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I'm not sure my translation for this brief conversation is correct, particularly the last sentence, so would like it double checked please.

カレン: ニールさんは音楽の学生ですね。

ニール: そうですが、どうして?

カレン: バイオリンを習おうと思っているんですが、いい先生を知りませんか。

Karen: Neil you're a music student aren't you?

Neil: That’s right but why do you ask?

Karen: Well I've been thinking of learning the violin so do you know any good teachers?

A couple of things: the が in the last sentence is confusing me as I can't see how a 'but' would really fit in, what would be the difference between 習うと思っている and 習おうと思っている and I was initially flummoxed by the 知りませんか but I think it’s a request form question now.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Your translation is correct. However, this isn't the "but" one. It's the "softener" one. I can't think of a way to translate it (if there even is one), but it's often used to make one's own desires/actions seem less direct and a little more humble.

Ex.

  • 聞きたいことがあるんですが... → There's something I'd like to ask you...

The difference between 習うと思っている and 習おうと思っている is the former would be used to indicate "I think <someone else> will learn" vs. "I'm thinking I'd like to learn". 〜(よ)うと思う is a very common form for expressing a desired, yet uncertain intention.

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1  
Even when used as a softener it's still acting as "but", however the second clause is often omitted in such cases. A common example of this is when declining an invitation: "I'd love to, but [I really would rather not]..." It allows people to save face by not having to express unpleasant points. –  Kaji Apr 8 at 18:04
2  
You don't say する・習う+と思っている for "I'm thinking of ~~ing". You can say しよう・習おう+と思っている, したい・習いたい+と思っている, する・習う+つもりだ etc... –  Choko Apr 9 at 5:25
    
習うと思っている in that context doesn't make sense. 私は習うと思っている basically means "I think you/he/she/they will learn it". when the agent of learning is the speaker himself, it indicates some conditional situation and doesn't mean the speaker actually has intention to learn. –  user4092 Apr 9 at 11:36

カレン: バイオリンを習おうと思っているんですが、いい先生を知りませんか。

As written, が is being used as a gentle lead-in. It's adding a sense of "I'm probably bothering you by asking, but...".

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I don't know if this is correct, but I think the construction 習おうと思っている could be translated literally as 'I'm thinking (to myself): let's learn'. 習おう is the same construction you would use to suggest doing something. You could for example say 日本語を習おう (meaning: Let's learn Japanese!)

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This is not really correct, in my opinion. 習おうと思っている (and in general volitional form + と思っている) is a way of describing your not very committed plans or intentions. So literal translation is not a proper way of translating that phrase. –  Szymon Apr 10 at 21:03
    
I didn't mean to suggest that you actually translate it literally. Now that I reread my comment that does seem to be my intention though... It's just that I have always wondered whether this expression could have originated that way, and thinking of this literal translation helps me remember the proper translation of this construction. –  Hanne Apr 14 at 7:54

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