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It can be hard to be in a conversation with a native speaker, especially if you aren’t really sure what they are saying.

Is it better to pretend you understand so that the other person doesn’t think you are stupid?

In my view, the answer is a very enthusiastic “NO!

You should definitely stop them and ask them to repeat or clarify!!

Not understanding the vocabulary or grammar is not the same as not understanding the concept that someone is saying. Don’t be afraid to slow someone down or ask them to repeat what they are saying.

It will always be worse to smile and nod without understanding. Why? What if they are saying something important and you completely miss it? Later they might ask you about it and it will look even worse!

So what can you say?

Here are some basic (and natural-sounding) expressions to use to get the other person to repeat themselves.

Basic phrases

  • Could you repeat that, please? (Polite)
  • Could you say that again more slowly, please? (Polite)
  • Sorry, what did you say? (Casual)

Conversational phrases

  • Sorry, I didn’t quite catch what you said. (More polite)
  • Sorry? / Pardon? (Neutral)
  • Sorry, what was that? (Neutral)
  • Say again? (Casual)
  • Huh? (Very casual – only say with friends)

**Avoid: “Excuse me?” In this context, this often has the feeling that you thought you heard something that was offensive or mean. If the other person says something bad or rude, you can say this, because it shows that you were not expecting that bad information.

Idiomatic phrases that mean you don’t understand anything someone is saying

  • It’s all Greek to me.
  • I can’t make heads or tails of it.
  • I’m lost.

If you find yourself using these expressions often, try signing up for a conversation class to give yourself a little boost!

Let me know if you have any questions or comments. Did I leave out any expressions that you find useful?