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This sentence is in a 看图写话 section of a HSK6 textbook (photo):

在游泳馆里,爸爸正在教他的孩子学习游泳。
郑丽杰, 刘悦, 21天政府HSK6级写作, p. 24.

I'm puzzled about how both 教 and 学习 both appear in the same sentence.

sb. 正在教 sb. 学习 sth.

In English, it would translate to e.g. "father is teaching his child to learn to swim", which is a weird phrasing (it's meta---"if you want to learn swimming, you need to do A, B, and C"); it'd usually be "father is teaching his child to swim" (and "the child is learning to swim"). I think the same applies in Chinese.

Question: Is it just me, or is 教……学习 in 爸爸正在教他的孩子学习游泳 weird?

This is a sentence with two objects (他的孩子, and 学习游泳), so we can construct other examples:

老师正在教我学习中文。
孙女正在教奶奶学习用手机。
牛仔正在教旅客们学习骑马。
罪犯正在教孩子学习贩卖毒品。

It seems like the sentences will always be better if we delete 学习.

7 Answers 7

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In my opinion, the relationship between the two sentence is like "Father is teaching his son swim", and "Father is teaching his son to swim". Adding a word doesn't change the meaning.

Moreover, it's not as weird as "father is teaching his child to learn to swim" in English. Because Chinese sentence is composed of characters without space like English, so sometimes you can treat "学游泳" as one word. (for example, 上学 can be treated as 3 words: go to school, but also can be treated as 1 word: learning). So if English has a corresponding word of "学游泳", like "learnswim", it will fell more normal: father is teaching his son learnswim.

老师正在教我学习中文。 孙女正在教奶奶学习用手机。 牛仔正在教旅客们学习骑马。 罪犯正在教孩子学习贩卖毒品。

For the four sentences, yes I agree with you, without 学习 is more concise. However, you can also say them with "学习" to to emphasize "learning". The feeling is like "虽然。。。但是" in Chinese. It's very weird in English if someone says "although ...but ...", but for emphasing the relationship, 但是must be used after 虽然。Actually, "虽然但是" is different from your examples, but I think you can use it to understand the Chinese grammar feeling.

I seem to be a little unclear. If you don't understand anything, feel free to ask me again.

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It DOES look like redundancy to me. However, if many people do that, it becomes acceptable. I do not know if "teach sb. to learn sth." is common in English, but the original Chinese sentence makes sense.

Based on the context, "教 sb. 学习 sth." means the same with "教 sb. sth.", because the goal is "to learn sth.".

I personally would not talk like that though. "爸爸正在教他的孩子游泳" is good.

Except if the sentence is "教 sb. 学习", which means that sb. does not know how to learn things so you are teaching sb. the learning methodology.

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I'm a first year student, so I wasn't familiar with this structure, and I'm nowhere near going for HSK6...but I am familiar with another structure that felt about the same way to me: 到。。。去.

到 place 去 action is a similar two-verb two-object structure, it means "I am going to [place] to do [action], for example, I often go to a German conversation group at the local library, so if it's Wednesday evening and I'm heading out, I might say:

我到图书馆去用德语聊天儿。 I'm going to the library to chat in German.

This similar two-verb two-object structure also feels weird to me, and I think the reason it feels weird is that, in English, we would usually use an adverbial clause that starts with a preposition, as in "to chat in German", but in Chinese, we're combining the use of two different verbs of motion with different objects.

Now, I tend to think of the 用德语 in this sentence as being like a prepositional phrase meaning "in German", and it modifies the verb 聊天儿 (chat)...but notice that 用 is the verb "to use", so we're essentially using a verb to form an adverbial phrase. Maybe this means 用 is also a preposition, or maybe we use verbs to form adverbial phrases in Chinese, I'm not sure, but my feeling is it might be a bit of both.

Similarly, while I think it might not be the most correct way to think about it, I think it can help it feel more logical if you think of 到 as helping to form an adverbial phrase modifying 去 in this sentence.

Since 去 takes an action as its object (the thing we're going to do when we get where we're going), if we also want to say where we're going, we form the phrase "to the library" using the verb of motion 到, whose object is a destination.

You'll see similar things going on in sentences like 我坐地铁到图书馆 (I ride the subway to the library), where one could perhaps ask whether 坐地铁 is an adverbial phrase modifying the verb 到...it feels like perhaps instead 到图书馆 should be considered the adverbial phrase, at least to an English speaker, but it would be in the wrong word order then in Chinese, so there'd have to be an exception to the word order rules.

The bottom line, though, is that multiple verbs with multiple objects get used a lot in Chinese, at least when you're talking about going places.

My feeling seeing your example is that something similar is going on, that, like we use multiple verbs of motion when talking about going places in Chinese to add information about different types of objects (methods of travel with 坐/开/骑 etc., destinations with 到, reasons for going with 去), you can also sometimes use multiple verbs involving teaching and learning in sentences about education, with the different verbs taking different types of objects.

I think in your example, it's not confusing if you use the simpler form, but if the person being taught were some student with a weird name, this multiple verb form might make it much clearer where the line between the person's name and the subject being taught falls.

I expect which verbs can be paired up like this (or even tripled up like 坐。。。到。。。去 can be) is idiomatic and something you'll just have to get familiar with.

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If the sentence is "the father is teaching his son to swim" then the problem with "爸爸正在教他的孩子学习游泳" is being wordy, '学习' is redundant. Just say "爸爸正在教他的孩子游泳" is enough

If the sentence was "爸爸教他的孩子(如何)学习游泳" then it would mean "the father teaches his son (how to) learn to swim" then "如何" is missing

  1. 爸爸正在教他的孩子学习游泳 - the father is there personally teaching his son to swim

  2. 爸爸教他的孩子如何学习游泳 - the father just gives his son tips on how to learn to swim, but the son has to do the learning on his own

With 正在 in the sentence, #2. seems unreasonable, so "爸爸正在教他的孩子游泳" would be the best way to construct this sentence

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教……学习 = teach....to learn

  • 老师正在教我学习中文。The teacher is teaching us to learn Chinese.

  • 孙女正在教奶奶学习用手机。The grand kiddy girl is teaching her grandma to learn the use of a cell phone.

  • 牛仔正在教旅客们学习骑马。The cowboy is teaching the tourists to learn horse riding.

  • 罪犯正在教孩子学习贩卖毒品。The criminal is teaching the children to learn drug selling.

Note: The word "teach" describes a single act; "teach....to learn" includes two acts in the phrase - "teaches a person to pick up/perform a new skill/task through learning".

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什么人学习什么东西。This is a very common structure of sentences.

In 教孩子学习游泳, the word 游泳 is a noun used as the object of the verb 学习.

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the structure "教...学习" might be considered redundant or even a bit unnatural. The more common way to express the idea would be to use just "教" followed by the object, as you have pointed out. In these sentences, "教" already implies that the person is being taught to learn or acquire a certain skill or knowledge, so adding "学习" is unnecessary.

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