When we first begin to read, we learn that certain symbols stand for concepts. We start by recognizing letters and associating the forms with the sounds they represent. Then we move to recognizing entire words and what they mean. Once we’ve processed those individual words, we can move on to comprehension: Figuring out what the writer meant by stringing those words together. It’s difficult work, particularly if you’re just learning to read or you’re one of the nearly 50% of the population who have low literacy skills.
While it’s tempting to have someone read your text and ask them if they understood it, you shouldn’t rely on a simple “yes” answer. It’s possible to recognize every word (decode), yet misunderstand the intended meaning (comprehend). You’ve probably experienced this yourself: Ever read something only to reach the end and realize you don’t understand what you just read? You recognize every word, but because the writing isn’t clear, or you’re tired, the meaning of the passage escapes you. Remember, too, that if someone misinterpreted what they read, there’s no way to know unless you ask questions to assess their comprehension.