Polite English: How to ask people to repeat themselves


Hi. This is Gill at www.engvid.com, and today
we’re going to have a lesson about what to do if someone says something to you and you
can’t hear them properly, or it’s not very clear what they say, and you need to ask them
to repeat what it was they said. And this could happen anywhere, anywhere in the world,
but especially if you’re in maybe a big city where there are people of many different nationalities;
cities like London, Toronto, New York, anywhere really in the world. So people with different
accents, either because they’re from other countries and English is not their first language,
or even within one country, like within the UK, we have many different accents from different
parts of the country, from different cities, from Scotland, Wales, Ireland. There are all
different accents. And if someone has a strong accent, it’s more difficult to understand
them. So this lesson is about asking people to say again what they said. I have to do it
even if someone says something in English, which is my first language, I sometimes have
to ask people to say something again. So it happens to everybody. Okay, so let’s have a look at some of the words
you can use to deal with this situation. All right? So, a very useful single word is
just to say: “Sorry?” with a sort of rising in the voice. Question: “Sorry? Sorry?” And
also, I’ve put body language at the bottom here, but it’s quite important. You can sort
of go like this, and say: “Sorry?” and lean towards them a little bit with your hand by
your ear. So especially if they also are not English… If their first language is not
English, they will understand from this that you didn’t understand what they said. So a
little bit of body language helps as well. So: “Sorry?” is very useful and polite, because
we need it to be polite as well. So, polite. So: “Sorry?” is a polite way
of asking someone to repeat. At one time, there was also the word: “Pardon?”
which is a little bit old fashioned now. So, to say: “Pardon?” it’s a little… It used
to be very polite, and children were taught to say: “Pardon?” but now it’s a little bit
old fashioned, and people might laugh at you if you use: “Pardon?” So, see what other people
say to you, and then you can follow what they say, but “Pardon?” is
a little bit old now. Okay, now things not to say which are not
polite. You don’t just say: “What?” because that is rather rude. So, don’t say: “What?
What?” Very rude, especially with a loud voice and making a funny face. “What?” Not very
nice at all, so don’t say: “What?” And don’t say things like: “Eh? Eh?” A lot of English
people might say: “Eh?” but that’s not polite either. So… Or: “Uh?” that’s not polite
either, just to say: “Uh? Uh?” No. Okay, so the polite way, really, as one word
is just to say: “Sorry?” and then the person will probably understand you need them to say
it again. But there are longer sentences you can use as well, in addition to: “Sorry?”
just to give you a wider range of options. And the three main things about what… The way
we all speak is clarity: what we say should be clear. I hope I’m being clear in this lesson.
So, that’s the adjective “clear”, and the noun is “clarity”. Clarity of speech. Okay?
So it must be clear. The pace or the speed. If people speak very quickly, it’s difficult
to follow what they’re saying; to understand what they’re saying. So the pace should be
fairly slow and regular. Okay. And the volume, how loud or quiet somebody is. If someone
speaks very quietly… You probably can’t hear me at the moment. So some people are a
bit shy, and they don’t speak very loud, loudly. So the volume, how loud people are
is important. So sometimes you need to ask somebody to speak more loudly, so we
have different sentences for these. Okay, so the first thing you can say if someone
says something and you missed a few words, and you’re not sure what they’re saying, you…
Again: “Sorry”, is always a useful word to begin with. Like we had “Sorry?” as the single
word. “Sorry” is always useful to begin with. “Sorry, I didn’t quite catch what you said.”
Now, the “quite” is optional. You can say: “I didn’t catch what you said.” or: “I didn’t
hear what you said.”, “I didn’t quite hear what you said.” The “quite” just adds a little
bit more politeness. I didn’t quite hear. I nearly heard everything that you said, but
not quite, and that suggests that there was just one word that you didn’t get. So: “Sorry,
I didn’t quite catch what you said.” To catch something is to… Like catching a ball or
something. “I didn’t catch what you said”, or: “I didn’t hear what you said”, and then
the person will repeat, hopefully. All right. Or, again, to ask them to repeat, you can say:
“Sorry, could you say that again, please?” or: “Sorry, could you repeat that, please?”
Okay? To say again or to repeat. So: “Could you say that again, please?”, “Could you repeat
that, please?” Okay? So: “Sorry” at the beginning, “please” at the end is always a
good idea to make it polite. Now, if someone wasn’t very loud and you want
them to say it again with more volume, turning up the volume, you can say: “Sorry, could
you speak up, please?” To speak up means to be louder. So, louder. Okay, so: “Sorry, could
you speak up, please?” Again, it’s a bit… It’s not very polite to say: “Sorry, you were
too quiet, I didn’t hear you. You were too quiet.” That sounds a bit like a criticism,
so to avoid sounding as if you’re criticizing the person… “Oh, your voice is very quiet”,
it’s not a very nice thing to say. So just to say: “Sorry, could you speak up, please?”
And maybe they’ll think you can’t hear very well, and they think it’s your fault and
not theirs. You’re being polite. Okay. If the person uses a word that you don’t know,
you can just actually say: “Sorry, I don’t know that word”, and you can ask them: “What
does it mean?” What is the meaning of the word? Or: “Could you tell me what it means,
please?” Okay, so: “could”, not “can”, “Can you tell me?” That’s less polite. “Could you
tell me”-is more polite-“what it means, please?” Again, “please” at the end. And if you’re
having a conversation, then it helps to keep the conversation going if you ask somebody:
“Oh, I don’t know that word. What does it mean? Can…? Could you tell me what that
word means?” And, you know, it helps you to get to know the person a little bit better
if you’re asking them to explain something. So don’t be afraid of asking for
the explanation of a word. Okay. And then if someone speaks very quickly and all
the words run together in one single sound, and you want them to say it again… Again,
don’t say… It’s not very polite to say: “Sorry, you said that too quickly”, because
again, it sounds like a criticism. But if you say: “Sorry, could you speak more slowly,
please?” that’s less… It sounds less like a criticism. Okay? So: “Could you speak more
slowly, please?” So: “Sorry”, “please” at the end, at the beginning and at the end. Okay?
And then as I said before, body language is always helpful. So, I hope that’s been useful to help you
solve the problem of not understanding when somebody speaks. And if you’d like to test
your knowledge, please go to the website: www.engvid.com where there is
a quiz that you can answer. And I hope to see you again soon.
Okay? Thank you. Bye.

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