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The Six Facets of Understanding

Paul has spent many years teaching English as a foreign and second language. He has taught EFL in Taiwan and Thailand, and ESL in the U.S.



Many people are often asking students and non-students whether they understand. Their questions could pertain to a lesson in school or an article in a general newspaper.

What does it mean, however, to understand, for example, the Second World War or the recent political debates on television?

In this article, I list and explain the six facets of understanding which are necessary for everyone to know.



The Six Facets of Understanding

If you ask any person on the street about the meaning of understanding, you will probably get the response that understanding means knowing. This doesn't answer the question because we still haven't spelled out what it means to understand or to know.

A few years ago, I attended a seminar on student learning while teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in Bangkok, Thailand. In the seminar, six facets of understanding were introduced which I have studied and am now in agreement with. These facets include: being able to explain; being able to interpret; being able to apply; having a perspective; being able to empathize, and having self-knowledge. Each one of these facets will be explained in this article.

1. Explaining


When one can explain, for instance, a novel, news article, or mathematical and scientific principle, one can clearly state the key idea and answer all of the essential information questions such as who, what, when, where, how, and why. In being able to explain, you can also sequence events and show the interrelation of all parts.

2. Interpreting


In interpreting a news article or math formula, for example, one can readily explain the meaning of an idea in words or symbols. Furthermore, one can answer the question of how some idea or information relates to or is similar to other things which are fact or non-fact.

3. Applying


After being able to explain and interpret an idea, the next step is being able to apply the idea or concept to everyday events. You do this by effectively using and adopting an idea or principle in diverse contexts. An example might be in applying the principle of supply and demand to the price of fruit now found in the market.

4. Having a Perspective


In having a perspective, a person can see the big picture of an idea. One can be critical by seeing and hearing diverse points of view. By doing this, you discover the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed ideas.

5. Empathizing


After having a perspective, the next facet of understanding is being able to empathize. When empathizing, we answer questions such as "What would it be like?" and "How might we feel?'" We also question how we can reach an understanding of something which we consider to be foreign to our personal experiences.

6. Self-Knowledge


The final facet of understanding is having self-knowledge. This involves metacognitive awareness or being aware of how you think. You do this by reflecting on learning and life experiences. A person also examines how his or her views are shaped by experiences in life.

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Before we can truly say that we understand something, it is necessary to question whether we have examined the six facets of understanding and can satisfactorily utilize all of them. Understanding is far more than knowing and entails being able to explain, interpret, apply, have a perspective, being able to empathize, and have self-knowledge.

Facets of Understanding

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Paul Richard Kuehn


Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on March 01, 2016:

Au fait, Thank you very much for your great comments. I appreciate you sharing and pinning this hub. BTW, did you vote in the Republican primary or are you voting in the Democratic primary?

C E Clark from North Texas on March 01, 2016:

Well written and presented as always. If everyone did their homework more than half of the problems in this world would not exist. Sadly everyone is not equally capable of understanding certain concepts -- and that isn't anyone's fault. Sharing with my followers and pinning to my 'Education' board.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on February 17, 2016:

Thank you once again for your comment, f_hruz. I appreciate your interest in this article.

f_hruz from Toronto, Ontario, Canada on February 17, 2016:

Thanks for your reply, Paul ... I find it especially gratifying when people gain the kind of understanding for an issue during a discussion, lecture or presentation, which let's them formulate highly focused questions to advance the discourse in the right direction and make a greater understanding and a deeper comprehension of the matter possible.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on February 17, 2016:

Thank you very much for your insightful comments. I agree that critical thought is necessary for understanding.

f_hruz from Toronto, Ontario, Canada on February 17, 2016:

Understanding usually starts at a common cultural level. It's quite hard to understand or be understood when the language is strange, the dialect is not clear or the value system is vastly different.

Developing a good common understanding in a specific direction is an educational process best performed in a dialectical environment where critical thought becomes part of the intellectual development without which misguided education can become the basis to self-delusion quite rampantly dispensed in a social environment of institutional superficiality and compulsive consumption so skillfully promoted by highly profitable marketing and PR companies.

Now try to test your understanding of reality by reflecting on the political theater being presented to us daily ...

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on February 15, 2016:

@RoadMonkey , thank you very much for your comments. I'm glad you found this hub interesting.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on February 15, 2016:

@DDE , I'm very happy that you found this hub interesting. Yes, empathizing is so important for understanding. I think that is what made Bill Clinton such a good American President!

RoadMonkey on February 15, 2016:

Very interesting. I haven't seen these facets previously and this is a very sound idea and way of presenting this concept.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 15, 2016:

Hi A very interesting hub! I voted Being able to empathize. The understanding of each is with great explanation but in a simple form.

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