I thank everybody for the explanations; the question remains, for me, a little complicated. My doubts were originated by some translations, that follow, I found in an on-line dictionary (I translated the Italian translation into English)

  1. она подучила его немецкому языку — gli insegnò un po' di tedesco (he taught him a little German); in this case подучить is translated as learning a little, only the basics of German.

  2. Её подучили, она стала медицинской сестрой" (В. Панова) — "Imparò a fare l'infermiera" (V. Panova) (she learned how to work as a nurse); in this case, not knowing all the Russian text, in my opinion the translations could be the following two:

    a. somebody taught her the basics in order to allow her to work as a nurse, may be in order to face an emergency situation;

    b. she had acquired before a professional experience as a nurse and this experience has been improved by adding something;

  3. перед отъездом в Германию он подучился немецкому — prima di andare in Germania imparò un po' di tedesco (before leaving to Germany he learned some German); in this case, as the first, подучить has been translated as learning a little.

I thank for every clarification.

  • 3
    Подучить -> improve a little – Matt Jul 27 '15 at 15:49
  • @user4419802 not necessarily. Native speakers won't see a misuse if you mean "learn a little bit of ..." – user1514 Jul 27 '15 at 17:29
  • You are right Antonio, “to learn” means studying a little and also the opposite,i.e. improving his own knowledge about some subject. – Матвей Дёмин Jul 27 '15 at 17:53
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    @culebrón I say, the dictionaries won't see yet the people will. These two meanings are not compatible and may lead to confuse. I believe the dictionaries are outdated in this particular case - "learn a little bit" is not what any living person means by saying "подучить" even if 100 years ago it was the other way round. – Matt Jul 27 '15 at 17:57
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    Your first attempt was far more productive, when you asked of the prefix под-. And by the way, a significant change in the Original Question may lead to breaking the validity of answers that were already given. This changes are greatly discouraged. – Avtokod Jul 28 '15 at 9:16

I checked in the dictionaries and I found that “подучить” means studying a little and also the opposite,i.e. improving his own knowledge about some subject.

That's not the opposite.

Я хочу подучить испанский implies you already have some knowledge of Spanish and intend to improve it a little bit.

It would be wrong to use it if you had no prior knowledge of Spanish whatsoever, you would use выучить instead.

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  • 2
    "Выучить язык" means to master it (at least) on a moderate level. "Немного поучить" should be better here. – Matt Jul 27 '15 at 15:57
  • Disagree. Выучить means mastering to a reasonably good level. – user1514 Jul 27 '15 at 17:13

I think the closer translation to Italian of (2) will be something between lei era imparata... and lei è stata imparata..., for me the second looks more natural, but both are acceptable.

In this case под- means little effort, doing something easily or slightly and usually having some background on the subject. When there is no background experience I'd certainly use поучить or выучить.

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подучить meant to improve knowledge of something to a certain pre-determined level from a lesser level (but not completely learn). I.e. to approach the pre-determined level from below (thus the preposition под).

1. ------ perfect level

2. ------ planned level

3. ------ current level

4. ------ no knowlwdge

You want to approach 2 from 3.

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@Antonio you're right, it is correct to say like that. It does not necessarily imply adding to something that existed. For example

подлить масла в огонь

means pour oil onto fire, whether it has been done before or not.

Я еду в Испанию и хочу подучить язык.

Is absolutely correct. This form does not require adding something to something. Natvie speakers won't see any problem in this usage, unless they're interested in languages.

100% is to say

вижу, он работал в поле - подзагорел заметно.

I see he worked in the field: he's got a bit of sunburn. This does not at all mean he had or had not any sunburn.

Another user suggested

немного поучить испанский

which is 100% correct but sounds a bit unambitious, like if one seriously plans not achieving anything.

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Значение слова ПОДУЧИТЬ Толковый словарь русского языка. Д.Н. Ушаков

подучить подучу, подучишь, сов. (к подучивать), кого-что.

Научить, ОБУЧИТЬ НЕМНОГО чему-нибудь. (разг.). 1. Подучить мальчика столярному делу. Его еще надо подучить, тогда будет хорошим мастером.

Заучить, УСВОИТЬ ПОЛУЧШЕ (разг.). Подучить формулу.

(несов. также подучать). Научить сделать что-нибудь, подговорить. Он меня подучил сказать дерзость.

Толковый словарь русского языка. С.И.Ожегов, Н.Ю.Шведова.

подучить -учу, -учишь; -ученный; сов. (разг.).

кого-что. Научить немного чему-нибудь или выучить несколько лучше. Подучить практиканта. Подучить урок.

кого (что), с неопр. Подговорить сделать что-нибудь плохое, предосудительное. Подучить солгать.

несов. подучивать, -аю, -аешь.

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