The Difference Between 自分の and 私の

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May 25, 2011 11:06 Japanese_language 自分
This post is for advanced learners of Japanese. I will explain the difference between 自分の and 私の.

自分の語学力はかなり高いと思っていたのに,テストの結果は悪かった。 (a)
 私の語学力はかなり高いと思っていたのに,テストの結果は悪かった。 (b)
(The only difference is 自分の and 私の.)
Although I thought that my English skills were considerably high, the test result was bad. (Should I use the past perfect?)

Generally, “私の” for “my” is safer than “自分の”, since “自分” often sounds like a man speaking, not a woman. However, “私の” in this sentence is a bit less natural than “自分の”. Only a bit however.

When using 自分の, the sentence reads like “I reflected on myself and I thought that my English skills were considerably high; however, the test result was bad.” Although I am not familiar with the nuance of my translation well, in Japanese the sentence using 自分の reads more like the actor is seeing himself objectively. Relatively, using 私の in that situation sounds childish.

I guess that this difference to some extent comes from the usage of 自分 for reflective pronouns. That is the first sentence is a shortening of the following.
私は,自分の語学力はかなり高いと思っていたのに,テストの結果は悪かった。 (c)
This is natural.
Though you might know already, in Japanese, the following is still correct and it is the same as the one above.
私は,私の語学力はかなり高いと思っていたのに,テストの結果は悪かった。 (d)
However, this is a bit unnatural. The following is better.
私は,語学力はかなり高いと思っていたのに,テストの結果は悪かった。 (e)
The following is even better as long as readers can understand what is the topic, 私は, from the context.
語学力はかなり高いと思っていたのに,テストの結果は悪かった。 (f)
The following (which was the first example given) gives the sentence a sense of self-reflection.
自分の語学力はかなり高いと思っていたのに,テストの結果は悪かった。 (a)