I came across a few questions where the asker understands the meaning of a Chinese idiom perfectly, but requested for a similar English idiom instead of just seeking for the translation. Example this question. As far as I know, English language and Chinese language work differently. Idioms are unique to a language. Should such questions be allowed?


My main concern is whether a proliferation of such questions is healthy to the growth of this site since it is a Chinese Language site, not an English Language site. Idioms require a higher language proficiency, and people who ask such questions may have an unrealistic expectation of what can or cannot be answered. This may leave behind many questions with unaccepted answers and also generate a steady stream of low quality answers by people who thought it as a simple translation problem.

3 Answers 3


The best way to deal with that, in my opinion, would be to provide the best Chinese/English idiom that resembles the meaning. If one that has a similar form too exists, then even better. But we're translating the meaning being conveyed. I'd personally aim to that since the literal meaning can simply looked up in dictionaries. The meaning is harder to research.

My answer: After some thought, this is my take on this. This site already addressed this issue. In our FAQ we decided that any translation from Chinese into any other language, would be better asked on that Target language site.

Any translation into Chinese might be asked here at the condition of providing evident research effort and also extensively explaining the original expression or sentence.

  • What you said makes sense but it's tactical. Can you elaborate on principle wise are they encouraged, discouraged or disallowed?
    – NS.X.
    Jul 22, 2013 at 8:57
  • Err.. perhaps I should rephrase it as idiom instead. OP requesting for an English idiom instead of just seeking a translation of the Chinese idiom.
    – 杨以轩
    Jul 22, 2013 at 10:43
  • @NS.X. Translations into English? It's not up to "just me" to decide, but you can also check what a part of the community thinks here. You can also express your own position of course. I'm not against translations into English even if I am not sure they would work as perfectly as on the English site, for example. :)
    – Alenanno
    Jul 22, 2013 at 12:05
  • @QuestionOverflow Oh I'll add that to the answer.
    – Alenanno
    Jul 22, 2013 at 12:14
  • @QuestionOverflow I added a more definite answer. :)
    – Alenanno
    Jul 23, 2013 at 9:58
  • Thanks for answering, I will keep this discussion open to get more views :)
    – 杨以轩
    Jul 24, 2013 at 4:37
  • The translation tag wiki definition reads "Questions on specific points regarding translating chinese to another language" so I always took this to mean these types were allowed, but I agree the asker should evidence effort.
    – tao
    Jul 27, 2013 at 9:22
  • @tao We should probably change that. :D Thanks for letting me (us) know, I didn't know it.
    – Alenanno
    Jul 27, 2013 at 9:27

I don't think these questions should be allowed, for two reasons:

  1. Off-topic. Imagine I ask for translation of an English idiom which I understand perfectly, into Spanish, on ELL or EL&U, it will get -10 votes in 5 minutes and deletion in another 5. It's simply not in the interest of the site and not helping future visitors.

  2. Expertise. The participants of this website is consisted of people who provide or seek help in understanding and learning Chinese, not many of which are native English speakers.

It may appear 'translation into English' requests on a non-English Q/A site are far more acceptable than the opposite, possibly due to English is the universal language which is used to ask and answer questions.

However, I think there is a serious confusion of concepts. The 'universal' English we use to ask and answer questions is 'Apprentice English'. The English proficiency needed to provide a good translation is 'Expert English'. All SE sites, including CL&U, require its visitors to have Apprentice English skill in order to read and post, but to answer these 'translate into English' requests, Expert English is required, which is in-scope and guaranteed only on ELL and EL&U sites.

  • Regarding the first point, does it happen if you ask for a translation of a Spanish idiom to an English idiom on Spanish L&U?
    – 杨以轩
    Jul 23, 2013 at 2:28
  • @QuestionOverflow I don't know, but regardless of the actual rules of these sites, I think it's logically off-topic.
    – NS.X.
    Jul 23, 2013 at 4:21
  • @NS.X. I added a more definite answer to the question, if you want to check (it agrees with yours).
    – Alenanno
    Jul 23, 2013 at 9:58
  • Thanks for answering, I will keep this discussion open to get more views :)
    – 杨以轩
    Jul 24, 2013 at 4:37
  • @NS.X. - Based on everything I know and have seen, the best person to do this is someone who is actually an expert in both English and Chinese. Thinking about your last paragraph, you are more likely to get someone with a higher level of combined Chinese and English skill on this site than either of the other sites. I don't see why you readily write-off the background English speakers on this site as having an insufficient level to answer these questions.
    – going
    Jul 24, 2013 at 6:05
  • @NS.X. - For the example provided, the question is just a poor question. The person actually asked the same question on ELL and got a similar bland answer. Why is the question 'poor'? Because the idiom itself is not very challenging, it's actually quite literal in what it is saying. It is only special because of the way it is stated in the source language. See for example "好好学习天天向上". It's not the translation that sux, it's the false idea that this can be moved into another language and still maintain the flow. It doesn't require an expert, just an acceptance.
    – going
    Jul 24, 2013 at 6:14
  • @xiaohouzi79 I don't think Chinese proficiency is required to answer such questions, as long as the OP can clearly describe the properties of the phrase in English. I am not saying nobody on this site has sufficient level of English to answer such question, but it is irrelevant - we also have people good at Japanese on this site, are translating-into-Japanese questions allowed, then?
    – NS.X.
    Jul 24, 2013 at 8:05
  • @NS.X. - I see your point clearly. The only thing I would say further is that I asked twice on meta if CH to EN translations should be allowed and both times nobody said no. So from that angle it is still on topic.
    – going
    Jul 24, 2013 at 10:10
  • @xiaohouzi79, I saw your question, but I felt it is just a repetition of an older question. Maybe what we need is to get a few more real examples to scope the logic for closing certain translation type questions. And there is also a need to get more people participate on meta, which has been very quiet for a long time.
    – 杨以轩
    Jul 24, 2013 at 15:04

Your question actually has a few different points, so here is what I think...

Point 1: We don't want to be answering the same question over and over again

The problem with this question is that the title doesn't really reflect the question. The question really isn't 'can I get a better translation for this' the question is actually 'is it possible to get better translations for idioms once they are translated from the Chinese'.

If it is just option 1, then this person needs to show more research effort and the question should be closed.

If it is option 2, then it is answered by user @fivecode, everyone here should now go and up vote his answer and then lets use this as an example next time someone asks for "a better translation" when one doesn't exist.

I refuse to believe that my Chinese/English skills are not good enough to answer this. Actually, everyone who has answered that question has provided the same answer and it is good enough. Don't look for magic when there isn't any. The magic is in the way it was created in the source language. "好好学习天天向上" If you study hard, you will get ahead. Want a better translation with some magic in it? You won't find one, even with a level 70 English Linguist Wizard Professor.

This person did ask the same question on the ELL site and got a similar answer, just with some big words thrown in.

Point 2: Idioms are unique to a language. Should such questions be allowed?

Yes, they should be allowed. We shouldn't shy away from anything that is on topic. We want people to approach us with idioms. But, they should be provided to us in the same way as any question on this site. They need to be worthwhile to answer and they need to show some effort.

The example question is weak and weak questions provide week answers and get low votes.

There are two reasons the example question is weak. 1) "读书好 好读书 读好书" is easy to translate, but the translation is boring. 2) People are not sure what this person really wants when everyone can clearly see what it says.

Point 3: Should we allow questions requesting English as the answer?

This has been asked by myself twice on our meta site and both times the answers have been Yes and with several upvotes.

We should have a better understanding of what the "magic" is inside the Chinese text, better than any English site. I personally received a High Distinction (above 90%) when I completed my 'The Chinese Classic Novel' class in university which required me to provide accurate translation of passages of text from the 四大名著. I have seen plenty of average (read crap) translations provided by professional translators and even lived with one for 2 years, I am willing to throw down the gauntlet to anyone with only skill in English to provide a better translation for these types of questions.

So how do we deal with this type of question and prevent a long tail of crap?

I personally have a very soft approach to moderation, because the community as a whole should be the moderators. Only one person has down-voted this question and nobody has voted to close.

However, we can make a stand. We can comment to the asker, to get them to show some effort and then either close it because it is too easy to answer and not a wortwhile question or we could upvote @fivecode's answer and then close all future questions of this type ("where is the magic in this idiom when there is none" type questions) with a reference pointing back to this question.

Lastly, we could just ignore it by not upvoting the question or the answers and leaving it as part of the long tail which is what is happening now.

We do have the tools to make the place better, but YES this type of question is on topic and YES we do have the skills to answer well thought, well researched, good quality questions which are similar.

  • Thanks for spending time to answer my question. 1) I think a few of us did vote to close the question but it didn't get enough traction. I am not able to close it again since I have already voted once. Fivecode's answer wasn't 100% correct though I agree with what he commented in his answer. If it is option 2, I think the question should be posted on ELL instead and migrate or close as well because it has already passed the Chinese to English translation stage and is more towards improving a raw English form to a refined English form.
    – 杨以轩
    Jul 24, 2013 at 14:48
  • 2) I think my point here is not so much against a question on Chinese idioms but the OP's request to find a similar one in English, which may or may not exist at all. Like what you wrote, "don't look for magic when there isn't any".
    – 杨以轩
    Jul 24, 2013 at 14:53
  • 3) I share the same view. This is not what I am asking here. I think the community accepts answers in English and there is bound to be some translations involved when explanation is in English.
    – 杨以轩
    Jul 24, 2013 at 14:57
  • @QuestionOverflow - Thanks for your feedback and for asking a tough question. Good to see many interested people giving their input. I am leaning towards deleting this question because I think it falls in this category "raw English form to a refined English form" and has already been asked on ELL.
    – going
    Jul 24, 2013 at 23:57

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