Yes, but the problem is, apparently English doesn't have this distinction, which is what is causing troubles for English native speakers since 'to sightsee'(which is the closest thing in English to "zwiedzać") is rarely used as a verb. ;-)
It would be easier in German(as far as I understand):
"zwiedzać" = besichtigen
"odwiedzać" = besuchen
This was my thought as well. Wiedzać by itself can be translated as knowing. Z (with) as prefix - may help a native English speaker (like myself) think of zwiedzać as "with knowing" making the sightseeing an active experience. In the same way, Od (from, of, off, between, off, away) as a prefix may help us think of odwiedzać as "between knowing" or "away from knowing" making the visit a more passive instead of active action.
In any case, reading this whole thread of discussion, this is what makes sense in my head to help me keep them straight.
Still, in English one does not say I am sightseeing something. We go sightseeing to a place as in "I am going sightseeing around the old town."
You may have a point. My experience is that my Polish relatives do much more "sightseeing" than I or my friends do here in the US - We do tend to "visit" more casually - I think of sightseeing as something that is more organized and formal, perhaps with a tour guide. I almost never do that kind of Zwiedzanie.
I am British and a native English speaker. We rarely use the word sightseeing outside of foreign language classes! We say, for example "I am going to Paris". We might add the purpose more generally, "I am going to Paris...on holiday/for work/to visit friends. In the first, sightseeing is implied. In the second and third, there is a chance that you might be asked, "Will you get the time for some sightseeing while you are there?". That's about the only situation I can think of when it would be natural to use it.
I also find the word 'sightseeing' a bit awkward - I would translate this sentence as 'I am touring the old town'. I find this easier on the ear, and also it makes for a more literal translation than 'sightseeing in', but it might still not be a common way to say it in English
“Zwiedzać” always describes the active process of walking around a place, seeing the sights etc. “Odwiedzać” has a much broader sense, but it is basically used for the passive process of going to a place and simply being there.
We cannot accept “to visit” here, as it changes the meaning of the sentence. If it said “Odwiedzam stare miasto” then sure – “I am visiting the old town” would be the default translation.
"I'm going sightseeing" feels just right to this UK Englishman. The Poles here seem to use zwiedzac to express this, whereas odwiedzać means to visit.
EDIT: After reading the 50+ posts of this topic, I recommend promoting "I am going sightseeing in the old town" to Preferred Translation. It's good English and an accurate translation - just what Duo needs.
EDITED 2 May 2019 09:36 UTC
Today, on revisiting this thread, I find I must reverse my original answer
(D__n, it could, too! - I forgot going's ambiguity.) because I forgot that to go sightseeing can only be read as a compound verb [probably not the correct linguistic terminology...].
The two consecutive actions implied in Jellei's query are expressed by:
- I'm going to the Old Town to go sightseeing. – or:
- I'm on my way to the Old Town to go sightseeing.
BTW People from my home town (near Manchester, UK) might well use the horribly colloquial but absolutely unambiguous "I'm doing the tourist(y) thingy in Warsaw" – which Duo hopefully rejects!
thingy: rzecz (PL); Dingsbums (Ger.)
the tourist(y) thingy: what tourists do
in English we visit people just to be there with them but we visit places to look around them. a bit of sightseeing is implied. if we are not going to do any sightseeing we just say we are going there, not that we are visiting. so i think you should accept visit in the implied context of this sentence.
Actually, if you want to get technical, Polish has three, sort of – based on my browsing of some dictionaries, it seems that (note that I do not speak any Portuguese or any other Romance language for that matter, so I can easily be wrong here) "estar" = „stać” (but it only works for locational "to be", not for general notion of current state and never as an auxiliary verb, unlike in Portuguese, so it has much narrower use in Polish); "ser" = „być”, and we also use „mieć” ('to have') for negations of 'to be'. ;)
But your general notion that sometimes semantic equivalence can't be established between words in different languages is obviously true. ;)
"I am sightseeing in the old town" sounds really unnatural to me as a native English speaker. As many others have said, 'visit' is the closest natural-sounding English verb for 'zwiedzać'.
I guess to force the use of the word 'sightseeing' over 'visiting' would be like if Duolingo insisted on 'whom' when translating 'kto' in the non-nominative cases (kogo, komu and kim). It's technically correct, but it doesn't sound natural to most modern-day native English speakers.
'whom' vs 'who' was a never-ending debate, but 'who' has won ;)
I know, I know. But sometimes we can't be natural in both languages at the same time. Or rather: we can, but it doesn't help in learning. If "I am visiting" was the main answer, then we would have no right to reject "Odwiedzam Stare Miasto", which isn't exactly the most common Polish sentence and isn't what was meant. Basically, it's better if we're unnatural in English than in Polish.
Oh, "visit" isn't even accepted... well, it should be. Added now.
Clearly this one goes on and on! While you're about it (thank you for adding 'visit', by the way), I wonder if you could remove 'touring'. This is one of the few instances where the English suggests that travelling in a vehicle that you distinguish in Polish from walking.... Most old towns are such that you are unlikely to get good vehicular access, especially by coach (which is what comes to mind). We might 'tour' a country, or a region, we might even include a 'town' on a tour, but I don't think it is what the Polish sentence suggests. Thanks for your patience, by the way!