What is the difference between 勉強する, 習う, 学ぶ, and 学習する?

I've read some explanations in another question but it's still not clear enough to me how they are different.


3 Answers 3


I will try to explain the expressions in the order that most native speakers would learn them, hoping that that alone might tell the learner something.

The first one is definitely 「[習]{なら}う」. Any 4-year-old would know what it means and would be able to use it correctly.

In order to 習う something, you need a teacher. Simply put, if you learn something mostly by imitating your teacher, parent, sibling, etc., that would be called 習う. The object of the activity 習う can be anything from origami, drawing, writing hiragana, swimming --- anything. It does not need to be an academic subject. If a small kid is learning something under a teacher figure, the kid will say 「~~を習って(い)る」. He will NOT use any of the three other expressions.

(If you feel like you have already "learned" something today, that is good news for me, but would that "learned" be 習った? I am not your teacher nor did I have you "imitate" me. You will find out later on.)

The next word (actually, an expression because it consists of two words) a kid would learn would be 「[勉強]{べんきょう}する」. This is THE word out of the four that is by far the most often used from elementary school to college.

勉強する places much emphasis on the time and effort put into learning. The subject of the action would most often be, but not restricted to, school subjects. When your mom tells you to stop playing the game and go study, she will say 「勉強しなさい!」. She will not use any of the other three words. When saying something like "How many hours do you study everyday?", most people would use 勉強する nearly 100% of the time.

The next one could be either 「[学]{まな}ぶ」 or 「[学習]{がくしゅう}する」. It could not be stressed enough that those are actually bigger words than many J-learners often appear to think or to be even taught.

学ぶ places more emphasis on the good result of learning -- mastery, discovery, etc. -- than 習う or 勉強する. One could 習う or 勉強する for hours and days without making much progress in quite a few cases. If someone said 「~~を学んだ」, that would usually mean that he actually gained knowledge in the process. 学ぶ is used more often in writing than in speaking (unless you are in education and you talk about studying and learning all day everyday).

Finally, 「[学習]{がくしゅう}する」. As I stated above, it is a fairly big word. In schools, teachers use it way more often than students do. 学習 sounds more "systematic" and/or "carefully planned" than 勉強.

学習 can be used in both academic and non-academic context. If a baseball player keeps chasing bad sliders from the same pitcher, then he is a 「学習できない[選手]{せんしゅ}」. 選手 = player.

It is not only humans who can 学習する. Other animals, too, 学習する different things from life experiences. We all need to keep 学習する-ing to survive.


Even though it's not in your question, I'm going to throw in another important contextual word. [研究]{けんきゅう}する.

If you are in graduate school (at least at the doctoral level) or a researcher, you should generally speaking not refer to what you do as [勉強]{べんきょう}する, i.e. "study." Instead, you 研究する, i.e. "do research."

The same basic rule exists in America with the same risks of sounding pretentious if you 研究する as an undergraduate or 勉強する as a [名誉教授]{めいよきょうじゅ} "Professor emeritus".


習う means to be taught something that requires some technical skills or knowledge like how to drive a car or school subjects by a teacher. It's synonymous with 教わる.

勉強する is to learn school subjects or to practice drilling exercises about school subjects.

学ぶ・学習する are to learn school subjects or something new that can be a lesson to you.

  • Is your answer intended to focus on the most common use of these words? If so, I am not sure I agree and my Progessive dictionary indicates their meaning is wider and they overlap.
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 10:53

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