Languages to Use in Discussions in non-English Speaking Regions?

I sometimes end up wanting to comment in discussions where English is not the dominant language, most frequently Mexico or the French-speaking part of Canada, occasionally elsewhere in the world. In these areas, nearly all discussions on the site will be in other languages. I can usually read and write Spanish enough to communicate but my communication in French relies heavily on Google Translate, and there are a lot of languages where I don’t even feel confident posting anything at all in the language, even with Google Translate.

Most of these discussions center around ID, either me wanting to comment that I think something may be mis-ID’ed, or to ask for clarification on how people are distinguishing certain species.

I understand that there are a lot of places where English becomes the de-facto common tongue, especially in scientific circles, but I also don’t want to butt into an area, using English where English is not the native language and may not even be spoken by the people involved. In some areas, there can even be a bit of hard feelings or hostility towards people using English, and I want to be sensitive to this as well.

Are there any norms or guidelines, or just recommendations, of how to handle stuff like this?

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You can see a list of curators or in some cases users fluent in certain languages here who can help if needed :

If you are comfortable communicating in a particular language, I’d encourage to add, or request your name be added to the list.

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There was this thread discussing how to deal with that:


Thanks much, lots of great discussion in that thread.

Thanks! I’ll have to think about that, I’m pretty comfortable in Spanish and German, especially when talking about plants in that I know at least a bit of plant names and terminology in both languages. I might want to get more comfortable though before adding myself to a list.

I don’t think using online translators is an appropriate way to go unless you know something about that language, you can’t see how good translation is. As it’s an international platform everyone has the right to speak their language, English is not worse than any other.


Better to use a language where you are confident of saying what you want to - and let them translate. And vice versa - I am happy to use an online translator for your language when I don’t know it.


I understand most of the contributions in English quite well. But to be really sure, I have to translate the English, Spanish, Italian and Russian posts with an online translator. When replying to visitors with these languages, I am forced to translate my German contributions into English. Since I do not understand the other mentioned languages very well or not at all, I always have all my answers translated only in English. I then have translated the received English text back to German. So I can see whether my statements are still true. This is a bit cumbersome and often keeps me from writing a comment. Of course, it would be much easier if I could write in my mother tongue. But I will probably continue to try to write in English. However, I am glad that the English-speaking members would also be willing to have a German comment translated with online translators.

This English text has now been written in the way I have just described.


Thanks to the EU, online translation has a huge resource of back to back translation to use, for those languages.

Move away from the EU to a language like Afrikaans and the machine translation wanders far away from either meaning or meaningful.


And yet Afrikaans is considered to be a language of European origin, a direct descendant of Dutch.

Back when Online translators were new, I tried to translate “wipe up the counter tops” into Spanish. When I translated it back into english, the result was “highly polish the accountants”. Tickled me no end! Even to this day, it makes me chuckle.


Descended from Dutch, with some Malay, and it is a new language in its own right.

Afrikaans is supposed to be descended from Dutch, but I have never seen the connection (and really struggle to understand Nederlanders speaking Nederlands or Afrikaans). Then I discovered Flemish, and can understand it perfectly because it is basically Afrikaans :-) The double negative in Afrikaans comes from French, and is not used in any of the Dutch dialects. As Diana says, there is also Malay, as well as German, Khoi-San and English influences on syntax, pronunciation and vocabulary.


Dutch reads more easily than it sounds. Listening to conversation, I am lost. But I read one Dutch garden blog (sometimes have to click translate for a word I miss)


Kinda like French. I can’t understand spoken French at all, but when I read it, my knowledge of Spanish and Portuguese lets me get a lot of it.


I still find it weird, that altho English is spoken across the world (I have a South African accent and a slightly different vocabulary) we don’t have dialects for English. You would think the geographical barriers would generate dialects.

In Switzerland you cross a municipal boundary and they speak quite differently - kindly and carefully changing to High German for me, unless I can convince them I understand it altho I don’t speak it.

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English, I think, has dialects ( perhaps they are just heavy accents and idiom). But, they are largely used among cohorts, more than for general communication I think. I suspect such distinctive language has faded greatly since the invention of radio, TV, etc. Although, there are still significant ethnic variations. Hawaii has a distinct dialect some people use. It’s lovely, but you have to listen both carefully and loosely to get the meaning.

Sometimes, not just pronounciation, but grammar was different:
“Trowe mi ou da windoe a kess” = Throw me out the window a kiss. (Throw me a kiss out of the window). This was, (supposedly) Pennsylvania Dutch.

I used to spend a lot of time with Scottish expats in California and some of them could be a bit unintelligible, if they were not making an effort. For that matter, my mom told me her Scottish grandfather’s English was nearly unintelligible. Later, I was told Scottish towns and villages could have very different speech patterns from each other and, especially, the cities.

When I was much younger, I would sometimes travel to an American locale where I could not understand the local spoken English very well (e.g., parts of New York City*).

I enjoy reading the BBC Pidgen edition for the different world perspective it provides. It is a warmer, more human view of the news to me. As an English speaker I can understand most of it (especially with more practice).

*“Ah jue ae dein!” (NYC subway: in 1970, a kiosk employee demanded this of me several times before some one translated for me). Does anyone know what that said?


Britain had / has dialects. And languages like Cornish.

I’m from Lancaster County, PA, and people out in the rural areas do use this word order sometimes, even when speaking English. They also use a variety of other German-influenced constructions, like saying “Let’s go to Philly once.” (“once” not meaning “one time” but rather “now”, it’s sort of like a literal translation of the German “mal”)


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