2 Types of Know

As I wrote in the last entry, some of my resolutions for this year are to meet people and improve language skills.

To put them in practice, last week I joined a language meet up group (Spanish/English learning group) for the first time. There were more than 30 people (at a small bar!) and the organizer told me that most of them are native speaker of English or Spanish (Viva minority!). And there was a guy from the U.S. who said something interesting:

“I don’t know how to differentiate 2 types of ‘to know’ in Spanish.”
Then Chilean people had a difficulty in explaining the difference of 2 words “Saber” y “Conocer”, which are both translated as “to know” in English. As a non-native speaker of those 2 languages, I thought this conversation was pretty interesting.

First of all, English and Spanish are coming from different origin: West Germanic and Latin respectively, though really deep down it has the same root called Indo-European family (see below), so there are some systematic differences (e.g., conjugation of verbs, subjunctives, etc.). But still, there are a lot of similarities between them, since English speaker can tell the meaning of many words without any Spanish skill and vice versa (e.g., oportunidad-opportunity, área-area, difícil-difficult, rápido-rapid, etc.)

Also, from my experience as a native Japanese speaker as well as a learner of foreign language, the more different the structure of a language you study, the more you have to make conscious effort and sometimes you can even explain better on the language than the native speakers like this case (the difference between “saber” and “conocer”). It’s because native speakers just know unconsciously that’s the way how the language works. At my work, Japanese embassy, sometimes Chilean colleagues who studied Japanese ask me questions which are hard to answer.

we live in a society where learning other language is more and more needed because it’s beneficial from economic and neurological perspective. But unfortunately, among up to 7,000 languages in the world, many languages are dying whereas only specific ones are used by a number of people as explained in this BBC website.

Oh, by the way(!), the difference between “Saber” and “Conocer” is explained well in this link, but in summary, it will be as follows:

■Conocer: Concrete (To be familiar with (or met) a Person or visited a Place)■

So when you say “I know him” or “I know this place”, you use “Conocer”

■Saber: Abstract (To know a fact or information, something with 5W1H or have the skills)■

In similar example, if you want to say “I don’t know what he his called” or “I know the address of this place”, you use “Saber”.

For me, learning other languages needs so much effort and motivation, but it is so valuable not only for having skills (Saber) but also for knowing people and culture (Conocer), both of which are related to my resolutions.

Let me finish with a quote of Nelson Mandela, which I really agree with:

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart
-Nelson Mandela-

Thank you for reading.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.