There are several ways to say "understand" in Mandarin Chinese, as this recent forum post discussed.
What's the difference between these?
- 明白 - míngbai
- 了解 - liǎojiě
- 理解 - lǐjiě
- 懂 - dǒng
- 掌握 - zhǎngwò
They all translate as "understand," but they are a bit different in how they are used.
If you understand something clearly, you can use 明白 - míngbai, which translates as "bright white." It is similar to the English expression "as clear as day."
Whereas 明白 - míngbai is often used for facts, 了解 - liǎojiě and 理解 - lǐjiě are often used when discussing abstract concepts, such as understanding people and situations.
When you understand spoken words, you can use 聽懂 / 听懂 - tīngdǒng (hear understand). The understanding of written words is 看懂 - kàndǒng (see understand).
A thorough understanding of a subject or situation can be expressed with 掌握 - zhǎngwò.
There is a great deal of overlap with all of these terms, so listen carefully to see how they are used by native speakers.