Learn and Understand

Essay by zidane105University, Bachelor's November 2009

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Learn and understand are words that are similar to each other concerning their meaning. Looking them up in a dictionary, we might realize that in some cases even one word is used to describe the meaning of the other. However, examining these words thoroughly, we can state that there are also some differences in their meaning.

The definition of “learn” in the dictionary is the following: “to get knowledge or skill in a new subject or activity; to make yourself remember a piece of writing by reading or repeating it many times; to start to understand that you must change the way you behave; to be told facts or information that you did not know.” The word “understand” is defined: “to know the meaning of something that someone says; to know why or how something happens or works; to know how someone feels or why they behave in a particular way.”

These definitions show that the two words are close to each other in meaning but to find differences, we should see some examples.

When someone is born, he/she immediately starts an everlasting “learning”. He/she has to “learn” to walk, to speak, to eat and so on. After one has “learnt” the basics, “learning” does not stop since everyone is obliged to attend a school. Kids must “learn” to read, to count and about a lot of things. However, it is not guaranteed that we also “understand” what we have “learnt”.

According to a survey, many of the kids suffer from difficulties in reading comprehension, which means that even though they “learnt” to read, they are not able to “understand” what they have read about. Another good example is when it comes to “learning” Mathematics. There are two groups of people: those who can “understand” it and those who cannot. One who is good at Mathematics can easily “understand” problems related to it even without “learning” it a lot, whereas members of the other group may study day and night and it is still not for sure that they will be able to solve a similar problem when they encounter one.

Both words also have meanings that are not so close to each other. “Learn” can also refer to something that you have been told about recently, for instance, you might say, “I only learnt about the accident later.” When you say, “I do not understand James” you do not think of James as something to comprehend, in this case “understand” expresses that you just do not know why he behaves the way he does. It can easily be realized that the two words are not similar in meaning in this case.

These examples help to see a few differences between the words learn and understand. In general, you “learn” so as to “understand” something but when you “understand” something, it is not certain that you have had to “learn” to “understand” it. This clearly shows that even though the two words are synonyms, there are distinctions between them as well.

Works CitedElizabeth Walter. Cambridge Learner’s Dictionary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.