Discussing with Filmzy we are not really sure if questions that ask a translation from spanish are on-topic on the site.

All this because of this question: COLMO

This question is including a specific context in Spanish and a figure of speech widely used in Ecuador and Colombia. The thing is it might be elegible for EL&U as well.

So, should these kinds of questions be tolerated in SL&U?

4 Answers 4


Translation questions require expertise in three domains:

  • the source language;
  • the target language;
  • the art or science of translation.

This site is primarily about Spanish, so expertise in Spanish can be assumed. The site does not cater specifically to translators, so translations should be taken with a pinch of salt. This leaves the issue of the language that isn't Spanish.

From the looks of the site, Spanish.SE caters primarily to learners of Spanish rather than native speakers, and in any case requires fluency in English to participate (I can't find a single question in Spanish). So competence in English and some basic interest for English can be assumed.

Therefore, I think it is reasonable to allow translations between English and Spanish in both directions. Translations between some other language and Spanish should not be allowed as such; they can be asked in the form “How can I say ‘’ in idiomatic Spanish? In English, it roughly means ‘’.”

The currently existing language sites play on a different level:

  • English is about English and in English. Translation doesn't enter into it.
  • German caters to both native speakers and learners, and allow translations into German. I'm not familiar with the site; this seems to be the relevant meta question, and the ups and downs of translations into English don't seem to have been discussed.
  • Japanese caters primarily to non-natives who can speak English, but not as heavily so as Spanish.SE. Translation questions are allowed (in both directions, as far as I can tell).
  • French strives to make itself accessible to natives who do not speak English (which is, of course, difficult as long as the Stack Exchange user interface remains in English only). A majority of the questions are in French, whether they're asked by learners or natives. Translation questions are not really allowed as such. Translations into French are essentially allowed, in so far as they are asking how to best express an idea in French, but “explain to me in French the meaning of this English idiom I don't understand” would be off-topic. Conversely, translations from French are essentially not allowed, but “explain to me in English the meaning of this French idiom I don't understand” is fine.

Regarding translation questions in general, keep Robert Cartaino's advice in mind:

I would suggest that you do not provide rudimentary "Can you translate this?" services on this site. This is not a translation service; There are better tools for that job.

Translations will be a natural part of this site, but only as long at they they involve questions about the "finer points of the language."


Questions of "General Reference" should be closed. There are real people behind this site answering questions, and this site has to remain interesting to them — or they'll go elsewhere. Once the site devolves into "How do you say 'dog' in German?", you've lost your core audience.

  • I would like to say a couple of things about general reference. It was discussed on one of Jeff and Joel's podcasts, number 58 back in mid 2009. Jeff more recently made a blog post about it in February where he makes the point that he, Jeff, is more in favour of "general reference" as a close reason than Joel is, so at least a few months ago it was still not universally embraced at the top level of Stack Exchange. Commented Nov 27, 2011 at 5:43
  • The second point I want to make is that a question should actually be checked in general references to get closed as "general reference". If it's an apparent translation question but it's a rare or unusual word that isn't actually in dictionaries etc, then it's not "general reference" at all. Commented Nov 27, 2011 at 5:46

This is my opinion about the subject:

Some questions may not belong to this site if they are about translating from spanish to language if they are simple translations.

But since some questions have a specific context, such as figures of speech and in this case a regionalism they may be eligible here since they tackle a specific subject about the spanish language that would be hard to explain to a english speaking person. Since this site has bilingual experts or native speakers the question has more chances of being answered here than in another site that doesn't necessarily possess those kinds of people.

I personally think it really depends on the question, and that the validity for the question should be evaluated based on the skill required to answer it. If you need extensive spanish knowledge, then the question should remain here. If not, then it can be transferred to the corresponding language site.

Note: I think that for other languages than english the question should be transferred, since most of the people here speak english as second or native language.

  • If there is a question about a word that is attempting to be translated to (or from) a language other than English, there's not really going to be any other site for it other than here. If we don't accept them here, we can't transfer them--we will have to close them as off-topic or accept them. Other than that, I agree with all that you're saying.
    – Richard
    Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 19:23

I agree with Flimzy. But let me analyse the question from a different perspective: The point is not about the quality itself of the question, since this is totally independent of being "off topic".

I'll explain better: A question can be a great question even being off topic.

Off topic and quality are not two dependent features. With this, I'm not saying that your question is bad or that it should be down-voted. Not at all, I'm just saying that it doesn't fit here.

If we allow a question "Spanish to English", then we should allow any similar question to any language, and, theoretically, on any site. I could ask on EL&U to translate a figure of speech from "English to Italian", but that would be certainly off topic.

On the contrary asking "X Language to Spanish" is totally different. You talk about "having knowledge in both languages" and it would make sense (it does), but on EL&U there are many native speakers, not just English, they even asked questions for languages like Russian, and Spanish is a much more spread language than Russian.

Edit: Check the Meta discussion about this issue on the French SE site.

  • 1
    I disagree. I doubt we would accept questions like English to Russian in the EL&U page. Being the Spanish site in English and Spanish I think it is reasonable to ask from spanish to english. English being some sort of privileged language since all stackexchange sites have an important english component. It's not the same to ask here Spanish to English than Spanish to Urdu. >To English is more reasonable. That is why I think we should ask questions from Spanish to English here. And if it is Russian then in the RL&U (When it is made) page Russian to English and so forth to other languages.
    – Jose Luis
    Commented Nov 24, 2011 at 10:46
  • They won't accept any question like that, not only Russian. Being English the language for the SE sites is not a good reason to allow such questions. I think they will just "disturb" the Scope-narrowing process.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Nov 24, 2011 at 10:48
  • Exactly, they won't accept a question like that in EL&U. Then it should be asked in RL&U. And since this case is in Spanish it should be asked here since it won't be accepted in EL&U.
    – Jose Luis
    Commented Nov 24, 2011 at 10:49
  • Well, I think it would be accepted. Anyway, SE sites work for voting, sometimes... Since everyone seems to agree with you, we might allow them, but as you said, taking each case singularly. (You said it, right? :D )
    – Alenanno
    Commented Nov 24, 2011 at 10:53
  • +1 I think you've just said exactly what I meant... perhaps in better articulated terms.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Nov 24, 2011 at 20:18
  • Your stance is the one I had on French.SE. But French.SE is different in that its target audience is speakers of French. Spanish.SE's primary audience knows English, so allowing translations in both directions seems reasonable. Commented Nov 24, 2011 at 22:02

My take is that questions about translating things to Spanish belong here, and questions about translating from Spanish to another language belong on the other language's site (if one exists).

My reasons:

  1. A question about translating from Spanish to English really is about English Usage (How do I use English to express this idea?)
  2. EL&U already has many questions about translating various foreign phrases to English, so I think it's clear such a question (perhaps with a little editing to be understood by an English speaker) would be accepted there.

In cases where the target language does not have an SE site, then perhaps it would be appropriate to ask the question here, but I doubt we'd come up with many answers.

  • 1
    Hmm, but to translate a phrase well, you need to have a good understanding of both languages. EL&U is not likely to have "experts" in that category, Spanish.SE is.
    – jrdioko
    Commented Nov 24, 2011 at 7:56
  • 1
    @jrdioko: A fair point. However, this doesn't seem to deter EL&U. :) However, note that the EL&U questions of this nature do explain the term that's needing to be translated. So it's a bit like saying "Is there a term to describe XYZ concept in English?" Maybe that's not strictly translation.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Nov 24, 2011 at 7:58
  • 1
    Translations are generally off-topic for EL&U
    – Richard
    Commented Nov 28, 2011 at 14:50
  • @Richard: I suspect that same question would have been off-topic here, as straight "translation" questions are off-topic here. There are many more questions about translations of idiomatic phrases on EL&U that were not closed.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Nov 28, 2011 at 18:51

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .