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I've seen a sentence like

Ich habe Deutsch an der Schule gelernt.

instead of

Ich habe Deutsch in der Schule gelernt.

Why is the preposition "an" used? Does it have something to do with the past?

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Where exactly did you find the sentence with "an der Schule"? Where, in fact, do you find most of the half-baked, almost, but not quite right sentences? I've asked you that before. You seem to have a wealth of slightly off sentences, either grammatically or in word choice. Where did you come across these? Can you please cite your sources? If these claim to be proper German, they are way off. – teylyn Jan 15 '14 at 9:54
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Well, to me (as a Bavarian) both seems to be correct, even an der Schule without mentioning a special school.

an der Schule

specifies the act of learing or teaching at a school to me

in der Schule

specifies the location or the act of learning or teaching

Das Wahllokal ist in der Grundschule

You can't say 'an' in this case.

Again, this is my personal opinion.

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As a German I actually did not hear "an der Schule gelernt" and think it's incorrect in this context. "in der Schule" is correct.

"an" is only correct in the right context, like "An meiner Schule war es immer nett" (It was always nice at our school), referencing to the building or place rather than school as an institution or part of your life. You can also say "an" if your referencing to a specific school, like "I haben Deutsch an der Albert Einstein High School gelernt"

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And here's another one : which one is correct am Goethe or beim Goethe? I always say "Ich lerne Deutsch beim Goethe" in reference to the building and at the same time to the German poet. If I say ' "Ich lerne Deutsch am Goethe," am I still referring to the building or the language i am studying? German learners always confuse 'bei' and ' an' as at – DerPolyglott33 Jan 13 '14 at 21:34
"beim" (in this case) is only valid if you use it with a square/plaze, like "am Goetheplatz" or if you sit next to his statue while learning, but your sentence was not correct. If you want to reference to the poet, use "Ich lerne Deutsch mit (Hilfe von) Goethe" or "Ich lerne Deutsch durch Goethe". Referencing to a place called "Goethe" can read above. – Mathis Jan 13 '14 at 21:39
I think "Goethe" in that example is short for Goethe-Institut – thekeyofgb Jan 13 '14 at 22:30

You can say "Ich habe Deutsch an der Schule gelernt", but only if you talk about specific school:

Ich habe Deutsch an der Goethe-Schule in XYZ gelernt

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