Which languages use the same word for 'to learn' and 'to teach'?

Little children sometimes say ‘you have to learn me that’ instead of …to teach… A natural element of speech development, I take it. The same happens in Germany, ‘lehren’ loses out to ‘lernen’, unfortunately even with adults…

I’ve just read Fasulye’s advice to somebody who said he was learning Dutch. He used the sentence “Ik ben Nederlands aan het leren”.

I wonder whether there are many other languages that have the same word for to teach and to learn?

Interesting topic, Sanne! The German word “lehren” (= to teach) and the Dutch word “leren” (= to learn) are false friends. In Dutch “leren” means “to learn” and “onderwijzen” or “les geven” means “to teach”. So in the Dutch language there is a significant difference between the words for “to learn” and “to teach”.


Thank you, Fasulye! Now the question could really be: are there any more ‘false friends’ for Germans like that? I think Swedish may also do the same, ie ‘lera’ is to learn and ‘undervisa’ is to teach.

“onderwijzen” and “undervisa” are quite similar to “unterweisen” (less common, german word for “to teach”), though.

“Beibringen” seems to be more common than “unterweisen” or even “lehren”.

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I can present you another false friend between German and Dutch: the verb “bellen”. The German word “bellen” means “to bark” (ENG) and “blaffen” (NL). The Dutch word “bellen” means “klingeln, anrufen” (GER) and “to ring, to telephone” (ENG).


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This is getting interesting: in Plattdeutsch we also use “blaffen” for ‘barking’: de Köter het blaff’ un blaff’!

Edited. And now I have to go shopping. Und nun muss ich shoppen.

Norwegian: å lære = to teach / to learn.

To make it clearer, one may say “å lære bort/opp” (to teach) and “å lære seg” (to learn).

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Russian as well. учить . If the direct object is a language, it is learn. If the direct object is a person then it means to teach, as far as I can understand. Evgeny may have a different perspective on this.

Yes, you are right, Steve:
учить (что?) - to learn something
учить (кого?)- to teach smb, that’s why ‘a teacher’ is ‘учитель’.
But we have once more word- “учиться” (где?как?)- to learn, to study (where?how?)(for what?)
And we have also “изучать” - to study deeply and regularly

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The French verb “apprendre” can mean both “to teach” and “to learn”, depending on the context.

Swedish has a distinction, similar to Norwegian.
lära - learn (often it’s reflexive as well, e.g. Jag lär mig engelska. - I’m learning English.)
undervisa (perhaps more common: “lära ut” (don’t forget to stress UT))

In this old thread it took a while before we noticed the lack of distinction:

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Serbian uses the same word for that. “to teach” and “to learn” both mean: учити (učiti)

This is the word that is most often used, however the different word for “to teach” means: подучавати (podučavati), but it’s almost never used.

And Evgueny, “a teacher” in Serbian means учитељ (učitelj) and it’s pronounced almost the same as in Russian. :slight_smile:

Thank you all! And an extra thank you to Jeff for the link to the old thread, a very interesting confusion…

In Greek, μαθαίνω (matheno) can mean both “teach” and “learn”.

I just joined LingQ after stumbling onto some of Steve Kaufmann’s videos on YouTube. The LingQ approach looks great. Please add Greek!!


Die Liste der falschen Freunde zwischen Niederländisch und Deutsch ist wirklich unendlich lang (Schau hier: http://www.d-n-forum.eu/hp/page5.html ). Einige davon könnten so manchen in eine peinliche Lage bringen.

Hier einige Beispiele: Kippen = Hähnchen, huren = mieten, kikker = Frosch, koks = Köche, f… (ich traue mich nicht, das Wort auszuschreiben :)) = brennen, lodern, flitsen = blitzen, als = wenn, wie, bagger = Schlamm, bloot = blank, nackt (und nicht etwa: blöd ), blut = abgebrannt, pleite, deppen = tupfen, abtupfen, domina = Pastorin, doof = taub, droge = Witzbold, Spaßvogel; (das) Trockene; echt = Ehe, eisen = fordern, verlangen, enkel = Knöchel, kuchen = sich räuspern, morsen = kleckern, noodweer = Unwetter, penner = Schreiber, poef (ausgesprochen: puff) = Sitzkissen, popelen = zittern, beben, brennen, poppen = mit Nietbolzen befestigen, Puppen, pups = Welpen, rots = Felsen, samen = zusammen, tussen = zwischen u.v.m.

Edit: Sorry, I didn’t realize that I was writing in an English forum: I wrote, that the list of false friends between German and Dutch is really huge. Some of them could get you in an awkward situation.

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Yeah, now I can speak dutch.^^

De domina hat mit de koks über de hure geredet.


Double post, sorry.

@Paule89 For a minute I was worried, but then I read @il_melomane’s post. What a relief!

@glossa @mikebond (Michele) is our ‘add foreign languages wizard’. Have a word with him. You are right, LingQ is great.

Hahaha, “add foreign language wizard”!!!

All I can do is making people aware of this page: https://www.facebook.com/questions/10150249705278786/, and asking them to vote for Catalan and the other European languages (including Ancient and Modern Greek, sure)!

I think you could add the Polish uczyć się ‘to learn’ and 'uczyć ’ to teach if you can live with the ‘sie’ making ‘to learn’ reflexive.