Yes, a good way to understand it in the sense is to thing of it in English as "chez": go chez John, chez the mechanic, etc. This sounds a bit strange, perhaps, but helps you understand the grammatical usage and sense of dal in Italian, which in this construction is similar.
I'm not a native speaker, merely a student. But I do remember a teacher saying something like this, and I always used it this way, so I think you are right. Plus, I think 'andare da' it's always used when you specify a person, a professional ecc. But there are variations like dal, dalla, dalle...
Prepositions don't follow clear rules (I have the same problems with English prepositions)
- io vado dal meccanico (I go to the mechanic)
- io vado a pescare (I go fishing)
- io vado al mercato (I go to the market)
- io vado in banca (I go to the bank)
Maybe this site can help
he is going from his friend's to his parents' house
Lui sta andando dalla casa del suo amico alla casa dei suoi genitori
he goes from his friend's to his parents' house
Lui va dalla casa del suo amico alla casa dei suoi genitori (this translation can also be used for the previous sentence)
There are 2 accepted answers here that are quite different in English, so it is not clear that both answers should be correct:
-Do you go to the mechanic? Means, do you normally, as a habit, go to the mechanic. Does NOT mean you are going now, or today.
-Are you going to the mechanic? means "are you going actually, to the mechanic. (not a habit...more specific)
Which english meaning is referred to by this Italian sentence. It seems this distinction is not easy to make in Italian?
I answered 'are you going' and it was wrong. If somebody's car breaks down, you say to them 'Are you going to the mechanic?', to which they can answer 'yes' or 'no' I thought this was the sense. If you met somebody heading towards the garage, you could ask the same, although the sense is a bit different. 'Do you go to the mechanic?' would mean 'do you go when the car breaks down rather than repairing it yourself or doing something else', to which you could reply 'yes' or 'no'. I had understood the Italian sentence to have the other meaning, not this one. French therefore differs from both Italian and English.
No native English speaker would say "Do you go to the mechanic?" unless they meant "is going to the mechanic something that you do typically?". So it is silly that it rejects "You go to the mechanic?" and "Are you going to the mechanic?" and gives this as the correct answer. So I think the some of the trouble here may be the nuances of English, not Italian.
I think the translation software is bugged ;) You can use "andare a" with places (vado all'officina), but not with people, because you need "da" to change a person into a place (vado dal meccanico). temporalthings above is right, "da" in this context is the same as the French "chez" or the German "bei".
The article is not left out: "dal" is the contraction of "da" and "il" (http://italian.about.com/library/fare/blfare153a.htm). "Are you going to a mechanic?" would have been "Vai da un meccanico?".
As a native speaker can you answer the question about the meaning of this sentence? As asked by a couple of people here: "Are you going to the mechanic?" in English means are you going now. "Do you go to the mechanic?" means in English, do you normally go, do you usually use that mechanic? Which is the meaning of "Vai dal meccanico?" At the moment this duolingo answer says it is "Do you go" and I have a suspicion that this is either not correct, or it could mean either.
It means either and more; the Italian indicative present can be used for (http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/indicativo-presente_%28La-grammatica-italiana%29/):
- An event simultaneous to the enunciation (are you going to the mechanic?)
- A habitual action (do you go to the mechanic [usually]?)
- A fact that is true regardless of the time (do you go to the mechanic [in general]?)
- Colloquially, when the time frame is known, a future action (will you go to the mechanic?)
- In the contest of a narration, a past action: this wouldn't really work as a question.
You will always find people thinking that any language is "hard" and find people thinking that the very same language is "NOT hard". Books could be written on this subject for probably every and each language. Making a general rule out of one single example or a few more is very cliché.