DO NOT SAY 'Can you repeat?' or 'I don't understand' - ask for repetition in this BETTER way!


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- Hello, everyone, and welcome back to English With Lucy.

When you are learning English,

there is one sentence that you have to say a lot,

or you feel you have to say a lot.

It is, can you repeat that,

can you repeat that please,

or please could you repeat that.

When you talk to natives

and especially when you are listening to natives speak,

it is highly likely that you won't understand everything

that they've said and you will probably want

to ask them to repeat something

so you can try to understand.

Unfortunately, many students feel embarrassed

because they're saying the same sentence

over and over again.

Can you repeat that?

Sorry, can you repeat that?

Please, can you repeat that?

A lot of my students tell me that in the end

they just give up and stop asking for repetition,

which really isn't good for their listening practise.

This video is really going

to help you improve your listening skills

and indirectly help you with your vocabulary as well

and your pronunciation

but if you want to improve your vocabulary

and your listening skills even further,

then I highly recommend the special method of reading books

and at the same time,

listening to their audiobook version on Audible.

It sounds complicated but it's not so let me explain.

Take a book that you have already read in English

or a book that you would like to read in English.

I've got lots of recommendations for you

in the description box

and I'm also thinking of making a video

all about the different books that you should read

for different levels.

Let me know down below if you would like that.

And once you've chosen that book, read it whilst listening

to the audiobook version on Audible.

I recommend Audible in particular

because they've got the most amazing range of books

with fantastic native narrators

and I really like their subscription model.

It encourages you to do a little bit each month.

Reading alone will not help you with your pronunciation

because English isn't a strictly phonetic language.

The way something is written in English

might not give you any indication

as to how that word is pronounced in English.

It's like the spelling

and the pronunciation is nearly separate.

This is why so many students find pronunciation so hard

but if you listen to a word as you read it,

your brain will start making connections

and the next time you see that word written down,

you'll know exactly how it's meant to be pronounced

and the next time you hear that word,

you'll know exactly how it's spelt.

It's such an effective method

and the best part is you can get one free audiobook

of your choice that's a 30-day free trial at Audible.

All you've got to do is click on the link

in the description box and sign up.

Give it a try because it really, really works.

Right, let's get started with the lesson.

So the first alternative way of saying,

sorry, can you repeat that, or sorry, I don't understand,

is the most natural native way.

It is just one word, it's sorry?


This is what we are most likely to say if we can't hear

or can't understand what someone is saying.

Make sure you focus on the intonation,

we want to go, sorry?

Down, up, down, up.


That way we are showing the listener that it is a question.

We are showing doubt.

This is also a word that you can add on to lots

of the other phrases which are going to follow

but it's a really nice quick one and because it's so short,

you don't feel like you are repeating yourself as much

if you have to say it over and over again.

Next, we have a slightly more formal one.

It is, excuse me?

Excuse me?

Now I don't like this one as much as I like sorry.

This is because sometimes if said

with the wrong tone of voice and the wrong intonation,

it can make it sound like you're slightly offended.

If somebody says something offensive to me,

I would say, excuse me?

Excuse me?

But I definitely show with my body language

that I'm offended.

If I can't understand what someone's saying,

I would say, excuse me?

Excuse me?

And maybe shake my head to show

that I'm having trouble following what they're saying.

Another one which is even more formal

and this isn't even the most formal one yet.

The most formal one is coming after this one.

This is, pardon?


And this is quite a posh word.

Not everyone will consider it to be posh

but in general I think it is more of a posh word.

I remember being taught this word

by my grandmother as a little girl.

Instead of saying, what, I had to say pardon? (chuckles)

And then the most posh of all of them, the poshest is,

I beg your pardon?

I beg your pardon?

Now you have to be careful with the intonation of this one

because again it can be used to show offence.

If somebody says something offensive,

I could say, I beg your pardon?

It's often used in a jovial sense,

kind of in a sarcastic way,

maybe to respond to an accidental innuendo

or something like that.

If we want to use it to ask for repetition,

you've got to say it like this.

I beg your pardon?

I beg your pardon?

Really showing with your body language

and that upward intonation at the end

that you are asking a question, a genuine question.

If we're showing offence,

we're likely to push our body back.

I beg your pardon?

Now, back to neither informal nor formal,

these are just normal phrases you can say.

You could say, what was that?

What was that?

This is much nicer than just, what?

Even better you can follow it with, sorry.

What was that, sorry?

What was that, sorry?

You could also say, what did you say?

What did you say?

Or what did you say, sorry?

What did you say, sorry?

It feels strange to repeat them over and over again

but really the intonation makes it so clear.

What did you say, sorry?


Sorry? (chuckles)

Now what if we want to be just really, really clear?

We could just put it out there,

you could just say, I don't understand,

could you say that again, please?

Or, I don't understand,

please could you say that again?

It doesn't really matter where you put the please

as long as you say please.

I always like to put please first

because then the person knows from the very beginning

that I've said please.

Please, could you say that again?

In my household growing up,

pleases and thank yous were incredibly important,

overly important and it scarred me for life.

I just can't not say please, thank you.

Now if you want someone to repeat something

that they have only just said very recently

and you want to interrupt them, stop them there

and say, I want that exact sentence repeated again,

then you can use the word just.

For example, sorry what did you just say?

What did you just say?

And note that I'm not saying what did you just say?

I'm saying what did you just say?

Just, just.

What did you just say?

What did you just say?

That's real connected speech there.

What did you just say?

I'm missing out the tuh sound between just and say.

I'm saying jus-say instead of just say.

Just a little pronunciation tip for you there.

Or an alternative version, what did you say just then?

What did you say just then?

Again, I'm not including the tuh after just.

I'm saying jus-then, jus-then.

Now, if you didn't understand everything that someone said

but you did understand parts of it

then you could say, sorry, I didn't quite catch that?

I didn't quite catch that?

And the quite is implying that you understood some of it,

you caught some of it but you didn't catch all of it.

And catch here is used to mean to hear and understand.

It's a slang use of catch.

I didn't catch what you just said.

I didn't understand or hear what you just said.

An alternative for this is, sorry, I didn't quite get that.

I didn't quite get that.

And both of these could imply

that it's not because you didn't understand what they said,

it could be that you didn't hear what they said.

And if you can't hear what somebody is saying,

then you could say something like,

would you mind speaking up a bit?

Would you mind speaking up a bit?

This is a nicer way of saying,

please could you speak more loudly?

Or please could you speak less quietly?

To speak up is to increase the volume of one's voice.

Now if you want to make it clear

that it's not anything to do with volume,

it really is that you're just not understanding.

Your understanding little bits

but you're not managing to understand complete sentences,

you could say, sorry, I'm not following what you're saying.

I'm not following what you're saying.

Or an alternative, wait a second, I'm a bit lost.

Wait a second, I'm a bit lost.

And both of these imply

that you would like the person to slow down.

If you're struggling to follow or you're getting lost,

it could make the speaker think

that they are speaking too quickly

and implying that they need to slow down

without you having to ask them to slow down.

If you do want to be clear about it

or they don't understand you when you're trying to imply

that they're going too quickly,

you could say, would you mind slowing down a bit,

I'm struggling to follow.

I'm struggling to follow.

Now, if there is a specific word or phrase

that you don't understand but you understand everything else

but you want to ask a specific question

about a specific word or phrase,

then you could point it out and say something like,

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by, word or phrase.

Or you could simplify it and say,

I'm not sure what you mean by, word or phrase.

It's a bit of a funny preposition

so make sure you learn it properly to mean by.

I'm not sure what you mean by pigeon.

Here we are, I've mentioned pigeon again. (laughs)

Just squeeze it into every video.

Now, one annoying thing about asking

for repetition is that you constantly feel

that you're interrupting someone.

But I think it's okay to interrupt

as long as you apologise for interrupting.

And you can say something as simple as,

I'm sorry to interrupt

but would you mind repeating blah, blah, blah.

Another alternative if you're with friends,

you can use a slang phrasal verb,

which is to butt in, to butt in.

I'm sorry to butt in but...

I'm sorry to butt in again.

I'm sorry to interrupt again.

Those two are really, really useful

if you feel that you're constantly stopping someone

to ask them what they mean.

Now let's have a look at four idioms

or slang phrases that we can use to say

that we don't understand someone

or to ask them to repeat something

or make themselves more clear.

A really fun one is, this is all Greek to me.

This is all Greek to me.

This is all a foreign language to me.

That would be a really funny one to use

if you are actually Greek. (laughs)

This basically means this is all impossible

for me to understand.

Another one is, that was as clear as mud.

That was as clear as mud.

Now this, be careful with it.

Just use it with friends and people

that you like to have a joke with

because you're basically saying

that what they have just said was very unclear.

And obviously a teacher or a professor

or someone you don't know that well is not going

to appreciate such a sarcastic remark.

So if someone has been trying to explain something

but they've been doing a very bad job of it,

then you can say, well, that was as clear as mud.

If you want to say that something was far too complicated

for you, you can say, that went right over my head.

That went right over my head.

It didn't go into my head, it went over like this.

I didn't understand or process any of it.

And the last one, I think this is fairly British

but if there are any Americans watching,

please do let me know.

It is, what are you on about?

What are you on about?

And this means what are you talking about.

But the phrase to go on about something implies

that somebody is talking too much.

To go on about something is

to talk excessively about something.

So when you say, what are you on about?

It means what you're talking about?

You've been talking for ages.

Again, another one to use just with friends,

people you have mutual trust with

and maybe share a sense of humour with,

not professors, not teachers, not your boss.

Right, that's it for today's lesson.

I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you learned something,

and most importantly, I hope you feel more comfortable

when asking for repetition

because you absolutely should ask for repetition.

And any good person,

any good native speaker should not be offended

or should not get bored by you asking

for repetition constantly.

I've said it in previous videos.

A really good way to get people to accept

that you're going to constantly ask them

for repetition is to flatter them

and to say, look, I really like the way you speak English,

I'm trying to improve,

would you mind if I ask you a couple of questions,

or ask you to repeat some things?

And then you can just use one word repetition questions

like sorry, sorry, or just gesture to them

so it's less embarrassing and awkward for both of you.

Don't forget to check out Audible.

You can claim your free audiobook,

the link is in the description box.

And don't forget to follow me on all of my social media.

I've got my Facebook, my Instagram, and my Twitter,

and I've got my new vlogging channel as well.

It was just a personal channel at first

but now I do all of my vlogs,

documenting my daily life on an English farm

in the British countryside.

I've really been enjoying making them

and they've had a really lovely response

and they're all completely subtitled

so that you can pick up some new vocabulary

and practise your listening.

Right, I will see you soon for another lesson.


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