How can I check when I don’t understand in a conversation?

What do you say when you don’t understand someone in a conversation?

If you just say ‘I don’t understand,’ it can be too direct or vague (unclear).  It can sometimes even end the conversation.

Yes, it’s often a good idea to continue the conversation even if you don’t understand everything.  But sometimes it’s important to check when you don’t understand.  If the information is important, not understanding can lead to misunderstandings later.

These days many people are wearing Covid-19 masks and having more conversations online.  This can make conversations more difficult.  So checking becomes even more important.

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When you want to check something in the conversation, it’s a good idea to be specific.  Don’t just say ‘I don’t understand.’   Instead, try to tell the speaker what you didn’t understand or why you didn’t understand. 

For example, maybe you didn’t understand one word or phrase.  Then check with the speaker by saying ‘What do you mean by [word/phrase]?’  Maybe you can also help the speaker by saying ‘Do you mean [meaning 1] or [meaning 2]?’ 

Of course, sometimes you may not understand at all.  Then try to be less direct and use phrases like ‘Sorry, I’m not sure I understand,’ or ‘Sorry, I’m not quite following you.’

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Maybe you don’t understand because the speaker is talking too quickly. Then you can say ‘Sorry, could you slow down?’  Or, maybe you don’t understand because the speaker is talking too quietly. Then you can say ‘Sorry, could you speak up?’


Extra tip:  It’s also a good idea to check the listener is understanding your speech.  Maybe they look unsure.  Maybe they look confused.   Then check the listener understands using phrases like ‘Are you following me?’ or ‘Are you with me?’


Related links:

How can I change the topic in a conversation?

How can I tell a funny story in English?

Pomaka live-online Conversation Café course