Say when I was young, my mother asked me to learn swimming in a swimming class. Can I say "I learned swimming" here?

What if after the swimming class, I still couldn't swim. What's the most native and concise way to describe "I learned swimming but I failed/I still couldn't swim"?

What if after the swimming class, I am able to swim. What's the most native and concise way to describe "I learned swimming and I succeed/I could swim"?

Does "learn" itself imply success?


To give more context, for example I'm in a job interview. Let x denote a verb or a phrase. Let y denote something learnable, eg. how to swim, how to program, cooking, etc. Does x exist in English such that both of the following conversations are honest.

I: I x y.

Interviewer: So can you do y?

I: Yes I can.

I: I x y.

Interviewer: So can you do y?

I: No, it's too difficult. I didn't learn it.

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    One of many options for a failed attempt: 'I took lessons, but I still can't swim.' Also, "I learned swim" is not idiomatic here (US, SE Region); one would say "I took swimming lessons" or something similar. – KannE Oct 30 '19 at 7:01
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    "Does learn itself imply success?" Yes. You would not have learned anything inspite of attending classes if you are not able to swim. learn (v): "gain or acquire knowledge of or skill in (something) by study, experience, or being taught" – Kris Oct 30 '19 at 11:09
  • @kanne see my edit to the question. – Gqqnbig Oct 30 '19 at 12:37
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    I took a course in calculus, but never mastered it. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 30 '19 at 12:40
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    The dictionary definitions should make this clear: learn = gain knowledge by study. So before learning you don't know and after you know. Study = try to learn ('try' does not mean you were successful only that you made an attempt). Your two examples are necessarily inconsistent (they can never be true together in English). The first claims that you can do it, the second claims that you cannot. – Mitch Oct 30 '19 at 13:40

In your 'I x y' example x could be 'studied'. Unlike learn there is no assumption of success, just an effort to learn.

Of course if you studied but failed to learn, not mentioning that you failed until asked would count against you in an interview. But that's a bit out of scope (interviews.se?)

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  • That is what I'm looking for. Thanks! – Gqqnbig Oct 30 '19 at 19:00
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    But one does not “study swimming” in order to learn to swim. One takes lessons. If you say you studied swimming I picture you at a desk with a book on swimming. Or you collecting statistics on swimming. – Jim Oct 31 '19 at 5:51

First, the idiomatic way to say the first bit is "I learned to swim".

"I learned swimming" would be OK if "swimming" were being used to mean the sport or activity. This would be like saying "I learned horse-riding" meaning the activity rather than that you learnt to ride a horse, meaning you learnt how to stay in position and control your horse. But if I understand you right, you are talking about learning how to stay afloat and propel yourself through the water, so I'd recommend "I learnt to swim".

Now "learn" implies that you still had the knowledge that your teacher tried to teach you. Even "X taught me to swim" implies that, thanks to being taught, you learnt how to, so you had that skill at one time even if you can't swim any more.

So if, even after the swimming class, you never could swim, you might say "I took swimming classes, but I couldn't learn how to swim".

If after the swimming class, you could swim, but you can't swim now, then you might say "I learned how to swim, but I can't swim any more".

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  • See also, my comment at OP. – Kris Oct 30 '19 at 11:09
  • Say when I was 3 years old, I read a Calculus book, but I couldn't learn Calculus because it's too difficult. I didn't take a class. In this case how do you say it? In my language, there are only two words needed to describe "I verb something, but I couldn't learn it". I'm looking for a two-word English phrase instead of two clauses. – Gqqnbig Oct 30 '19 at 12:16
  • Also see my edit to the question. – Gqqnbig Oct 30 '19 at 12:37

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