The highest reward for an instructor is to have helped a student thoroughly understand the material conveyed. There are a number of ways to acknowledge that you have understood a statement or a subject matter. Study the following sentences to get a feel of the different shades of meaning in the various expressions.
懂 (dǒng) means to understand, to have knowledge about a subject, or to know how to do something.
Nǐ dǒng zhōngwén ma?
Do you know the Chinese language?
Wǒ dǒng zhōngwén.
I know Chinese.
Nǐ dǒng ma?
Do you understand?
Nǐ tīng de dǒng ma?
Are you able to understand what is being said?
Wǒ tīng de dǒng.
I am able to understand what is being said.
Nǐ dǒng le ma?
Did you get it?
Wǒ dǒng le.
I got it.
The last sentence above indicates a state of completion. Please review the verb tenses in Chapter 15 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“.
了解 (liǎojiě) means to understand or to comprehend completely.
Tā zuì liǎojiě wǒ.
He understands me the best.
理解 (lǐjiě) means to understand the sense or logic of something. 不能理解 (bùnéng lǐjiě) means unable to make sense of.
Wǒ bùnéng lǐjiě tā de zuòwéi.
I cannot understand his conduct.
明白 (míngbai) as an adjective means clear, plain or obvious. As a verb, it means to understand, to know or to realize.
Xiànzài wǒ wánquán míngbai le.
Now I totally understand.
清楚 (qīngchǔ) means distinct, clear or obvious. As a verb, it means to understand clearly. 弄清楚 (nòng qīngchǔ) or 搞清楚 (gǎo qīngchǔ) is to find out more about something to figure it out.
Wǒ gǎo bù qīngchǔ tā de yìsī.
I can’t figure out what he means.
知道 (zhīdào) and 晓得 (xiǎodé) both mean to know, to understand, to realize, or to be aware of something.
Nǐ zhīdào wǒ de yìsī ba?
You know what I mean, don’t you?
你知道吗? (Nǐ zhīdào ma?) could also be used to start an informal conversation – “You know? Blah, blah, blah.”
Elementary school teachers habitually follow their instructions with 知道吗? (Zhīdào ma? Understand?) and 晓得吧? (Xiǎodé ba? Understand?) We had a family friend who used to be a teacher. He would punctuate every remark with his pet phrase 晓得吧? (Xiǎodé ba?). This made him sound quite presumptuous.
领会 (lǐnghuì) is to understand or grasp the meaning of something.
会意 (huìyì) means to perceive someone’s unspoken thoughts or meaning. 会心 (huìxīn knowing, knowingly) is normally used as an adjective or an adverb.
Tā gěi le wǒ yī gè huìxīn de wēixiào.
She gave me a knowing smile.