on national culture. They all should deserve a chance on ELL, while ELU will find them annoying, uninteresting, worthless and "general reference".

Personally, I suggest to precisely limit the list of sites which are "General Reference":

Questions not answered by a simple look-up to these three resources shouldn't be considered general reference. Questions that ask further explanation of dictionary definition (these are often too brief and sometimes circular) are not general reference. Questions asking the difference between two not obviously different synonyms are not general reference either.

  • a quibble ... to someone with close to 70 years of speaking American English, and even more hearing it, "reaching the home plate" doesn't sound natural, but "reaching home plate" does. I edit an international technical users group journal, and one of the main results of my editing is insertion or deletion of articles to make what's written flow more smoothly to the ears of native speakers. Explaining the "why" of such changes isn't always easy, but it's important in helping otherwise competent learners to progress. Dec 26, 2012 at 13:47
  • Consider OneLook.com. That is a great index into multiple online and free general references.
    – MετάEd
    Jan 19, 2013 at 21:42

re: "how does the new site draw the line for itself?", wherever that line may happen to be, the poster is assured that a valid question will always get answered. The question could be migrated to/from ELU/ESL depending on which suits better.

GR is not relevant in this case. Being GR or not is inherent in the nature of the question and the amount of background effort on the part of the poster. Neither ELU nor ESL could be exceptions to the GR guillotine.

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