If given a text in Mongolian using the Cyrillic alphabet, I can read it out, albeit with a couple of pronunciation errors, even though I'd understand few if any words in it. It's almost the opposite of being illiterate, which would involve understanding the words, but being unable to read them.

Is there a term for being able to read a language out but not be able to understand it?

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    So the situation where you do not speak the language but do understand the orthography and can produce all the phonemes in a roughly native-speaker-like fashion? I don't think that has a name although it's a pretty common situation among linguists. Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 4:22
  • And it needn't involve the orthography at all. Plenty of us can produce reasonable sentences that make us sound like a native for an instant, and even get from conversational point A to point B. But the native speaker tends to return by the scenic route, and we can't understand until much later, if at all.
    – jlawler
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 15:04

1 Answer 1


This is known as phonetics, and someone who does this is known as a phonetician. It does not imply that you know what you are saying. It simply means you can pronounce what you see written before you accurately. I have this capability with Spanish. I can read it, write, speak it, flawlessly, but understanding it is whole different thing to me.

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