"Learning" and "Teaching" in other languages

“An interesting light is cast on the Indian attitude to education by the fact that in all fourteen languages of India there is no root word corresponding to English ‘teach.’ We can learn, we can help others to learn, but we cannot ‘teach.’ The use of two distinct words, ‘teach’ and ‘learn,’ suggests that these two processes may be thought of as independent of one another. But that is merely the professional vanity of the ‘teacher,’ and we shall not understand the nature of education unless we rid ourselves of that vanity.”

- Vinoba Bhave, an educational philosopher born in the Indian state of Maharashtra in 1895, identified by Ghandi as his spiritual successor

(quote above lifted from an online course on unschooling and is in that context at Lesson 2: Unschooling Philosophy— Unschooling Definitions)

As some of my articles are being translated (now into Japanese, French and Italian) I see how much of my writing and thinking is about language itself, and so some of these ideas won't translate. But sometimes, that fact is very good. Some of our confusion about teaching and students and study and learning, in English, has to do with the words we use, and if the problems don't exist in other languages, that's wonderful for them.

In Romance language (Italian, French, Spanish and so on) our "teacher" translates to something along the lines of "maestro," a word we have too in regards to music direction. And we have the English cognate "master" which is more currently left in "master of arts" and other college-degree titles. Once that meant a person was qualified to teach at the university level. That meaning is gone in the U.S., pretty much.

Considering the word family from which "maestro" comes (and not knowing all its connotations in other languages), the English verb "to master" means to learn. It means to become accomplished in the doing of something. Whether mastering horseback riding or blacksmithing or knowing and controlling one's own emotions, it's not someone else does to you or for you.

So for any translators or bilinguals reading here, have sympathy for English speakers who can't get to natural learning without disentangling all the graspy words and ideas about teaching and education and their implications that learning is passive and teaching must be done to a person.

Sandra Dodd

From a discussion with Jeanine Barbé, of the French site Chroniques De Louves (not preserved). Green words are mine/Sandra's.

English has an old word people don't use much anymore which is also used of a person learning on his own. "Glean."

If I read a book and glean something from it, it means I myself took something, a little, that wasn't entirely intended for me to get. Unfortunately it also means "very little." But I was thinking maybe French has a similar word of some sort.

YES ! Glâner! And it's not an old word!! I often use it. Many people use it ie I've picked a bit of Spanish with my Peruvian roommate = J'ai glâné quelques mots d'espagnol avec ma colocataire péruvienne?. Yeah the meaning is getting little pieces from part and part information, inspiration in little amounts and then making the connections... GLÂNER is perfect! And it puts the learner in the position of somebody putting the pieces of the jigsaw together bit by bit.



The French translation of "What Teaching Can Never Be" was changed from Ce que « Enseigner » ne peut pas Etre to "Ce que Apprendre ne peut pas Etre"

A translation into French, of the exchange between me and Jeanine (translated by Catherine) is at French Links and Translation Notes

More on "teach" and "learn" in English: SandraDodd.com/teaching/

Other problematical terms