It’s normal to recognize English far better than you can speak it, but it’s quiet frustrating. This is why the happens and also how you deserve to fix it.

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When I very first came to Brazil i knew zero Portuguese. 

It was practically an accident that i was there, so ns hadn’t ready at all. 

Luckily, ns knew part Spanish, and if i just changed my interval a bit, I found that most people could know me. 

But ns couldn’t understand them at all.

Fast forward numerous years. I’m currently at a high intermediary level, struggling towards being advanced. Currently my problem is quite different: I can understand much much more than I have the right to say.

Just as one example: I’m at this time taking an online university-level calculus class in Portuguese. I can follow practically everything the professor is saying. Yet when I have actually a question? every one of that vocabulary the I taken vanishes into thin air. 

I’m left embarrassed and stuttering.

It’s not that i can’t speak Portuguese—I can. But the vocabulary that I recognize is numerous times greater than the vocabulary the I deserve to use once I’m speaking. It’s the exact same with grammar: I deserve to understand lot more complex grammatical frameworks than I deserve to produce. 

And I understand I’m not alone in this—indeed, the common amongst language learners. Language comprehension is almost always more advanced than language production. 

English is no exception, and this is a problem that affects practically all English learners. 

It’s something that numerous members the Leonardo English have spoken about, and you can see world talking about this trouble all end the internet.





In this article, I want to check out this problem, and assist explain why that is. 

Why is it that you deserve to understand a podcast in English however can’t speak like the host? 

Why is it the I have no problems understanding a word, however when I want to use it, ns can’t remember it in time?

And what have the right to we language learners perform to close the gap in between comprehension and production? Let’s check out if we can find some answers.

Comprehension and also production are various processes

To know why our language understanding develops differently than our capacity to create language, we need to understand the they are distinct processes. 

Language understanding is the capability to know language input. it is a process of decoding meaning from etymological input making use of contextual information and the recipient’s expertise of the world. 

Language manufacturing is the production of language output—either talked or written. It refers to all the stages from having an idea that you desire to express, come translating it into a linguistic form.

While lock related, and also you do need one to carry out the other, there’s proof that these two processes are distinct.

Comprehension and also production use various parts that the brain

For one thing, these two procedures seem come take location in various regions the the brain.

A component of the brain called “Wernicke’s area” is famously associated with speech recognition. People with damages to this area suffer from receptive aphasia—the i can not qualify to understand language input.

Language production seems to originate in a different component of the mind called “Broca’s area”. Patient with damages to this area usually experience expressive aphasia—they have impediments to their manufacturing of language, though not to your comprehension.

So part of the reason that language learners an alert differences in their capability to recognise a indigenous versus produce it may need to do v those two features simply being different processes in different parts that the brain. 

Comprehension seems to be a prerequisite for recall

Not just are comprehension and production different processes, yet they also may come at various times. In fact, some language researcher argue that understanding of a word is typically required before you deserve to use it in her language.

And that provides sense—you could think this is blindingly obvious. 

If girlfriend don’t recognize what a “carousel” is, for instance, you’re not going to be able to use it once you’re describing your pilgrimage to the fair. 

This is sustained by study on children language development: it’s virtually always the case that children demonstrate comprehension of a term or grammar structure before they have the right to use it themselves. 

Knowing various other languages have the right to interrupt production

Another interesting difficulty is that languages deserve to interfere v one another. 

You may have had this experience: you trying come remember a native in English and also instead, words in your native language comes to mind. 

Or, maybe after a lengthy English research session, you could find yourself unable to uncover a native in your aboriginal language, and also instead the English one pops out. 

Well, it transforms out that fluent multilingual speakers space able come inhibit one language as soon as they room using another. That a tool that helps them develop language effectively.

For instance, if friend speak both French and English in ~ an progressed level, and also you’re in conversation v someone who just speaks English, friend unconsciously inhibit your French to do speaking English easier.

But we can only perform that effectively when we’re proficient in both of the languages. 

When we’re no as strong in a language, it’s simpler for various other languages to pop in and also interfere.

That’s component of the reason you might find the words native your aboriginal language pop up once you’re trying to speak English. 

A absence of capability in English might make that more difficult to inhibit your various other languages. 

Languages interfere v comprehension, too, but we may not notice it

So what around comprehension? could your native language—or various other languages girlfriend speak—interfere through understanding English?

There is some proof that the could. 

In some studies, researchers uncovered that response times to comprehension tasks to be lengthened as soon as other languages were activated. 

But interference most likely isn’t together noticeable in comprehension as the is in production. 

If you’re having actually a conversation with a friend in English, you more than likely won’t notice that your native language makes you take a tiny little bit longer to recognize what lock saying. 

You would notice as soon as you try to respond to them and also your aboriginal language comes out.

In other words, interference indigenous our various other languages may have a an ext noticeable effect on our speech production than on ours comprehension. It is one factor production might feel harder. 

And again, the better her English, the better you deserve to inhibit your other languages. And the less they would certainly interfere.

We listen much more than we speak

Even in our very own language, we "consume" language—listen come it and also read it—much more than we “produce” it by speaking or writing. 

There will certainly be words the you know in your indigenous language however you probably wouldn’t have the ability to use in conversation. 

This is since we room a lot an ext used to comprehending language than producing it. 

This, of course, provides us far better at understanding than production.

When it concerns learning English, it’s precisely the exact same story; us listen and read an ext than us speak and write.

This will certainly be specifically true if you learned English in a classroom. 

A great environment typically gives you little opportunity come practise speaking. When it did, it can have even been stressful. 

The an outcome is that, because that almost every one of us, we develop our comprehension skills much more than our production skills. 

So, why is understanding easier?

Together, i think the proof paints a picture of why it's so typical that language learners often feel prefer their understanding is much better than their production—why castle understand much more than they can say

Production and also comprehension are different processes. Being strong in one doesn’t necessarily typical you’re as solid in the other. Comprehension comes first. You need to know a word before you deserve to use it. It provides sense that there are much more words on our “I recognize this” vocabulary list 보다 on our “I deserve to use this” list. Our native language might interfere through our speaking. when we’re learning, we may not have the ability to inhibit our aboriginal language, so it deserve to interfere with our English and also make speaking an ext difficult. Our native language may interfere with our comprehension too, however we might not notification that as much.Most of us listen an ext in our 2nd languages than we speak. For this reason it provides sense that we understand much more than we deserve to say. 

What have the right to you do about it?

If her English understanding is really advanced, fine done, offer yourself a beat on the back. 

Now that a situation of transforming that excellent comprehension from “passive” knowledge into “active” knowledge. That time to close the gap in between what girlfriend understand and what you deserve to say.

To improve your English production, you now have to spend much more time functioning on output activities such as speaking and writing. 

Some of mine favourites output activities include:

Keeping a newspaper or diary

You can additionally make her listening activities more active and increase your calculation in the process.

This is among the most effective techniques, together not just are you continually exposing yourself to native English comprehensible input, yet you are likewise doing active output tasks at the very same time.

For example, right here are some methods to scaffold output activities on optimal of listening come Leonardo English podcasts:

Write a review of a podcast illustration you listened toRecord a review of a podcast episode you listened toExplain what the podcast was about, the end loud, to a friend

These room all concepts for structure output activities into her English learning programme. 

The an ext you practice your output, the easier it will certainly get, and the smaller sized the gap will be between what friend understand and also what you have the right to say. 

What shouldn’t you do?

Here are a couple of ideas around what isn’t the best means to address a regarded weakness in her English production. 

Blindly memorise vocabulary lists

Yes, broadening your vocabulary is a great way to boost the variety of words friend have accessibility to when you're speaking. Building your vocabulary is useful, and we’ve posted some ideas for the most reliable ways to improve your vocabulary before. 

But simply memorising vocabulary lists out of context isn’t going to be really effective.

Instead, the ideal means to find out vocabulary is to discover them in context

You desire to do activities where you have the right to see vocabulary gift used. Because that example, learning all the vital vocabulary in a Leonardo English episode would certainly be much more useful 보다 memorising words indigenous a list of IELTS vocabulary. 

Focus just on speaking right away

Speaking English is, that course, necessary to discovering it. And speaking activities should start when you room a beginner. 

But dumping yourself automatically into full-on conversations with native speakers may not it is in the most reliable or comfortable method to discover English. Not just will it be frustrating and possibly overwhelming, however you also may not find out much. 

Rather than overemphasising conversation ideal away, integrate your speaking and also other output activities with listening and also reading activities. 

Focus too lot on grammar

Yes, grammar is important. You should speak v reasonable accuracy because that others to understand you. 

But grammar shouldn’t be the sole emphasis of your study. And actually, we have the right to pick up a most grammar through comprehensible input—by hear to rather speak. 

There room plenty of very successful English speakers who have actually learned English without ever spending a minute functioning on grammar activities, and also instead have obtained grammar rules with listening to indigenous speakers.

So, yes, you can encompass grammar practice in her English learning plan if friend like. Yet make sure you don’t emphasis on grammar so much that you forget to in reality listen and speak English. 

Keep practising come close the comprehension-production gap

I for sure know just how frustrating it can be to it is in in a conversation and also have something to say, yet not be able to say it. 

Understanding isn’t the problem. Speaking is.

There are some an excellent reasons because that that. Comprehension and also production aren’t the very same processes, therefore it provides sense the one might be far better than the other. 

And actually, understanding a indigenous is most likely a prerequisite for utilizing it—you wouldn’t say a native you no understand. For this reason most civilization likely have actually a pool of words that they can understand that’s much bigger 보다 the swimming pool of indigenous they can use

In addition, once we’re not yet competent in a language, our indigenous language can interfere. And it might interfere much more with manufacturing than v comprehension. 

That’s all normal. 

What’s the solution? 

It’s not magic: practice and also perseverance. 

Keep speak English. Save listening and also reading to English. Do activities that reveal yourself to brand-new words, phrases and sentence structures.

And make it part of her day—every job if you can. Also just a little.

Over time, girlfriend will uncover that your production starts to creep closer to her comprehension. And also you’ll gain to a location where you’re actually rather comfortable speak in English. 

Just save at it. 


Alsaigh, T., & Kennison, S. M. (2017). Second language interference during an initial language processing by Arabic–English bilinguals. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1956.

Clark, E. V., & Hecht, B. F. (1983). Comprehension, production, and language acquisition. Annual evaluation of Psychology, 34(1), 325-349.

de Bot, K. (2004). The multilingual lexicon: Modelling selection and control. International newspaper of Multilingualism, 1(1), 17-32.

Izumi, S. (2003). Comprehension and production processes in second language learning: searching for the psycholinguistic reason of the calculation hypothesis. Applied Linguistics, 24(2), 168-196.

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Treiman, R., Clifton Jr, C., Meyer, A. S., & Wurm, L. H. (2003). Language comprehension and also production. Handbook the Psychology, 525-547.