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I looked at the definition for "learner":

a person who is still learning something(Cambridge)
a person who is learning; student; pupil; apprentice; trainee.(Dictionary.com)
1.someone (especially a child) who learns (as from a teacher) or takes up knowledge or beliefs
2.works for an expert to learn a trade(TFD-Thesaurus)
someone who is learning something; beginner(Collins, En-Fr)
A learner is someone who is learning about a particular subject or how to do something.(Collins Learner's)
1 : a person who learns
: a person who is trying to gain knowledge or skill in something by studying, practicing, or being taught(M-W Learner's, similar to technical Fr.)

There's the level of skill, the process of learning, the designation, the time, the age, the focus, the place where the learning occurs. There is the learner's permit; it is something temporary, a transient state with a foreseeable end. On the other hand with other types of skills, from a process point of view, not all beginners are learners, and conversely not all learners are beginners.

Is the "learner" mainly a student? A beginner? What is the difference? Is there a technical meaning which is different from the casual meaning? Does it make sense to use intermediate/adult with learner i.e. an adult intermediate learner etc.?

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A learner is not “mainly” any one of these things: it may signify any of them, and only the context in which the word is used will tell you which meaning is intended.

For instance, you need only read half a dozen of the questions posted here to recognize that the learners to whom the site is addressed are a very diverse lot. Some are rank beginners, who cannot consistently construct a coherent sentence, while others (like you) exhibit a mastery of English idiom and grammar which would shame many native-speaking college graduates. Likewise, some come here with very sophisticated understanding in their own languages, needing help only with the intricacies of English idiom, while others are baffled not merely by the language barrier but by ignorance of fundamental principles of logic and argumentation.

And the same is true of us who answer. Some of us are teachers, some are linguistic scholars, some are students of literature, some are well-informed amateurs; I myself am a professional writer with extensive experience in a wide variety of contemporary and historical registers. We're all "experts" of one sort or another; but I think every one of us would embrace being described as a learner, and I think every one of us is active here not because we are consumed by some self-sacrificing eleemosynary urge to 'give' but because ELL is a site where we learn, too: from each other, but equally from the very difficult and provocative questions.

We're all learners; whaddya wanna learn?

  • Thank you! That was very insightful and sincere; I dig the spirit! So it's once again something functional and contextual, and it's very usual at the same time. I had to check the translation in my own language; apprenant is really technical and not usual(to me) compared to the verb apprendre, and I guess that's why I struggle with "learner". If I think of such things as "l'éternel étudiant", "apprendre toute sa vie", "on a toujours qqc à apprendre" etc. it's using "student" figuratively or the verb itself. Anyways, thanks again! – user16335 Apr 21 '15 at 2:28