When I first arrived to Kyoto, I set out with the goal of learning more about English grammar. I have asked myself countless times now “Why is that (sentence) so?” when conversing with the Japanese students and hearing the words or grammatical structures they struggle with.
For instance, in the context of summer vacation plans, why can you say, “I will meet my friends,” but you can’t say, “I will meet my grandma”? And, when talking about past vacations, why can you say, “I enjoyed seeing the temples,” but you can’t say, “I enjoyed watching the temples”? But then – keeping that aversion towards the second sentence in mind – why can you say both, “We enjoyed seeing the whales,” and “We enjoyed watching the whales”?!
To say the least, I did not have the answers right off the top of my head and, instead, it took a number of Google searches before I found some satisfying answers. In response to my “meet” mystery, one blogger writes:
“Visit and meet overlap in meaning. Visit emphasizes the visitor’s perspective. If you visit a person or a place, it implies that you have moved to a new location to do so. However, if you visit with somebody, it strongly implies spending time together in conversation, and the implication about going there is much weaker. Meet implies a more shared perspective and, often, prearrangement. Whereas visit implies that you are the only one who moved, meet allows that either or both parties have moved. Thus, you would visit grandma at her house, but you would meet your friend at the coffee shop.”
My second question was clarified by some dictionary definitions: “See means to notice or become aware of (someone or something) by using your eyes” whereas “watch means to look at (someone or something) for an amount of time and pay attention to what is happening.”
So, why does this matter? Why is it important to know why sentences are the way they are? Why can’t you simply tell the student, “No, it’s visit my grandma not meet my grandma”? I think the answer is that knowing the rule which underlies your word choice or grammatical structure means you will be more likely to remember the correct word or structure the next time you say that sentence and less likely to apply it incorrectly in other sentences. That is, it’s no longer a matter of rote memorization because now you know why.