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Saying "I can read XXX" is precise in referring to the ability to understand only written text. Saying "I can understand XXX" could refer to either reading or understanding audio. Is there a single word that means only the ability to understand audio?

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I could have sworn we got this question before. –  simchona Dec 13 '11 at 2:11
    
I did expect to find this in a search but nothing came up. –  Pete Dec 13 '11 at 3:35
    
Is "written text" redundant? –  Sam Dec 13 '11 at 7:00
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On exams, the listening section is the one that tests audio comprehension. –  onomatomaniak Dec 13 '11 at 8:31
    
@Sam depends on what you're taking written to mean (e.g. hand written). In this context it certainly seems redundant. –  Matt Эллен Dec 13 '11 at 9:44

8 Answers 8

In the context of learning a language, we often speak of being able to read, write, speak and listen to it.

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Listen doesn't stipulate understanding. I can listen to someone speaking French, but, unfortunately, I have no ability to understand it. –  sarah Dec 15 '11 at 4:30
    
Perhaps, listen, as opposed to just hear, implies hearing with (an attempt at) comprehension. –  Kris Dec 15 '11 at 5:01
    
Yes, I agree. But an attempt to understand may fail. The OP asks for a word that corresponds to read. I don't think listen quite does. Though the OP does mention the ability to understand_, we don't say a person can read if they can't understand the text. But one can listen and not understand, no? Hear, as Gnawme suggests, has a meaning of comprehension, not just an attempt. It's a tricky one, isn't it! It would help to hear from the OP, but it appears he's distracted. –  sarah Dec 15 '11 at 9:36

Isn't "I can understand ....." referring to the fact that one has the ability to understand audio/spoken words/sentences?

We often use, I can read/write/speak to differentiate between the abilities to read/write/speak.

My best bet for ability to understand audio, in common usage is on "I can understand...."

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Write, read, speak and . . . ? The only word that fits is understand. I know that understand can be used of writing as well, but the context will almost always show what is meant.

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But the OP asks for a single word that means *only* the ability to understand audio. –  sarah Dec 15 '11 at 5:40

The OP notes that one is said to read if one can understand written text.

He adds, somewhat superfluously I think, that one can understand information provided in written or audio form.

The OP then asks for:

a single word that means only the ability to understand audio

I think the answer is no, there is no single word primarily understood to mean that. I'm with Gnawme that hear does have that meaning, certainly more so than listen, which was also suggested, and would fit most elegantly into the role.

However, I don't believe that particular meaning of hear is limited to information received via audio. For instance, one might respond to sentiments expressed in an email with the reply, I hear you.

Primarily, though, the problem I see is that hear is so much more commonly used and understood to mean simply : to perceive or apprehend by the ear. To hear audio would then pair more closely with to see written information, rather then to read it.

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"Speak" implies both speaking and listening abilities in this context, with the presumption that one could not speak without being able to understand the spoken word by listening.

I am probably the only exception, though.

So, you can just say I can speak to mean both speech and listening abilities. That covers the entire "audio" domain. The converse is not true! One could understand reasonably well listening to people, but be unable to speak in the language.

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One can certainly be able to speak a language intelligibly, and not understand a word of it when the language is spoken at normal speed. In fact, I believe this often happens with Americans in certain parts of the U.K. –  Peter Shor Dec 13 '11 at 11:04

Auditory Discrimination is defined by Wise Geek as the brain's ability to organize and make sense of language sounds. However, it is generally understood to mean something closer to this from education.com: [the] Ability to distinguish sounds of varying frequencies, intensities, and patterns, which reflects a more accurate meaning of discrimination.

Auditory Processing is the ability to listen, comprehend, and respond to information that we hear through our auditory channels, according to bbbautism.com.

A similar definition is provided by speech-therapy-on-video.com: the ability to hear auditory messages, distinguish between similar sounds or words, separate relevant speech from background noise, and the ability to recall and comprehend what was heard.

Unfortunately, for your purposes, this is not a single word. But it's pretty close.

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Auditory has to do with the perception of hearing -- not audio in the sense of 'sound', which includes both speech and hearing. It seems the OP relates to a broader faculty of an ability to speak and to listen (and understand therefrom). –  Kris Dec 14 '11 at 5:34
    
Hmm, not sure I take your point. Isn't all audio processed through the sense of hearing? I'm not saying my answer is correct, though. I'm beginning to think the premise of the question is faulty. I'll try to explain that in a separate comment. –  sarah Dec 15 '11 at 5:22
    
Again, two words, so not what the OP requested, however, both of my linked definitions for auditory processing specifically include the ability to comprehend information that is perceived thorough our sense of hearing. What is understanding if not comprehending? And what is audio if not information that is perceived thorough our sense of hearing? Sorry, I know your comment was meant to explain this, but I don't think it does. –  sarah Dec 15 '11 at 5:54

To complete the phrase with grace: Read, write, speak, and hear.

The word hear is so common that we take it for granted, and forget that it specifically means:

to be made aware of by the ear : apprehend by the ear

where apprehend itself means

to lay hold of with the understanding : recognize the existence or meaning of

[All definitions Merriam-Webster Unabridged]

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Hear is a step closer than listen, but I don't think it is commonly understood to necessarily indicate understanding. –  sarah Dec 15 '11 at 5:09
    
There's the word's connotation, with which I agree with your point; and there's its denotation -- its actual meaning -- which I've supplied in my revised answer. –  Gnawme Dec 15 '11 at 18:18
    
Hear can also mean a simple perception sound, but I think it's meaning will be clear in context. If one says "Listen; do you hear French?" it should be taken differently than if one says "I can hear French, but I cannot speak it." However, it still sounds awkward to my ear. –  Mr.Wizard Dec 15 '11 at 21:24

Being able to read something doesn't imply being able to understand it. And there is a difference between understanding the words themselves and understanding the meaning. The analog of reading is listening. By the same token, I can listen to someone, it doesn't mean I know what they're talking about.

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It does weakly imply it. If I said "I can read Japanese", you would assume I could understand what I was reading. –  slim Dec 13 '11 at 11:03
    
Reading, at least in educational contexts (and, I think in general), does imply understanding. If one is not understanding, one is not reading. –  sarah Dec 15 '11 at 5:37
    
I suppose it does imply understanding in one sense, but understanding is a vague notion with many levels. "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously". In a one sense, I understand this sentence. It is grammatically correct, but it is meaningless. How can you understand a meaningless sentence? That doesn't mean I can't read it. –  Sam Dec 15 '11 at 22:37
    
@Sam I do see your point. However, this is a special case because there is no meaning intended in the sentence. Nothing to understand. So, in terms of my (and the OP's) claim that reading_= understanding, I guess I would claim you _can't actually read that sentence. I'd argue that you can, however, read, each of the words, since each, alone, does have meaning. –  sarah Dec 16 '11 at 3:55

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