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Last week, I wrote that it is sometimes better to say わかりません instead of しりません when you want to say “I don’t know.” Some people asked me to explain a bit more about it, so here comes a bit more explanations / examples.

When you approach your teacher or your boss for help, I think you should always say わかりません rather than しりません:
この道具(どうぐ)の使い方(つかいかた)がわかりません。
I don’t know how to use this tool.
この漢字(かんじ)の意味(いみ)がわからない。
I don’t know the meaning of this kanji.
This is because, even if you don’t remember it, your teacher / your boss might have explained it to you before and if you say しりません when they know that they have explained to you before, they will get quite upset – I have seen this scenario quite often myself. Also しりません sounds quite a bit reckless. For these reasons, I say わかりません to my seniors when I ask for help (or just ask for help without saying either of them).
If you have some knowledge or idea about something but your knowledge/idea is not sufficient to proceed to the next step, you should say わかりません rather than しりません also.
コロコダイルとアリゲーターの違(ちが)いがわからない。
I don’t know the difference between a crocdile and an alligator.
どうしたらいいのかわかりません。
I don’t know what to do.
Oh, just in case you are wondering, the caption in the photo says:
このかんじのよみかたがわかりません。
and
このかんじのよみかたをしりません。
They both can be translated as ”I don’t know how to read this kanji.” (Mind the particle difference too.) You would say the first one if you have learned it before but if you have forgotten. The second one will suit if you have never seen these characters before.
I hope this helps!

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