@reichter, I’m with you on this: I’d rather learn, from the beginning, how the different words relate to each other. In fact, your translation of 分かる is quite helpful to me.
But I’m coming to understand how few other people think this way, and can make this work for them from the beginning. As a teacher myself, I have been giving this sort of explanation to my students, but I’m coming to see that most of them (and they’re bright students) simply can’t remember both things: the literal translation and the way it corresponds to our English usage. Trying to teach both seems obvious to me—it really makes things memorable and hang together—but apparently I’m far from the majority.
But it’s always true that when you’re learning by translating, you’re learning approximations. Some approximations are closer than others, but if you tried to understand exactly how a word is used, you’d end up with paragraphs of information about each word. I’ve used sources that try to explain too many nuances of each word as it’s presented (Jorden), and I find that worse than being presented with too little.
Sometimes I go back to that sort of information once I’m more comfortable with a word, but other times I do trust that in the end, either (1) I will see and hear so much of the language that these things will work themsleves out, or (2) I will make mistakes with the language that (through being corrected) lead me to the right questions that then lead me to a better understanding, or (3) I will never reach the level that such a distinction matters at all. And in case (3), I’d rather learn more language than perfect language.
An example from my own Spanish teaching is
me llamo, in Spanish, which translates my name is but which means, literally, I call myself. I’ve always thought that we do students a real disservice by translating it my name is, because that leads to the conclusion that “me” is “my,” and “llamo” is “name”—and that the be verb is unnecessary. So with my latest crop of students, I’ve emphasized this from the beginning—with discussions and exercises meant to build from the beginning on this understanding.
And guess what? Even my second-years, who were never exposed to me translating “me llamo” as “my name is” over two years of teaching, still sometimes think that “llamo” means “name.”
Somehow I have kept them from saying me gusto or just gusto (for “I like”), though. Most of the time. For which I’m grateful.
(Edited: Why didn’t the spoiler thing work? I switched to a summary to hide it instead of the blur, because it wasn’t blurring anything even though it started and ended with the spoiler /spoiler things.)