I'm trying to find the right terminology to describe the learning process that might be happening when a language learner goes from comprehension to meaning, rather than the other way around.

Imagine you've come across a passage like the following:

Last sarabe I went to the rakatore. There I met a celanka who took me to the trapika. There was much rookling and panking. Frightened, I statood the rakatore and yennied home.

Even though you don't know the meanings of these words, you still have a reasonable understanding of what happened, perhaps because of familiarity with the syntax of English. You can easily summarise the sentences above as:

Sometime in the past I went somewhere. I met someone who took me somewhere else. There was stuff happening there that frightened me so I went home.

In many cases, our understanding of the meaning of new words would get refined the more we hear them in contexts that we understand. For example:

It's been a really long week. I'm really looking forward to the sarabe, when I can spend some time with my kids. Maybe we'll make pancakes or go to the beach.

I can start guessing that sarabe might mean "weekend" or something similar.

The only thing I don't like about sarabe is that every sarabe, at 8:30 at night, after I've put my kids to bed, I've got to open my email and start getting ready for another week at the office.

I can now guess that sarabe is most likely "Sunday", based on the contextual clues.

Is it correct to say that "comprehension" has come before "meaning" in these cases? Or is there a better way to describe this phenomenon?


According to the Reading Rockets website, “comprehension is the understanding and interpretation of what is read”. It combines thinking and reasoning with reading. Also, according to the university of Kansas, “comprehension is affected by the reader's knowledge of the topic, knowledge of language structures, knowledge of text structures and genres, knowledge of cognitive and metacognitive strategies, their reasoning abilities, their motivation, and their level of engagement”.

Therefore, you can have a general understanding of the text even if you do not know the meaning of all of its words. So, generally speaking, you can guess their meaning by analyzing the context and by employing the knowledge you may have about the structure of the language.

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