Proposal: Stack Overflow (in German)

English language is widely known in Germany, especially among engineers. German belongs to the same language group than English, making it more easy to learn for Germans, than for Russians or Chinese.

Do we need under such circumstances StackOverflow in German? If so, what groups would it target?

I think having a stackoverflow in many different languages would be good, because otherwise people ask questions that you can't even understand because they don't have good english. –  Dozer789 Jan 18 at 22:01
To answer this objectively, don't we need a German-language Area 51? :) –  martin jakubik May 7 at 11:09

8 Answers 8

I think those "language-based" branches of StackOverflow are a bad approach, as every developer should be comfortable with a bit of English. I also saw some commits for Russian, Spanish and Portuguese versions. I think it's definitely not the right approach to the problem of people/developers having a lack of English.

Seconded. I think these language based branches just split the community and encourage writing code in your own language. Have you ever tried to read source code with variables, comments, just everything in a foreign language? Its better than obfuscation. –  Dawnkeeper Jul 1 at 18:06
+1 as German native speaker, my lingua franca when developing software is English. Even colleagues that are quite bad in English write their code in English. Absolutely no need to have another language based branch of SO. –  eckes Jul 7 at 8:36
Perhaps we should create an Esperanto StackOverflow and abandon the English version. Everyone knows Esperanto, right? –  Ian D. Scott Jul 8 at 4:08
There is really nothing worse than I18N of code and comments. That's for sure. However I would highly doubt that localized branches of SO would encourage people on a grand scale to write more code in their own languages. I'd also doubt a major drawback on the userbase of the english SO would occur. Rather I'd fear that the localized community would stay too small to be vivid and helpful. –  Ghanima Sep 1 at 22:34

I am a native English speaker living in Germany, and I would say yes, there is value to a German language SO. I speak and understand German, but it's more of an effort for me than English. Likewise, for native German speakers, even if they have good English, it's still helpful to be able to discuss difficult technical problems in their native tongue.

Also, for me it would help me to improve my technical German.

I have long since abandoned searching for programming problems, IDE settings or whatever in German. There just aren't enough references. A German SO would not alleviate this problem and just increase the confusion (Just like the auto-translated Microsoft help pages do) –  Dawnkeeper Jul 1 at 18:14
Alright, so we create this site such that native English speakers can improve their German? This is a quite special case. I suspect it has the highest votes not because it is a good answer, but because it yields the value-based judgement that people who read this answer desire ("yes"). –  FooBar Jul 5 at 20:48
@Foobar - no. Being able to improve my German is just an afterthought (clue: it is only one line at the end of my answer). There are some concepts that it's just easier to understand in one's native language. An example might be a question and answer that explains conceptually, how to solve a problem. This is different from documentation, which I agree, is easier in one standard language. –  S List Jul 5 at 22:35
@Dawnkeeper we already have to understand things in two languages - discussions at work or help from colleagues are in German, standard documentation is in English. It would be helpful to extend the German language "help from colleagues" into an online format, i.e. SO. This need not affect the documentation - there is no need for auto-translated style documentation. –  S List Jul 5 at 22:39

Yes, English is widely known in Germany, yes, the languages have many similarities. But:

In Poland, in all big companies I was working, the javadocs were written in English. We were using English online documentation and other resources (including StackOverflow). The books that were on bookshelves were in English. We used programs in English options.

Here, in Germany, the situations look otherwise. The javadocs are written usually in German. The bookshelves are filled almost exclusively with German books (usually translations from English). The programs are all in German (frustrating, when I need to find some option). Many documentation and resources are translated into German, and I've noticed most people prefer to use German while googling. Many of them don't feel confident when searching for information in English, and they avoid asking questions on English-speaking sites.

Practice makes master and if you have so many resources in your native language, you don't practice your English too much. There are many experts, which would eagerly participate in German Q&A, but are English-shy.

Other important group questions are those about programs/libraries localized or made in German language. When I ask questions on SO, I try to translate the messages that are in German, but I've seen many questions with blocks of logs in German. If you are already looking for exception message written in German, in my opinion it would be better if you would be redirected on German site.

Do we have to support that? I attend a technical college in Austria, where they offer a form with lessons primarily in English. I get sick when I read code the German forms produce: getAnzahlDerFlaschen, new DieseKlasse() –  fNek Dec 2 '13 at 10:47
Agreed. Any developer needs to have basic English skills sooner or later. Honestly I'm shocked actual companies write in German, I only know that from colleges etc. I don't think this should be supported. –  Ingo Bürk Dec 7 '13 at 22:37
I am a german developer and me and most of my colleges write documentation in english only. Since I use computers I set my OS to english. The worst thing I ever had to read were translated internal error messages from Flex SDK into german. I just could not understand them anymore. Personally I do not need a germanized SO, but I understand some people might find it easier to express complicated stuff in their native language. –  angabriel Dec 20 '13 at 2:12

(note: although I would like to, I do not understand German.)

In the short term, yes, I think we need a stackoverflow for German, because otherwise we tip the scale of SO towards people comfortable in English, and thus we limit the power of the community.

But what if a German posts a great answer that English speakers can't understand?

In the long-term, when we create a stackoverflow in German and in Chinese, then each community will lack the knowledge provided by other communities... so we again limit the power of the community.

What stackexchange needs to figure out, then, is quality automatic translation that lets anyone post in any languages. But it will take more than translation. Answers in multiple languages on the same question. Automatic real-time matches of similar topics in different languages. Automatic translation of tags, if tags are not proper names. And then, when quality automatic localization works, one SO. Only then will we harness the power the entire global community can provide.

The argument is specious, IMO. It can't "reduce the power of the community" by convincing people to participate who wouldn't have otherwise participated. "what if a German posts a great answer that English speakers can't understand?": Then it is good for the German site of course, and it has no effect on the English S.O. There is no evidence to suggest there will be a mass exodus of bilingual German-English speakers from the main site. There is no all or nothing participation. The net effect is thus more quality content(for more people), not less like you seem to be implying. –  Tim Seguine May 2 at 18:55
@Tim Ok... what if I say "limits the power of the community?" I have implied that SO will become weaker, but I mean that SO, while getting stronger, does not become as strong as it could. My view is that SO would be at its strongest if there is only one SO... not necessarily English; just one SO. –  martin jakubik May 6 at 14:18
I still disagree. But don't take it personally. As far as I have been able to tell, a lot of people seem to have a similar opinion to you. –  Tim Seguine May 6 at 16:06

My experience has been that most Germans are reluctant or embarrassed to use English in the presence of native speakers. The quality of the English also varies dramatically. The ones who are less proficient are more likely to just stay quiet.

Germans prefer to read in German, and they prefer films to be dubbed into German. German language music is more popular than ever. This is slightly different than in other parts of Northern Europe.

I am not going to try to say that one language is better than another, but German has a knack for expressing highly technical language exactly and succinctly in a way that English just doesn't. I think that projects such as selfhtml show that there is a market for this sort of thing.

I agree with first 2 paragraphs, but I would dispute the 3rd. I'm not impressed by the quality of translated documentation I've came across, and the experiences of my workspace collegues with selfhtml aren't impressing too. But that's the argument for starting German SO - to provide something with better quality :) –  Donaudampfschifffreizeitfahrt Mar 3 at 10:54
@Łukasz웃Lツ Well I personally don't use selfhtml either, but I think its existence proves my point (and I constantly hear it, for better or worse, being recommended to novices). Translated documents are always crap, regardless of language. I have read many superb mathematics and computer-science papers written in German, and this is what I was referring to. –  Tim Seguine Mar 3 at 10:59
yes, I've used German wikipedia too, for math articles, when I was studying. Althoug my German was there much inferior to my English. Translated docs are usually crappy, but I observe my native-German collegues to love to read only them, they are reluctant to use English fora and Q&A too. –  Donaudampfschifffreizeitfahrt Mar 3 at 11:04
@Łukasz웃Lツ I have observed exactly the same. –  Tim Seguine Mar 3 at 11:10
My experience has been that most Germans are reluctant or embarrassed to use English in the presence of native speakers. So i'm not german enough :( –  Chris Mar 7 at 15:05
Well, giving them their own stack exchange will only make matters worse. Look at Sweden where movies are not dubbed - their English is way better. By actually moving onto the English side and actively using it you will improve your English - which is a highly valuable soft skill in life, especially for programmers. –  FooBar Jul 5 at 20:46
@FooBar I don't personally think that is Stack Exchange's job. Anyway the mentality seems to be ingrained in the culture (similar to Americans mostly being monolingual) and I am not so sure if the presence or absence of a localized SE site will have an effect on that one way or the other. In any case, one might have made the exact same argument against the Portuguese version, but that was created nonetheless. I don't see how this is any different. –  Tim Seguine Jul 7 at 16:21

No. tl;dr: Small benefit, high cost.

As a tool to learn language One of the answers said something along the lines of "and it helps me to improve my German". Actually, programming taught me a great deal about English language and international communications. Personally, I taught programming myself during high school ("Gymnasium") and jumped right into the English world at the very start.

Syntax is English

Moreover, since most languages are international and use English commands, a command of the English language is suggested anyways: How are you going to remember what functions such as implode() do, if you do not understand the word? Point taken, it takes more knowledge than just keywords to formulate questions and answers in English - but English is a mandatory language from the 5th grade on, and the trend is still improving for younger generations.

Redundancy and Scale

Many of the complex questions are already answered in English. There are great scale effects to a site like stack overflow, which are that you can both search for questions that many people have asked and also that your answers will potentially serve many others who have the same problem later on. Narrowing down on a specific language takes away these externalities.

You don't need excellent command of the English language anyways

As long as you can formulate questions and answers in basic English, you're fine. A lot of people actually edit questions in stack overflow, improve phrasing and similar. That way, you actually also learn something about English.

But what if I really don't understand something in English?

Due to the clear structure of stack exchange, it works great with translators such as google translate - which provides excellent translations between German and English.


The question boils down to the presumption many people have that the internet, although being global, should only be in English. German is the language which the highest amount of native speakers in Europe. So far there isn't any good Q&A similar to StackOverflow in German.

"There isn't any" is not a good indicator why there should be. Chinese is the language with the highest amount of native speakers world wide .... your point being? –  FooBar Jul 5 at 20:44
@FooBar, I personally know many Chinese who would actually benefit from a site like StackOverflow if it would be in their native language. For the specific German case, my co-worker for example is in the 50+ age group, of whom many cannot speak or write English fluently, so lets just give it a try, if no interest it (German SO) will be closed again, not? –  Sebastian Godelet Jul 5 at 21:06
You say "benefit", when you actually mean to say "they would use it". There is a sharp difference between getting what you want, and getting what you need. Sometimes getting what you want is not a bad thing, sometimes it gives you bad teeth. For example: having dubbed movies is a horrible thing: While you have to invest in order to understand English movies at the beginning, you benefit from it greatly later on. Getting what we want - instead of what we need - implied the horrible command of the English language that Germans have in comparison with many other western countries. –  FooBar Jul 5 at 21:24
I believe that the minimum English required to operate on stack overflow can be expected from any German programmer, also those in the 50+ age group. But anyhow, I admit this is a question of personal judgement and will not bring forward the discussion. –  FooBar Jul 5 at 21:25
Foobar, (glad you made it that simple ;) ) I really beg to differ concerning our alleged horrible command of the English language. Just looked up some recent studies that put Germany on rank 8, that's obviously worse than the scandinavian countries, still quite well for 20+ european countries. –  Ghanima Sep 1 at 22:18

As a native German with decent English language skills, I am (on the one hand) with FooBar and similar opinions. I almost think in English language with repsect to my job. I always search for english terms, read english blogs, english news, have english os installed, use every tool in english, ... and so on. Nevertheless, I did not contribute a single q or a to SO until today, because the english version is really frightening for me. If you don't phrase your answer as it is expected by the community you get downvoted, corrected and it sometimes feels like the veterans laughing at the newbies. Maybe that's subjective... Just imagine the other way round. You don't speak fluent German, you have a question and you ask it in a forum. Instead of people helping you with your problem, you get told that the question is not specific enough (maybe you were not able to phrase it that way due to your language deficits) or your question is not understable, ... Whatever the case, after your first attempt there is quite a hurdle to go for the next question. That's a reason why I only contributed to a german SO pendant (that is not very popular). I have read in this thread that if SO would have localized versions other than english, the SO community would lose power. That's definitely not the case. If people contribute to localized versions that would not have been contributing without their localized version, the global community wins. Since there is more than one language spoken on this earth, and I don't see that will converge to a single one in the next 100 years, I support the idea of a German SO branch. Though I support the idea that every engineer should have skills in technical english, I don't support the idea of excluding people from the community, even if the community is not the biggest and others that are integrated in a very big community don't see any use in it.

Ask yourself: If I would have no chance to participate in the biggest community available, would I like to at least participate in a smaller community?


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