Ways to express you didn’t hear or understand

January 25, 2019

Imagine you’re having a conversation in a foreign language and simply can’t understand what somebody just said to you. What do you do then? At least I often find myself blurting out something slightly rude like “What?” or “Huh?” instead of a nicer, more sensible reaction.

In very informal speech, such as with close friends, it may be alright to use expressions like “Huh?” or “What?” in English, German or Spanish when you couldn’t hear or understand somebody, but in most cases you should communicate in a bit more polite way.

Below you’ll find a few examples of English, German and Spanish expressions that you can use when you don’t understand or couldn’t hear something.

I recommend visualising yourself in these situations and saying these phrases out loud often, so they will come to you automatically when the phone reception is bad or you miss a question in a lively conversation.



With these phrases, you can simply ask that the other person repeats what they said:
Sorry, I didn’t understand. Could you say that again, please?
Sorry, I didn’t catch that. Could you repeat a little louder, please?

If the sound on the phone is unclear or the person you’re talking to is speaking too quietly, you can say:
I can’t hear you very well. Could you speak up, please?

If you don’t understand a certain word, you can ask the other person to explain:
I don’t know that word, could you please tell me what it means?

If you have already asked them to repeat once, but still can’t understand, you can say you’re sorry in the following ways:
Sorry, English is not my first language. Would you mind repeating that once more?
Sorry, my English is not that great. Would you mind speaking more slowly?

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Wie bitte?
I beg your pardon

Entschuldigen Sie, ich habe es nicht verstanden. Könnten Sie es bitte noch mal sagen?
Excuse me, I didn’t understand. Could you please say it again?

Ich kann Sie nicht so gut hören. Könnten Sie bitte etwas lauter sprechen?
I can’t hear you very well. Could you please speak  a bit louder?

Ich kenne das Wort leider nicht. Könnten Sie mir sagen, was es bedeutet?
Unfortunately I don’t know that word. Could you tell me what it means?

Entschuldigen Sie, ich spreche nicht so gut Deutsch. Könnten Sie etwas langsamer sprechen?
I’m sorry, my German is not very good. Could you please speak slower?

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I beg your pardon

Lo siento, no entiendo. ¿Puede repetir?
Sorry, I don’t understand. Could you please repeat?

No le oigo bien. ¿Puede hablar más alto?
I can’t hear very well. Could you please speak louder?

¿Qué significa esa palabra?
What does that word mean?

Solo hablo un poco de español. ¿Puede hablar más despacio?
I speak only a little Spanish. Could you please speak slower?

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