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Since this will become the key point of both the private beta and the public beta it might be best to start the conversation now, namely, who is our target audience?

Are we going to be targeting higher level Japanese language and usage questions such as those on English Language and Usage which is more of a site for native speakers to ask questions about the more nuanced parts of English?

or

Are we going to be a more general site that targets students and the questions that they have regarding learning the language and how to use it in relation to where they currently are in their learning process?

  • This feels like another angle on the resources question. – Ali May 31 '11 at 20:22
  • @Ali - Kind of sort of, the resources question is a subset of the target audience question but defining the target audience is likely to answer a lot more questions than saying that X question type is allowed. – anonymous May 31 '11 at 20:25
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I might be alone with this, but I fear right now we are drifting toward a site that is of no real use to learners, only to people who are already linguists (and then the question is: Why isn't the site in Japanese to begin with, if the target audience is fluent anyway?), native, or at a very high level.

If learning and teaching Japanese is a target, then simpler (but generally more useful) questions should be allowed. Currently, some people heavily frown upon questions that ask for translation advice. But for anyone except linguists (and academia), translation is the bread and butter.

I'm all for trying to get people who learn to use the site, as long as the questions are not simple enough for a dictionary lookup (but with a broad userbase, such questions get downvoted really fast, see stackoverflow).

I have written an example for a question that I believe is currently problematic, but should not be: "Statistically speaking ... "

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    I personally agree with you, but many people care very much about quality and they are not wrong, so there is chance that such questions are downvoted and closed. – YOU Jun 20 '11 at 10:37
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    I would downvote something like "what is the Kanji for みる?" too, because you can look it up in a dictionary. But ask yourself this: If you cannot find it in a dictionary, whom should you ask? If not here, all learners are back to square one: Find a real teacher or native, and ignore that internet page which only pretends to be useful. – Kdansky Jun 20 '11 at 10:39
  • Yeah, you're right. I also noticed that most of question askers now are quite fluent actually. – YOU Jun 20 '11 at 10:44
  • Since I started the question I figured it would be best if I chimed in. While I tried to be active during the private beta but most of the questions are above my head by a fair degree and I'm likely a fair measure for a fairly new beginner in that I know the hiragana, katakana, and a limited number of kanji but I'm still on that uphill battle of memorization that is required to learn a language. Some of the questions have been useful for clarifying gramatical points but there is a high degree of kanji used that, even with rikaichan you spend more time looking up words than you do trying to... – anonymous Jun 20 '11 at 12:31
  • ... understand what the question an answer are. Thus, my general conclusion has been that while some of the information is useful (if I can understand what is said), the site as a whole is not really beginner friendly and thus, not of much use to myself as a learner beyond just lurking around the site and reading the occasional question that I can understand. I'm not sure if this is due to the current audience or if it is a by product of the format of the site, but it's really not conducive to trying to learn something from scratch and assumes you already have a fair idea what you are doing. – anonymous Jun 20 '11 at 12:35
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    @Kdansky: can you give a specific example of "a translation question" that has been frowned upon? Because, for all the general agreement that we should encourage questions that go a little beyond "please translate this for me", I haven't seen a single question of that order, get downvoted or closed. I am of course excluding any question that could be appropriately answered by a 3s lookup into a dictionary or 1st year textbook. I don't think anybody has made negative comments about your question and it's even been answered by many... :-) – Dave Jun 20 '11 at 12:46
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    Example for an overzealous close vote: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/1060/when-did-you-last – Kdansky Jun 20 '11 at 15:53
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    @Rob I'm in the same spot as you. I thought I was at an intermediate level, but there's not really anything for me to answer or ask on the site right now, though I've been able to learn a lot of random language trivia by reading every question. On the other hand, I also understand the desire (especially in the beta phase) to keep the expert linguists interested because they do have valuable insights (especially regarding etymology). We probably need to find a balance suitable for both. – Troyen Jun 20 '11 at 17:53
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    @Kdansky: fully agree that this was an overzealous close. I think it mostly had to do with beginning hiccups and everybody trying to stick to previous beta discussions to the letter. I am pretty sure if it was asked today, it would not have any problem. :-) – Dave Jun 21 '11 at 4:19
  • @Kdansky: I've had a tete a tete with some of the people you speak of. They're well meaning and based on more recent observation seem to be less peevish and more accepting (although with the exception of Dave, not so friendly). Something to be hopeful about, but to keep an eye on. – crunchyt Jul 6 '11 at 1:26
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Maybe it's my ignorance of SE beta protocol/requirements, but I fail to see why we really need to define a strict "target audience". I mean, I understand the need to have a clearly defined statement of purpose, rules for inclusion/exclusion of topics etc. That in itself directly affects the target audience and will prompt some people to participate more than others.

But the idea of defining the site as catering to one specific group or another, as if it was even possible to mould the existing community into something else, strikes me as a bit odd.

Many of your examples seem to revolve around question levels and whether we should be a "beginner" or an "expert" forum. Why in the world do we have to pick one and how would such types of questions be mutually exclusive? This is what tagging, clear titles and browsing is for: people can find the level they like to work with and stick to it. But as @Ali pointed out, "level" is quite a vague concept and in many cases, it is more about people's strengths and weaknesses, and how they complement each other: this is precisely the point of JLU (one might not know some obvious piece of grammar, but be able to weigh in on a fairly advanced daily-life expression, while a book-learner might give great tips on formal use of some forms, but need pointers on conversational skills etc. etc).

At the end of the day, this might be an issue if there was any actual pressure to keep one or the other out of JLU. But there just isn't. I have yet to see one single, well-formulated question of any level get downvoted or even ignored. Beginner questions that were closed, usually were because of how they were asked ("teach me all you know about...", rather than "what is the proper way to use X and Y"...), or because they failed very short of the minimum quality standard (straightforward dictionary look-up questions). As many have pointed out, there are a lot of great beginner questions and they've received a lot of great, thorough answers, and no criticism that I can see.

In conclusion: I think we all agree that even more topical questions, beginner or expert, would be great for the site. But getting more of these is a matter of getting a wider audience, not one of weaning our current one.

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    I've noticed multiple beginner questions that are poorly phrased, but I wonder if that's because they don't know how to properly ask about something they don't know about. – Troyen Jun 20 '11 at 17:58
  • @Troyen: indeed, that's what I was trying to convey. To be slightly pedantic about it: there is a systemic bias toward higher level questions, not because the questions are higher level, but because the people asking them as slightly more likely to have done their due diligence (read the FAQ, done a quick google search to ensure there is not 300 answers to their exact question already etc). This aside, I have seen beginner questions such as "difference between に and で" get a very good reception and great answers... And that's awesome. – Dave Jun 21 '11 at 4:22
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All students of Japanese (native speakers to beginners) will benefit from this site. Since the site is in English it will probably benefit people who speak English the most.

This is not mutually exclusive with being focused on the language itself rather than on learning resources. We've already got quite a few dynamite questions about the language itself so far from people who appear to be fairly new to the language and I'm really excited about what I've seen so far.

  • Indeed, but a common question of students is along the lines of "Why is X better word choice than Y?" And a fair number of the questions on the site are already beyond most beginners. – anonymous Jun 1 '11 at 11:43
  • @Ali - Quibbling, I'm not saying that there aren't beginner questions, I'm just saying that a fair number of questions on the site are beyond the level of most beginners. This could also be a good thing though as it means that the current group of people represent a wide range of abilities. – anonymous Jun 1 '11 at 12:29
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    That's my feeling too. I think the concept of beginner/intermediate/advanced is flawed anyway, there's just language you know and language you don't. I think beginners being exposed to language that is 'advanced' can only be good for them, they have a lot more to gain than someone with a few years under their belt. – Ali Jun 1 '11 at 12:36
  • @Ali - True and that is why I'm trying to read through some of the questions (even though they are very much over my head - currently studying for N4 but skipping the N5) but I do think we need some way to flag things in such a way that someone can quickly see what the level might be. – anonymous Jun 1 '11 at 12:39
  • I'm only about N3 level myself but that really really doesn't mean anything. It completely fails to take into account that I barely scraped through kanji and can barely read at all, but have spent hours in seedy hostess bars getting really good at speaking the language. No 'level' can really account for a given learners experiences, strengths and weaknesses. – Ali Jun 1 '11 at 12:42
  • @Ali - Well, it is a website so the level would apply more to how much you can read the language than anything else. To someone that just mastered hiragana, there isn't much point to an answer if you have look up every other word in the dictionary. It might be useful later on down the road but you end up missing out on the concepts you are trying to learn (i.e. grammar) in the noise of trying to understand the meaning of the kanji. – anonymous Jun 1 '11 at 12:45
  • That makes sense to an extent, but I'm not sure that knowing the reading of a kanji is that much of an issue with tools like rikaichan which show you the reading/meaning in place. Arguably a beginner wouldn't have access to that tool, so it would be nice to have a big sign somewhere saying "Don't worry about kanji, install rikaichan!" somewhere obvious. What's nice is that I'm pretty sure it will give you definitions of hiragana words if it can figure it out. – Ali Jun 1 '11 at 12:47
  • @Ali - I actually haven't heard of rikaichan, maybe that is something that should be added on to the FAQ thread (meta.japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/62/faqs-worth-adding) and then have a section of "tools for learning" mentioned in it. Could cover a lot of ground without having to use Q&As proper. Plus, I think we could set a message to show up for new users to refer them to that section of the FAQ. – anonymous Jun 1 '11 at 13:12
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You shouldn't be trying to narrow down your audience like this. Instead you should try to get as many posts as possible. Look at the most popular stackexchange site, stackoverflow. All things related to Japanese language should be fair game. The only time a question should be closed is if there is another stackexchange site that is better suited to answering that question. At stackoverflow they will move the question to the other site.

  • "We" @languagehacker "we", but i agree we need a broad scope. That being said, some boundaries are needed as well as a commonly accepted format to make the site have lasting value. SO for programmers also has standards suited to the subject matter. Not everything Japanese fits here, but a lot (most things) should, and in the form of a question (gotta love jeopardy). – crunchyt Jul 6 '11 at 1:27

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