Hopes And Dreams In Japan

In a stack of papers called Personal.

  • Apr
  • 25
  • 2006

While in Japan, someone asked me about the difference between “hope” and “dream.” I started off saying that “hope” typically is used for something you expect to happen. You hope for an end to hunger. You hope for the day you can see your long-lost relatives again. “Dream” is used to describe things that would be cool, but you don’t anticipate actually occurring. You dream of flying. You dream of a car that runs on mashed potatoes, especially now that gas is edging near $4 a gallon. That’s roughly the current cost of gas in Japan, by the way.

It was MLK, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech that was the first exception to these definitions, because he actually expected those dreams to come true someday. Folks in love will often pine things like “I dream of you in my arms,” a feeling they actually expect to experience sometime soon. Conversely, “I hope I win that one-million dollar prize” doesn’t typically fall from the mouth of someone who honestly expects it to happen; most people are far more practical than that.

So the distinction between the two words isn’t very clear. Unfortunately, it gets even fuzzier the more you think about it as you will realize later tonight while this all stews in your brain. There are times when “hope” is the right word and when “dream” is the right word. There are times when either one of the two will suffice and when only one of them is appropriate and when the wrong one is laughable.

I’ve inconsistently studied Japanese for the last 3 years. If you struggle to learn another language, don’t worry too much. You already know the most difficult one.

And as you have those students who can’t seem to pick up on the finer distinctions of the language, such as becomes clear when contemplating “hope” and “dream,” realize that the cut and dry case is rare in English and that some of those minute points aren’t even clear to a native speaker. I still don’t know if I can describe a practical difference between those two words, a rule that would lead to consistent correct usage.

This is certainly not to suggest that incorrect usage should be allowed simply because it’s a difficult issue. Rather, I hope (or maybe I dream) that this is a reminder of how challenging English is.

I wonder if teachers thinking about these kinds of issues can help us create better scaffolds for learning. New vocabulary puts just about any student in a similar situation to this. Learning to tell the difference between a known word and an unknown word is not an easy thing. How can teachers set up an easier transition?

Thanks for the reminder, Akiko.

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