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The word 予習 is strange to me. Is its usage related to cultural difference? Does the user's knowledge of the material have something to do with it?

I've always had trouble understanding what exactly 予習 is, and some of the definitions I've seen appear contradictory to my American English mind and words I'm familiar with. Here are some of the definitions I have in various dictionaries.


  • Preparation(s) for one's lessons


  • 前もって学習すること
  • まだならっていないところを前もって学習・練習しておくこと


At first I was thinking maybe this was a cultural difference. I have a hard time seeing how 予習 is really different (conceptually) from [復習]{ふく・しゅう, «さらい»} ("reviewing"). If today's lesson was on topic X, and tomorrow's lesson is also on topic X, then the 学習 that I do concerning X in the time between today's lesson and tomorrow's lesson is just going over information about X again. To me, it seems pretty straight-forward that this is "review", so I would use 復習.

However, if today's lesson was on topic X, but I know tomorrow's lesson will be about topic Y, saying that I'm going to study up on Y before the teacher even teaches it to us is something that NO average American student would do. (Note that I use "average student" because a small minority of students in public schools, or students in elite/private schools may actually do this. Which may indicate something about our educational system in America...) To study beforehand about an unlearned topic seems more in line with the east-Asian (Japan, China, South Korea) mentality where educational discipline is strict, calculated, and expected. So that's to say that it makes sense to me that a Japanese student would be expected to study topic Y for tomorrow's lesson (before the teacher even teaches it), whereas it would be expected that an American student would be the exact opposite, i.e., if I haven't learned it yet, I'm gonna play video games/sports/whatever-other-leisure once my homework and reviews of X are done. So in this sense, 予習 has no relevance in the (again, average) American educational mindset.


When I saw some other definitions for 復習, I thought the difference between it and 予習 might be something else. Here is a 国語 definition of 復習:

  • 一度習ったことを繰り返して勉強すること

Looking at this definition compared to the one for 予習 above, it seems like more of a difference between things you have learned (一度習ったこと) versus things you have not yet learned (まだならっていないところ). So if the action is the same (studying the topic), is the choice between 予習 and 復習 simply a matter of if you've learned it yet or not? If so, this is easily confusing since I think most English speakers would use the word "review" to study up on things they've never learned (possibly for lack of a corresponding word). For example, if I were taking a trip to a country I've never been to, I would still say that I'm going to "review" materials (websites, travel books, etc.) about that country, even though I currently know nothing about it.

So if this is the case, is 予習 more akin to a "pre-review"?

What's the verdict?

So is 予習 strange to me because of possible cultural differences? Or is it about the person's assumed knowledge of the topic? Some combination of the two? Something else completely?

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I don't know how this word is used in Japan, but in China, students are often required to read the materials or be familiarized with topic of next class. It is more like a kind of preparation. They don't really need to learn it. Sometimes, the teacher does cover every details in the class. –  Yang Muye May 19 '14 at 22:24
I think review is 復習, and preview is 予習. –  Yang Muye May 19 '14 at 22:52
@YangMuye Oh, I like that phrasing! It makes a lot of sense, even though English preview isn't usually used like that. –  snailboat May 19 '14 at 22:54
When I 予習, I read the section in the textbook that I will learn tomorrow. Nothing more or less. I think that the confusion you have is caused for the difference between Japanese calture and American culture. –  Takumi Sueda May 19 '14 at 23:37
I didn't grow up in the States, but when I was an exchange student there, it was quite common to be asked to read a part of the textbook which would then be discussed in class. So I don't quite understand how 予習 can be a foreign concept to you. –  dainichi May 21 '14 at 6:44

2 Answers 2

予習 means "to prepare for a lesson" (see here). Its opposite is 復習, meaning "to review", "to rehease" and/or "to practice" what one has learned (here).
The kanji 予, pronounced あらかじめ, means "beforehand", "in advance", or "previously" (here). The second kanji, 習, stands for 習う meaning "to learn" (here meanings 1 and 2).
予習 and 復習 are widely used in educational setting in Japan. University curricula must state how much effort is necessary before and after class.

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I feel like you didn't read my question at all... –  istrasci May 20 '14 at 19:07
Frankly, I fail to see what you consider the problem. Just looking at the component kanji of 予習 gives you an idea what it must mean. Its compositional meaning is relatively straightforward. –  Thomas Gross May 20 '14 at 19:11

One usage of this that I have seen might make a little more sense to you. It seems from the comments that 予習 for natives can be the simple act of "previewing" material before class or something like that. However, there are situations where preparatory study is needed. The case that I'm talking about is with 修学旅行{しゅうがくりょこう}, or the trips that Japanese students usually take once during elementary, junior high school and high school. So for example, in anticipation of a school's upcoming trip to Kyoto and Nara, the students will go through a period of 予習 where they learn a bit about where they're going. This might not be the correct term for this kind of study, however, as a commenter points out 事前学習 might be more appropriate. とはいえ, I do and have seen 予習 used in this way.

Sorry if this comes off as more of an extended comment!

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Students in 3rd year of JUNIOR high school students go 修学旅行. Not 2nd year. Please fix this issue ;) (It's correct that students in 2nd year of high school students go 修学旅行.) BTW, an example of 予習 for the upcoming 修学旅行 is interesting but little bit different I think. Usually the 予習 for 修学旅行 is called [事前学習]{じぜんがくしゅう} (prior learning) or [下調]{したしら}べ (preliminary investigation) because there are a lot of historical things that need to learn about. –  Takumi Sueda May 20 '14 at 4:46
It must be a regional thing. Junior high school students where I am have their trip as second years. 事前学習 might be more correct, and I trust your judgment, although I have seen 予習 used for it. –  ssb May 20 '14 at 4:59

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