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Business English Skill Set - Small Talk

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Lesson 2, Topic 3
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Saying You Don’t Understand

Kate July 21, 2020
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We understand that communicating in another language may not always be smooth sailing.

There may be times when you can’t understand someone.

Think of a young child who doesn’t understand something – their first instinct is to simply ask ‘what?’ At first, this may also be our first instinct when speaking in a second language too.

However, rather than look perplexed and just say “what?” (which would be extremely rude), there are a number of other ways to express that you don’t understand and ask for clarification which are much more diplomatic.

  • I’m sorry, I don’t understand.
  • Sorry, could you repeat that please?
  • Sorry, I don’t quite understand.
  • I’m not quite sure I follow you.
  • Do you mean that……?
  • My apologies, I didn’t quite get that.
  • I’m afraid I don’t follow.

Simplifying Language or Paraphrasing for Clarity

If it’s you who’s being misunderstood, you will need to simplify your language, or paraphrase for clarity.

You could use any of the following expressions to rephrase what you want to say.

  • In other words…
  • Let me rephrase that…
  • Sorry, let me explain it in a different way…
  • To put it another way/differently…