One of the common mistakes that Japanese people make when speaking in English is to translate the expression "電話番号を教えて" directly into English - "to teach a phone number", which can confuse native English speakers who are not familiar with the expression. I was wondering why they use the word teach rather than a verb similar to tell or give?

  • I'm not sure how a good answer to this question might look like. Different languages use different words to express the same concept and translating them directly might not give you the best results.
    – Szymon
    Jun 24, 2014 at 6:53
  • @Syzmon - I think I agree with what you are trying to say generally on this point, but the wording is sloppy. They use different words (or more importantly words that differ in meaning) precisely because they do not have the same concepts.
    – virmaior
    Jun 24, 2014 at 7:57
  • 1
    @virmaior I agree my wording was sloppy ;) I should have said that different languages use different concepts for the same actions or in the same circumstances.
    – Szymon
    Jun 24, 2014 at 9:47

1 Answer 1


"Teach" in this case is simply "tell" -- i.e., "inform someone of something they did not know previously". As to why folks in Japan use 教える instead of 伝える or some other verb, that may have to be chalked up to cultural, historical, and linguistic differences.


By way of example of "cultural, historical, and linguistic differences", it bears noting that English and German, two quite related languages, use interestingly different words for the same ideas.

Where English speakers would say "tell" in the sense of "inform", like "tell me your name", German speakers would say "sagen" -- cognate with English "say". So we could just as well ask why English speakers don't say "say to me your name". Meanwhile, the German cognate for "tell" is "zählen", which instead means "to count [something]" (compare English "tally").

Each language is its own cognitive web of ideas. Each word in a language represents a node or intersection in that web, and a node in any one language will only ever imperfectly map to another node in another language. So it is with Japanese 教える and English "tell".

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