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I was doing some JLPT N2 practice and got this question wrong:

スポーツ大会のプログラムはさておき、( )。

a 日程を決めよう

b 準備はすべて整った

c わたしも参加したい

When I saw option "a", I immediately thought that it was wrong, because I thought プログラム and 日程 are the same thing. I thought they both refer to "what happens at what time during the スポーツ大会". さておき connects two different topics of discussion, with the latter being the more important one. Therefore, I concluded that "a" couldn't be the answer.

But "a" is the correct answer! I concluded that プログラム and 日程 must be different somehow. After looking up images of スポーツ大会のプログラム, I found schedules that says what happens at what time, which is expected. But when I google "スポーツ大会の日程", photos of all kinds of sports events come up, making the meaning of 日程 even more mysterious.

Jisho says that 日程 means "schedule; program", which doesn't help in understanding why 日程 and プログラム are different things.

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To me, an average Japanese speaker, 「日程{にってい}」 and 「プログラム」 are two words with two separate meanings even though I must admit that they can overlap in meaning to a small extent. They are, however, definitely not "synonyms" of each other.

「日程」 refers to an over-all (or "rough") time schedule of what takes place on what day at what time. It is often used to tell only on what date(s) the event in question occurs and nothing else.

「プログラム」 tends to refer to a much more detailed schedule of the event. It would list when and where every little event within the event takes place, who are scheduled to participate/appear, when the breaks and meal times are and for how long, etc.

This is why the sentence:

「スポーツ大会{たいかい}のプログラムはさておき、日程を決{き}めよう。」

makes perfect sense because for any kind event, you would normally need to decide on when (what date(s)) it should take place before deciding on the minor details of all the components of the event.

「~~はさておき」 means "setting ~~ aside".

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