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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Comprehension Bias

Everyone says 'I understand more than I can speak', but that's obvious. Nobody ever says 'I speak more than I understand'

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You know you want to.


16 comments:

  1. I actually disagree. I find it easier to speak Italian than understand it because a) I can speak using words I know - to understand I have to know a much larger vocabulary, and b) to understand people you have to follow their rapid speech - you can speak at your own pace.

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    1. Huh. Good point, I actually agree. That makes you NO ONE EVER!

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    2. Agree - I have the same feeling, that speaking is easier than understanding, once I've reached a certain level.

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    3. Actually, I thought about it, and I disagree. You can certainly speak using words that you know - and of course you understand those same words when spoken. Sure, sometimes it's fast or you don't get some slang, but I'd wager you're still able to understand all the things that you are able to speak about. Also, as the comic points out, you often understand plenty of words that you don't know how to say, because they're similar to words you know in other languages, or like in German, they're compounds of words you already know, but didn't know that they could be combined.

      That's my personal experience anyway!

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  2. Nitpicking: proper German would be "die Maus ist im Haus", not "in dem Haus".
    But great comic, I agree with the general sentiment - although Tim has a point, too! :-)

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    1. Ooh good catch, I'll fix it. Thanks!

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    2. Both are possible but have a slightly different meaning: "in dem" means the mouse in a specific house, "im" that it is in some house.

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  3. OK but you could also learn a language using primarily written material, and get to the point where you can read fairly well but not have a clue how to pronounce anything (For instance if I'm not mistaken, there are a number of dead languages that have been translated to some extent or another but nobody has the slightest idea how to go about pronouncing.)

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  4. Hate to pee on your parade, but I'm another "NO ONE EVER". Functionally, I speak Dutch better than I understand it. When I speak, I'm in control of the conversation, and can pick the words and topic. When others speak, I'm often at a loss. I think you may be underestimating the complexity of accent, idiom, and slang.

    That might be related to phonemic difficulty. I suspect a lot of westerners speak Mandarin better than they understand it because of the tones. (Dutch has a lot of subtle vowel sounds.)

    But as others have said, great comic! :)

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  5. I speak more then I understand is recommended mode for politicians in speeches and talk-shows.

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  6. I'm in the same boat as Tim, but with Swedish. I speak it more easily than I comprehend it.

    That said, I think your general principle is correct. Every other foreigner I met in Sweden was flabbergasted that I told them that--their experiences all conformed to your comic. I think it's probably because I learned through books rather than proper immersion.

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  7. I was sure the punchline would be "Well, you clearly speak more than you understand!"

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    1. Hah! That's actually a great punchline...

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  8. I've always parsed the phrase as "*I understand* more than *I speak*" (correcting the statement from "I *understand* more than I *speak*) instead of "yeah, I speak a little but understand a fair bit." It just seems polite to say when people are asking if you speak because maybe they want to not be rude and ensure you know what is going on. It is a good way of saying you follow the conversation but cannot contribute.

    But then, maybe I always just parsed it wrong.

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  9. I tend to agree with Malachi and the original strip. The passive vocabulary is always smaller than the active one. In order to understand, one does not need to know every word(*) or grammatical construct, but trying to explain something without knowing the relevant words ... impossible. And not always it is easy to find a way around.

    (*) Even when reading or listening to one's native language, people don't usually pay attention to every single word.

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