Today during a brief conversation after class, one of my professors asked me what else I was studying while at the University of Rostock. Only she didn't actually ask me what I was studying--she asked me what I was "hearing" (this was all auf Deustch, mind you). Though I had never heard this particular expression before, my mongoose-like mental agility and worldliness allowed me to quickly apprehend its meaning and I answered appropriately without missing a beat. The experience reminded me of another cross-cultural conversation I had nearly eight years ago (almost to the day, come to think of it) in England. I was walking around some church in Cumbria and got to chatting with one of the bishops, who, after some idle conversation about where I lived and went to school, asked me what I was reading. It seemed an odd and abrupt question given what the current of our conversation had been hitherto, so I hesitated for a moment and was about to start talking about the new Michael Crichton novel I had in my backpack when he stopped me after having apparently sensed my puzzlement.
"Sorry," said he. "I suppose that's a British expression. If we want to know what subjects you're taking in school, we ask what you're 'reading.'"
Interesting how, given the right context, asking what one is studying, hearing, or reading can all have the exact same meaning. Of the three, I like the German version best as it's often more literally descriptive of the activity in question than the other two.
Might readers be able to give examples from other cultures and languages?