6

What function does schon play in the question:

Wie lange lernen Sie schon Deutsch?

Is schon essential? Would the sentence have essentially the same meaning without schon? Would it have the same tone/register quality?

My question seems to be related to an earlier question here, but I'm finding it difficult to apply the answer to that question to my own.

7

No, "schon" can not be omitted here. "Wie lange lernen Sie Deutsch" would refer to any time span in the present or future that is spent studying German. That sentence would be appropriate if one wanted to know how long someone plans to study German e.g. in a curriculum or this afternoon.

Examples for that would be:

  • "Ich will Europäische Kultur studieren und muss dafür auch Deutsch lernen" "Wie lange lernen Sie/ lernst du (in diesem Studiengang) Deutsch?" (refering to a possible future. The answer would include all semesters spent studying German even if the speaker allready started studying)
  • "Ich schreibe morgen eine Klassenarbeit in Deutsch und muss noch lernen, bevor ich mit an den Badesee fahren kann." "Und wie lange lernst du (heute) (noch) Deustch?" (refering to an ongoing or future activity. The answer would either include the time where the activity ends or the total time spent with that activity)

The sentence as-is clearly refers to the time that was already spent learning/studying German while still learning/studying but not to the time that might still be spent. Corresponding sentences would be:

  • "Ich wusste gar nicht, dass Sie so gut Deutsch sprechen. Wie lange lernen Sie schon Deutsch?" (refering to the time the person has allready spent learning German up until now. The answer must include either since when or for how long the person is studying and adding information about any plans about how long the person is still going to study are irrelevant to this question)
  • "Mach doch mal eine Pause. Wie lange lernst du schon Deutsch?" (refers to the time spent on an ongoing studying session and clearly does not intent on letting it keep going on for now)

If the person is not currently studying German, the more appropriate question would be "Wie lange haben Sie schon Deutsch gelernt?", and in this case, "schon" can be omitted though it still would change the tone and some nuances that are, in my opinion, too subtle and depend on too many other factors to be pointed out here.

"Schon" makes the question be about the past, the opposite would be "noch" referring only to the future, and with neither of them, the question is about the total time spent or in some cases about the time when the activity ends.

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10

The word „schon“ implies a past experience with something. If this word would not be there, the question would just be: How long do you learn German? But with „schon“, it would be a question same as: Since when do you learn German?

Simple example: Ich habe eine PlayStation. I have a PlayStation. Ich habe schon eine PlayStation. I already have a PlayStation.

It should be added, that this is not the only usage of this word. The nearest English word would be „already“ in this context. With your question: How long did you „already“ learn German? (If this is making sense in English)

It should also be mentioned, that the questioner of your question knew, that there is a past experience with learning German. Otherwise „schon“ would not be used in your context.

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  • 1
    The PlayStation sentence does not appear to have the slight ambiguity that is in "Wie lange lernen Sie Deutsch?", as "haben" always refers to something that has already happened (taking possession). – O. R. Mapper Oct 20 at 5:31
  • Yes. You’re right. – FromAnatolia Oct 20 at 11:34
  • Using the word "already", while it gets the point across, is not proper English. I would also recommend you change the translation from past tense, because, for one, the original sentence was not in past tense. Also the point is less clear in past tense because the time period becomes unambiguously in the past. So, I would make the new sentence "How long are you learning German?" and the word schon makes it "How long have you been learning German?" – bendl Oct 20 at 12:55
  • “How long are you learning German” is just a less-idiomatic way of saying “how long have you been learning German”. One is better than the other but there is no difference in meaning in English. So the inclusion of “schon” does not make any such difference. The difference it does make is much more along the lines of Killian’s answer. – jez Oct 20 at 17:14
9

With "schon", the meaning is unambiguously that the listener is currently learning German and has been learning for an unspecified period. The speaker merely asks about the length of that period.

Without "schon", the sentence might also ask about the total duration of a course that might not even have started yet:

Wie lange lernen die Praktikanten Deutsch? - Vier Monate. Meistens schon in der Oberschule.

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  • If the context of the situation warrants it, the question we lange lernen Sie deutsch might also inquire about the regular duration of learning, to which the answer might be vier Stunden in der Woche or eine halbe Stunde pro Tag etc. – René Nyffenegger Oct 20 at 20:43

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