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There are two common uses for the English word experience:

  • the specific sense, as in "skydiving was an interesting experience"
  • the more general sense, as in "I have the job experience you're looking for"

The former is a description of the immediate process of living through something, perceiving it, etc. Where as the latter is typically more focused on the knowledge or expertise gained by having participated in something. They're not cleanly separate, of course, since the former typically leads to the latter.

Whenever I've looked up experience in an English-Russian dictionary, they always give опыт as the translation—often the only one. My sense is that that word is the best translation for the second usage above. Is it also the proper term for the first usage, or would переживание be better for that?

I've also noticed, on Linguee for example, that переживание is indicated to be less frequently used. Is that because опыт meets the same need, or because the second usage above is a more common topic of conversation among Russians? I wouldn't normally wonder that, but in this case it does conform to my sense of the cultural differences between, say, America (whence I come) and Russia. But perhaps I'm reading too much into it.

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  • @Dmitry Thanks for the edit. Try as I might, I cannot get through my skull that it's a hard т at the end of that word. – spoko Mar 6 '18 at 17:23
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    Note that “experience”, as in perception, is a much wider term than “переживание” (typically reserved for negative emotions) and can’t usually be translated with one Russian word, especially in verb form as is common in advertisements for movies, video games and the like. – Roman Odaisky Mar 7 '18 at 14:33
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    I personally can't even think of "переживание" being used as just "experience". Maybe only a "personally hard experience". Ex. "Он пережил развод" - "He had a divorce. It was a hard experience." – Alexander Mar 7 '18 at 21:08
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    The expression "skydiving was an interesting experience" is very typical of the way ideas are expressed in English. We can say almost anything by saying what something is and we have a word for every such occasion. In Russian such such sentences are generally worded differently using a verb other than "быть". For example, you could say "Первый раз прыгнул с парашютом. Впечатлило!" – David42 Mar 8 '18 at 14:14
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Переживание (literally, "living-through") is quite a set way to translate the English phrase "emotional experience". I can't think of any other way for it to be used to translate "experience" outside this context.

However, your gut feeling is right, Russian опыт usually only applies to knowledge and expertise indeed. "Skydiving was an interesting experience" is best translated as прыгать с парашютом было очень интересно.

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  • Интересное ощущение – Yu Jiaao Mar 7 '18 at 14:17
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skydiving was an interesting experience - It's possible to say переживание (probably when saying of a jump which caused strong emotions), or впечатление (if you mean an unusual impression regardless of emotions), even опыт (e.g. if you mean this pursuit was interesting experience for your career professionally). That is to say a speaker might want to be specific here.

I have the job experience you're looking for - most likely implies опыт (i.e. you have enough skills, knowledge, practice, etc., sometimes implying you are a seasoned person who suits the job).

It's not that переживание is used rarely. It's a literary word often implying some stronger feelings (so it's more often used in suitable contexts, emotionally coloured speech, or literary works). While опыт is a neutral word suitable for any style (from philosophical meaning 'experience' to everyday meaning like 'job experience', etc.)

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Можно сказать опыт работы и любовные переживания, но не переживания работы, а опыт любви звучит пошло, если не сказать скабрезно.

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Переживание comes from the verb переживать, which does mean 'to live through'/'to experience'. But usually it would be used when you would describe experiencing something again "я как будто заново пережил этот момент" (as if I have experienced this moment again). You can also tell someone not to worry - не переживай. It does seem to bear a context of enduring sometimes - "это нужно просто пережить" (you just need to get through this).

Both of the examples you have specified would use "опыт".

If there is someone worrying for the skydiver on the ground - then you would use "переживать" (the verb and not the noun) - "его сестра переживает что не может посмотреть как он прыгает с парашютом" (his sister is worried that she can't see him skydive), "его мать очень за него переживает" (his mother is really worried for him). The noun itself, as pointed out in the answer by alexsms is more of a literary word. As Igor Kotelnikov has mentioned - you can use it in the context of worries about love - любовные переживания or strong emotional experiences. Or if the skydiver is describing what he has been going through - "все мои переживания о том что парашют не раскроется улетучились когда мои ноги коснулись земли" (all of my worries that the parachute will not open have vanished the instance my feet have touched the ground). In this example the noun is used.

You can see some more examples on Linguee.

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Опыт and переживание not only appeal to different parts of human consciousness (опыт is for logic, переживание is for emotions); they also differ in their time aspect. Опыт is something valuable because you can make use of that experience in the future (i.e. in your example with skydiving, you may have understood that you are more brave than you thought), переживание is a value-in-itself, the process of experiencing is (often highly) valuable or, in some contexts, relating to emotionally or spiritually sensitive experiences.

By the way, it's technically possible to say переживание about skydiving. However, it will be highly stylistically marked: people would think that is a deliberate, well-informed breach of lexical valence. Most likely, the perceived meaning maybe that of you trying to convey that you were scared to death during the skydive.

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