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meaning of 'try to learn'

Discussion in 'English Only' started by wanabee, Oct 30, 2012.

  1. wanabee Senior Member

    Japanese
    Dear all,

    1. I was trying to learn the piano but quit halfway.
    2. I was learning the piano but quit halfway.

    I'm wondering if I can use sentence 1. in cases like I had already been in the process of learning the piano when I quit, for instance, already taking piano lessons 2 years.

    Any comments would be greatly appreciated.
     
  2. Tazzler Senior Member

    Maryland
    American English
    To me it's redundant and adds nothing. The only valid use I see it having is a humoristic one, where the speaker mocks his/her attempts: I tried to learn Japanese for a year but it was too hard so I quit.
     
  3. owlman5

    owlman5 Senior Member

    Colorado
    English-US
    I think that "trying" is a useful word in your sentence, Wanabee. When I read these sentences, I get the idea that you were far from mastering the piano when you decided to quit. Maybe you had learned how to finger some scales or how to play a few tunes when you quit. "Trying to learn" helps me understand that you made an attempt to learn how to play well.
     
  4. wanabee Senior Member

    Japanese
    Thank you very much, Tazzler and owlman!:)

    Sorry, I'm not sure I understand it right; What would be the difference between "I tried to learn Japanese for a year but it was too hard so I quit." and "I was (or had been) learning Japanese for a year but it was too hard so I quit"?
     
  5. rhitagawr

    rhitagawr Senior Member

    British English
    If you omit it was too hard so, I'd say that with tried to there's a hint that you gave up because Japanese was too difficult. Had been learning is more neutral in tone. Even if you include it was too hard so, tried arguably implies a greater of frustration because you found the language difficult. Or so it seems to me. As they stand, there's not much difference in practical meaning between the two sentences.
     
  6. wanabee Senior Member

    Japanese
    Thank you very much, rhitagawr!

    It appears that Tazzler, owlman and rhitagawr are virtually saying the same thing.
    Now I guess it's my turn to ruminate and digest it...

    Thank you again, teachers! :)
     
  7. e2efour Senior Member

    England (aged 73)
    UK English
    I find I was trying to learn rather strange. Note that in post #2 Tazzler use the past simple (I tried).
    Examples:
    I was trying to learn the piano, but the neighbours complained. (Said on a particular occasion. Use I tried if this happened several times.)
    I tried to learn the piano, but I soon got bored. (Said over a period)

    I had been trying to learn I find more acceptable, e.g. if you had spent some time doing it before you stopped.
     
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2012
  8. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    Italian
    Hullo, wana.

    "I tried to learn Japanese for a year but it was too hard so I quit" is perfect for the expression of both the good will to learn and the frustration for the difficulty of Nihongo.

    "I was (or had been) learning Japanese for a year but it was too hard so I quit" is not satisfactory due to the presence of the verb "learn", which has positive connotations (ie If you did learn (some) Japanese you can't contradict yourself by saying it was too difficult to learn).

    Consequently, I would amend the second sentence by substituting "studying" for "learning".

    Best
    GS
     
  9. wanabee Senior Member

    Japanese
    Thank you, e2efour, for giving very useful advice.
    I fully understand what you say. (in my left brain, though...)

    Thank you very much for your comment, Giorgio! That's very intriguing!
    However, my understanding of the word learning is that it is a process toward acquring skills, with both good and bad times during that process, like learning English.
    So learning and frustration, even agony, often co-exist.
    Therefore "I learned Japanese for a year but it was too hard so I quit." has no problem as an English sentence.

    And Georgio's suggestion, study the piano, makes me think of "to look at the piano carefully" or "to study pianology, like study biology." -- there's no such word as pianology, of course. :)

    I appreciate your suggestion all the same, Georgio!
     
  10. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    Italian
    I never mentioned "study the piano", actually, but I have nothing against it.
    I would also add that if learning is gaining knowledge of a subject or skill, that can happen through being taught (which implies studying) or by self-teaching (which implies studying); then there's experience, of course.
    In other words my impression is that studying comes first, then (hopefully) learning, and consequently knowing.
    Do you really not agree?

    GS :)
     
  11. wanabee Senior Member

    Japanese

    Thank you very much, Georgio!
    Especially interesting about your comment is the order of three mental stages we go throught until the state of knowing.

    If you don't mind, could you give me your opinion about the following question?

    I'm guessing we could also think like this, without conflicting with your explanations:
    If I say "The car is stopping", it suggests that the car has not completely stopped; it is in the process of stopping, i.e. after the brake has been applied but before a complete stop.
    The same explanation seems to apply to "The dog is dying."

    In a similar way, I'm wondering if we could see "He is learning Japanese." as he is somewhere in the course between the stages of studying and knowing, although this certainly is a vague sentence in that we can't tell his level of achievement just by looking at the sentence itself.

    I'm not sure if I've made myself understood clearly...but I would appreciate if you would take your time again.
    Thank you!
     

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