I learned X but I didn't learn/master it

Discussion in 'English Only' started by wolfbm1, Feb 6, 2013.

  1. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    Hello.

    I'm not sure if the following sentence is idiomatic:

    1. When I was a child I learned how to swim but I didn't learn it.

    Maybe this one is better:

    2. When I was a child I learned how to swim but I didn't master it.

    I want to say that I was not able to swim. In my my mother tongue I can use the perfective form of "learn" to express my failure to learn swimming.
     
  2. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    I'd recommend replacing learned with studied or attempted. The verb learned doesn't necessarily imply that you mastered it, but it does imply that you acquired some skill in the task, so you can't say "I learned but didn't learn."
     
  3. -mack-

    -mack- Senior Member

    Los Angeles
    American English
    If you were not able to swim after trying, you can't say learned. Learned implies at least some success.

    "When I was a child, I learned how to swim, but I didn't master it." = I can swim, but I'm not very good at it.
    "When I was a child, I tried to learn to swim, but I couldn't." = I had lessons, but I was unsuccessful, and I still cannot swim.

    If you were unsuccessful, you need to say that you attempted to learn or tried to learn.
     
  4. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    Thank you, mack. That is exactly what I wanted to say.
     
  5. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    Thank you, Just Kate. Should the sentences look like this:
    I attempted to swim but I didn't learn it.
    OR
    I studied swimming but I didn't learn it.
     
  6. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Those are OK (although on second thought, I am not sure my suggestion of "studied" works very well with swimming - sorry :) ). Mack's are better, though.
     
  7. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    Thank you, Kate. Maybe I could use "study" if I wanted to learn the theoretical part of swimming.
     
  8. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    I don't think anyone ever studies swimming theoretically, certainly not as a child.

    I think we'd say: When I was a child, I took swimming lessons, but I never learned to swim.
     
  9. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    Thank you , Parla. I like the part "I never learned to swim" because it states that I didn't succeed and in a way renders the perfective aspect of that action.

    I quite like I took swimming lessons. but not entirely. I would like to convey the sense that I submitted myself to the process of learning and the process was never completed. I would like to convey the imperfective aspect but I am not sure if it is possible.
    What if I used the Past Continuous. So:
    When I was a child, I was learning how to swim but I never succeeded. :confused:
     
  10. jarabina Senior Member

    English - Scotland
    I think the thing to remember is that while tense is important, verbs themselves often also express different degrees of completedness. In English, the verb 'learn' conveys the idea of completedness within it. It isn't really used to express the idea of the actual studying but the end result. This is why we often prefer verbs such as study, look at, revise to talk about the process. E.g. Last night I studied/went over/ the vocabulary. If a student says to me 'I learnt my vocabulary'. Then they are telling me that they now know it perfectly and not that they spent the evening looking at it. So, basically semantically, the verb 'learn' is not 'imperfective'.

    In your example, I would just say. I started learning to swim, but I never really got the hang of it.
     
  11. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    Thank you, jarabina, for your interesting remarks and the new sentence. It is pretty close to what I wanted to say.
    If I understood you right, I could also say:
    Years ago, I studied Chinese but I didn't learn it.

    Edit: So I don't really need the Past Continuous to express the idea that an action was not completed. So maybe it is wrong to use it the way I did it in post #9.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2013
  12. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    You would not hear, "Years ago, I studied X but I didn't learn it." because 'it' = 'the entire X/ it all' and nobody would expect anyone else to learn 'all' of something.

    If you studied X, then you must have learned something, even if what you learned was very little.

    You would hear, "Years ago, I studied X but I didn't really learn much/any [of it]."

    However, with swimming, this is an absolute skill that lasts with you your entire life, you can either swim or not,
    like riding a bicycle, there is no halfway, but once you can, you always can.

    Therefore, When I was a child I learned how to swim cannot be followed by but I didn't learn it.You either learned to swim or you did not learn to swim.

    You need to say,

    When I was a child I had swimming lessons
    but I never managed to learn to swim.

    When I was a child I had lessons in Mandarin but I never managed to understand/grasp it/learn to speak, read or write it.


     
  13. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    Yes, you are quite right. I did learn something, e.g. Ni hao a~ = Hello, and XieXie = Thank you and a couple of other things. That's why I couldn't demand my money back from my Mandarin teacher. :D I quit when I was not able to understand the difference between the rising, falling and neutral intonation.
    Anyway, I'm glad to learn that my sentence wasn't entirely wrong. Thank you for correcting it.

    Thank you for the above remarks and the rewritten sentences. :)
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2013
  14. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    I wonder if "learned" and "learnt" in the following examples have the completed sense. Could the words have a sense which is not completed?
    Source: http://www.athens.edu/vinsobm/lesson_40.htm
    OR
    Source: http://lposteraro.blogspot.com/2006_10_01_archive.html
    OR
    Source: Polish forum

    Could the teacher or student have used the word "studied"? I think Paperclip could.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2013
  15. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    You are asking if to learn = to study; the answer is no.

    to study is to read or see, over time, the facts and/or actions of a certain subject.
    to learn is to retain knowledge in the mind such that the knowledge might later be repeated or utilised.

    It is possible to study and not learn; however, usually, you will, at least, learn a little.

    If you say that you have learned/learnt a subject, you are saying that you have acquired a satisfactory level of knowledge in that subject. You need to qualify the verb to learn if you wish to be specific.

    I was taught Mandarin
    I studied Mandarin in the library and at home
    I learned only a little Mandarin

    So, substituting learned/learnt for studied is possible, but is says nothing of how much knowledge you have retained and learned/learnt does.
     
  16. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    Thank you, Paul, for your interesting explanation. I'm getting closer and closer to understanding the matter.
    I'm sorry for being persistent but I found an interesting passage:
    "I agree that learning history in order makes sense…It’s a duh moment for me too. Why did we learn history all crazy and out-of-order. I never learned my history…and I wish now that I had a clue about what went on. Maybe I need to get these books and try to figure it out…hmmmm." Source (Comment 42)

    If "we learned history" means "we acquired a satisfactory level of knowledge in that subject" then
    "
    Why did we learn history all crazy and out-of-order."
    should mean

    Why did we acquire a satisfactory level of knowledge in that subject all crazy and out-of-order.

    The above sentence does not make much sense. It can only make sense if to learn = to study, which is imperfective.

    I found the passage on Google while I was trying to find a context for "Why did we learn history." That was the only example. But I found a lot of examples for "Why do we learn history." But verbs can never be perfective in present tenses.
    I think that if I drop the phrase "satisfactory level" then the question in the present simple will make sense:
    "Why do we acquire knowledge in history."


     
  17. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    What you've found, Wolfbm1, is an exception. Here, learn is indeed being used to mean "study." People do this sometimes, but it doesn't usually work very well, and I'd say it doesn't work very well here, either. "Why did we study" or "Why were we taught" would work much better here.
     
  18. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    I forgot to add: The use of learn sounds childlike here, and not in a good way. It sounds like the sort of thing a little kid would say, and I don't think this is a little kid who's talking.
     
  19. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    Thank you, Kate. I'm still thinking about sentence from post #14:
    It can only be understood that "we learnt" = "we acquired a satisfactory level of knowledge". I wonder how I can make it sound imperfective. Would it be:

    1. "Today we have tried to learn how to use the new software, then we have tried to learn what to do in emergency cases and at the end we have tried to learn about Polish law."
    What do you think?
     
  20. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    Yes, that works

    "Today we have tried to learn how to use the new software,
    "Today we ​[have] had a go at learning how to use the new software,
    "Today we [have] attempted to learn how to use the new software,
     
  21. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    Thanks a lot, Paul. :)
     

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