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Clarifying What You Heard, Asking for Repetition, and Confirming Your Understanding

Even if you have been speaking English for years, you are going to find yourself in a situation where someone uses a word or a phrase you don’t know, speaks a little too fast, or mumbles (speaks unclearly).

The other person might be using slang or a technical term you’re not familiar with.

Or they simply may not have expressed themselves clearly.

In situations like these, you should not feel embarrassed or assume that it has to do with your language ability!

That’s why we have a number of polite questions and expressions that we can use to clarify what we heard.

These expressions are frequently used in professional contexts, as this is often when you need to clarify what the other person said to continue negotiations or strategic planning.

You can also use these phrases in everyday circumstances.

If you are having a lengthy conversation with someone, chances are you’ll need to clarify something they’ve said.

Remember, sometimes people do not express their ideas clearly, or they ramble.

Ask a clarifying question and confirm your understanding to bring the focus of the conversation back to the most important topics.

Clarify What You Heard by Asking for Repetition

If you feel like you missed a key word or phrase during an explanation, or you would like the other person to repeat themselves, there are a number of questions you can ask in order to clarify what you heard.

Keep in mind that many of these questions use an introductory phrase like “Would you mind…?” or “Could I ask you…?” or “Could you…?” in order to make the question a little more polite.

You can also start with a small apology, like “Sorry,” “Just a second,” “Sorry to interrupt.”

Finally, you might want to admit that you didn’t understand by saying “I didn’t catch that,” or “I didn’t get that.”

This shows that you are listening, but you want to make sure you understood all the important details.

(As a bonus, asking clarifying questions helps you remember what you heard.)

  • Would you mind repeating that for me again?
  • Would you mind going over that one more time?
  • Sorry, could I ask you to tell me that (piece of information) again?
  • Could you clarify what you meant by (challenging word)?
  • Just a second, could I get a little more clarification on (X topic)? I just want to be sure I understood.
  • Sorry to interrupt, but I didn’t catch that. Could you run it by me one more time?
  • Could you be more specific?
  • I don’t think I got your meaning. Could you go over that again?
  • I don’t think I quite understand what you meant. Would you mind repeating that?

Confirm Your Understanding By Repeating and Restating the Other Person’s Idea

Another way to be sure you’ve understood what the other person is saying is to repeat what you heard using your own words.

Restating the other person’s idea is a great way to show that you were listening carefully.

It also helps the other person find a way to simplify or clarify what they said if you misheard or misunderstood a key point.

As I mentioned earlier, sometimes the person speaking needs to rethink what they said and say it again more clearly!

  • Let me see if I understood correctly.
  • Can I just check what I got from that?
  • I’d just like to confirm that I got that right.
  • My impression of what you said was…  Is that what you meant?
  • So what you are saying is… Does that sound right?
  • You mean that we should (do X action and Y action). Is that right?
  • Do I understand you to mean…
  • If I understand you correctly, you are saying…
  • Am I reading your suggestion right, when you said…?
  • You mean…?
  • I think you are saying…
  • In other words…

As you notice in these examples, there are many introductory phrases that you can use to indicate what you heard.

By emphasizing that you are repeating their ideas to check and confirm your understanding, you show them that you take accuracy seriously.

They’ll understand that you want to make sure you’ve got all the information you need before moving forward.

Ending with a question enables the other person to clarify any confusion and provide additional details that he feels are important.

Restating ideas is an excellent way to avoid misunderstandings and also enables you to ask for clarification without having to say directly that you didn’t understand everything.

Say Thank You and Show You Understood

After the person you are talking to has repeated what they said, provided additional information, or clarified your doubts, be sure to say thank you and state that you now understand the concepts better.

This allows you to move on to other topics and assures the other person that you are now on the same page.

  • Thanks for clarifying. I understand better now.
  • Thank you for repeating that. It makes more sense to me.
  • Thanks for explaining your point of view again. That helps me see where you’re coming from.
  • Thanks. We seem to be on the same page now.
  • I appreciate the clarification. Glad we agree on that.

Your Turn

Do you feel more comfortable clarifying what you heard, asking for repetition, and confirming your understanding after reading this post? I hope so.

You can use these phrases for ask for clarification on something I’ve written above!

Leave a comment below with a question you have – and start it with a phrase. Or rephrase what I said, and use a question to check for understanding.

Be sure to check out this video on clarifying what you mean and explaining your thoughts.

23 thoughts on “Clarifying What You Heard, Asking for Repetition, and Confirming Your Understanding”

  1. Wow Kim, I did a whole one-hour webinar on this topic for listeners who have trouble catching what natives say in conversation, but in 5-minutes you’ve managed to cover the same issues and share more expressions than I managed. Well done!

    I’ll make sure I share this on social media with my tribe because it’s always useful to have some expressions at the ready to deal with the inevitable situation of not catching what someone says!

    • Hi Cara! Thank you for sharing this article with your learners! It is so important that non-native speakers have these skills so that they feel more empowered to keep the conversation focused. After all, listening is an active skill, as you well know! 🙂

  2. Hi Kim,
    I am writing a dissertation on the strategies used by English language learners in addressing understanding problem in conversations. Do you have any papers or journal articles on the topic presented above that I can used as my reference. Thank you.

    • Hi Alex – All of the information I share in this article is from my experience working in various types of for-profit and non-profit organizations as well as working with non-native speakers who need to communicate better in professional situations. While I regularly read academic papers on these topics, I’m not able to recommend one in particular. It may be helpful to search for “conversational gambits” for research on these topics.

    • I’m happy to hear you found this helpful! This is a very important communication skill for non-native speakers to work on.

  3. Kim… your information is so useful.
    I will follow you.
    I am an international student taking a course in Vancouver.

    • I’m happy to hear you found this helpful! My resources are designed for people living, working, or studying in the US and Canada, so you’re in the right place. If you’d like, you can follow me on YouTube or sign up for my email community. Take care!

  4. Hello Kim! I loved your video. You covered so much information so quickly and it was so well organized. I wanted to see if I can get your permission to share this video in my Listening Skills course. I’m delivering it online via Zoom. Thank you so much for doing what you do and for offering such great information. Warmest Regards, Susanne

    • Hi Susanne! I’m happy to hear you liked the video. This was actually my first YouTube video ever, so it’s nice to hear it still resonates. You’re welcome to share this video in your course, as long as you provide a link to this page. Thanks!

      • Hello Kim – Thanks so much! How fun to know that it was your first YouTube video! I’ll be using it in a training that I’m giving tomorrow for county employees. I’ll be sure to provide a link as you’ve requested. I love your friendly and succinct style – and I’m sure that my students will love you and the information you provide as well! – All my best! Susanne

  5. Thank you for sharing such a super interesting tips in order to not have missunderstandings and have everything clear.

  6. Thank you for your sharing. I am learning about speaking skill with confirming understanding. Your subject is useful for me.

  7. This is great between equal and respecting parties. What’s it called when someone mumbles something, incorporates jargon not well understood by the listener, refuses to repeat it so it can be heard clearly or only repeats the same unclear words, refuses to use alternative words to clarify then later says they told the person? There is an element of arrogance in this situation (despite having used your excellent detailed approach), and also a possibility the person speaking actually wants to be able to, and intends to say I told you so, while also knowing their communication is at best ambiguous with the meaning not clearly conveying what they are intending to subsequently say I told you so. A hallmark of this type of communication is where you engage in seeking clarification and you get the same words back with no willingness to engage in expressing things differently, even giving body language that suggests there is a problem with the listener for not understanding. This approach might be taken by, for example (but not limited to) lawyers who include legal jargon and who arrogantly consider they have communicated the relevant information they say they have conveyed, probably understand you did not get the full information, but may even seek their own smug amusement with their cleverness of telling the person something they also know they have failed to fully convey the information with no acknowledgement of that. They may have, for example, conveyed an umbrella description incorporating jargon that is devoid of detail and e.g. alternative consequences and does not convey what the listener is seeking to (and may be paying to) hear. IMO this type of communication approach should have a name. The best I can come to describe this dishonest approach is perhaps calling it “passive aggressive obfuscative stonewalling”. If there is no name for it, let me propose the acronym “PAOS” communications. Anyone come across this communication approach? Is it named? Any comments?


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