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Two men are having a conversation. A is plying B with numbers and other technical details, but talks so glibly and rapidly that B does not properly "take on board" the information which A is providing.

It can't be said that B doesn't hear the information. Nor is it quite right to say that B doesn't understand the information (because he could understand it if he focused on it). The truth is that B fails mentally to process the information. That failure is well described by the figurative expression that B fails to "take the information on board".

For my purposes, however, I need a more formal/less casual word or phrase than "take on board". Any suggestions?

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    I think you may not understand the exact sense of idiomatic take on board (to understand and accept ideas and opinions which may change the way you behave in the future). It's irrelevant that in principle B could have understood [and accepted] what was said. In practice he either didn't understand the bare facts that were conveyed, or failed to understand how he was supposed to process and react to those facts. Either way, he didn't understand [the implications of what he was told]. But you might consider register. – FumbleFingers Jan 21 '15 at 18:11
  • I think that one can "take on board" the ideas or opinions of others without necessarily accepting them. (Eg: "I fully take on board your objections, but nevertheless feel that it is appropriate to proceed.") – Irefuteitthus Jan 21 '15 at 18:46
  • Your word process seemed quite good to me. – WS2 Jan 21 '15 at 18:46
  • As for "understand", I suggested only that it was not quite right. To me, at least, it would sound strange to say that someone did not understand something which he had made no real attempt to understand. Someone who sticks his fingers in his ears and shouts "la la la", so that he cannot hear his interlocutor, might be said strictly not to have understood him (since no act of understanding occurred), but wouldn't that be a bit unnatural? Thanks for "register" though. – Irefuteitthus Jan 21 '15 at 18:52
  • @WS2: "process" is also bit too informal for my purposes, I think. – Irefuteitthus Jan 21 '15 at 18:53
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Perhaps digest the information

Understand or assimilate (new information or the significance of something) by a period of reflection.

Similarly, absorb

Take in and assimilate (information, ideas, or experience): she absorbed the information in silence

And, as noted in the prior definition, assimilate

Take in (information, ideas, or culture) and understand fully: Marie tried to assimilate the week’s events

All from Oxford Dictionaries Online

  • Interesting. A large degree of overlap, but they're not identical. Good spread of alternatives. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 21 '15 at 19:26
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Depending on the specific context, perhaps the word you're looking for is internalize?

make (attitudes or behavior) part of one's nature by learning or unconscious assimilation.

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