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?

  • Wikipedia has few examples of sentences like that to start your research: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glokaya_kuzdra and links. Jan 11, 2018 at 22:44
  • Comprehension without conscious translation is always the goal.
    – Robusto
    Jun 15, 2021 at 20:51
  • Comprehension vs meaning might be a rather confusing binary. Things like deductive vs inductive or generalization vs instantiation might be better suited to describe what you're trying to describe.
    – user10134
    Jul 11, 2022 at 11:11
  • The most well-known example is: Twas brillig and the slithy toves, Did gyre and gimble in the wabe etc. The Jabberwocky You don't go from comprehension to meaning. You comprehend the meaning of an utterance. For example.
    – Lambie
    Mar 11, 2023 at 15:51
  • Comprehension is always about meaning. You don't go from "one to the other".
    – Lambie
    Nov 4, 2023 at 15:38

1 Answer 1


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.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.