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I don’t understand, do you?

Posted by: Tara Benwell
Understanding each other is the key to communication. Don’t pretend to understand.

Don’t Pretend to Understand
Many English learners say “OK” even when they don’t understand. If you don’t understand directions, instructions, suggestions, or questions, use one of these phrases:

  • Could you repeat that?
  • Sorry, what’s your question?
  • Pardon?
  • Sorry, I didn’t catch that.
  • I missed that.
  • Would you mind repeating that?
  • Could you slow down, please? My English is not that strong.
  • Could you run that by me again?
  • I don’t get it. (I don’t understand how to do it.)
  • Would you mind spelling that for me?
  • I’m confused.
  • Sorry, I still didn’t catch that. (use after a repeated statement or question)
  • That went right over my head. (the language or concept was too difficult)
  • You lost me.(informal)
  • Say again? (very informal)

Excuses you can use:

  • I don’t speak English.
  • English is my second language.
  • I’m not from here.
  • Don’t Assume they Understand you
    Is the bus driver looking at you funny? Does the waitress look puzzled? Native English listeners sometimes pretend to understand too! Here are some phrases to use if you think your response, question, or statement was not understood:

    • Did you catch that?
    • Does that make sense?
    • Let me try that again…
    • Let me clarify…
    • What I mean is…
    • That’s not what I meant.
    • Let me put it a different way.
    • Sorry, my pronunciation may not be correct.

    Gestures to Show you (or they) Don’t Understand:

  • Shake your head slowly from side to side.
  • Lift your shoulders up.
  • Lift your shoulders up and put your arms out with your palms facing up to the sky.
  • Tip your head slightly towards the speaker. (to show you are listening carefully)
  • Wrinkle your forehead.
  • Tip: Don’t “nod” your head up and down and smile when you don’t understand. This will make others think you do understand. (Native speakers do this too.)

    Sometimes native speakers speak very quickly. This makes it difficult for learners to “catch” a question or statement. Sometimes learners use improper pronunciation. This makes it difficult for native English speakers to understand what is being said. This video offers an important tip that can improve how well others understand you:

    Written by Tara Benwell for EnglishClub | October 2009
    Tara Benwell is a Canadian freelance writer and editor who specializes in materials and articles for the ELT industry.


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