Asked to Repeat Yourself? What to Do When You Have to Repeat a Word or Idea in English

I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. Could you repeat what you said? Would you mind saying that again?

As a non-native speaker, you’ll be asked to repeat yourself every once in a while.

Maybe you mispronounced a word, used language that didn’t quite work, or the other person simply didn’t hear what you said.

When this happens, you might freeze, wondering if it was a word or the whole idea that the other person missed.

You might decide to repeat what you just said exactly the same way. (That’s what native speakers often do. )

But if the other person still doesn’t understand what you meant, then you want to try another strategy.

In this video, you’ll learn what to do when someone asks you to repeat yourself.

First we’ll talk about repeating a certain word and how to try to get the other person to understand.

Then we’ll talk about strategies for repeating or rephrasing the whole idea or the sentence.

Let’s get started!


Knowing When You Need to Repeat a Word

So you’ve just explained something to a coworker, an acquaintance, or even a stranger, but they didn’t quite understand what you meant.

Perhaps they’ve asked you to repeat yourself using a clarifying question like, “Would you mind repeating that?”

They might have said, “Sorry, I didn’t catch that last word.”

Or maybe they looked confused and said, “What did you just say there… j… j…”

They might help you out and give you the first sound of the word they didn’t quite understand so that you know which one they’re talking about.

If you have a good idea of which word is the problem because you know that it’s tricky for you to say, you can try repeating just that word.


Repeat the Word With Clearer Word Stress

First, try repeating the word with clearer word stress.

As I often mention in my videos, getting the stressed syllable right is essential for clear pronunciation.

You may already know which syllable should be stressed.

Repeat the word again, making the stressed syllable longer, louder, and higher in pitch, with an extra clear vowel sound.

You may have simply rushed through the word.

Even if you’re not sure which syllable should be stressed, choose one and do the same thing. Make that vowel sound longer, louder, and higher in pitch, with extra clear mouth movement.

Let’s try really emphasizing the stressed syllable on these five tricky words:

  • Journalist – /ˈdʒɜrnəlɪst/: JOURnalist, JOURnalist, JOURnalist
  • Psychological – /ˌsaɪkəˈlɑdʒɪkəl/: psychoLOgical, psychoLOgical, psychoLOgical
  • Entrepreneur – /ˌɑntrəprəˈnʊr/: entrepreNEUR, entrepreNEUR, entrepreNEUR
  • Exaggerate – /ɪgˈzædʒəˌreɪt/: exAggerate, exAggerate, exAggerate
  • Thermometer – /θərˈmɑmətər/: therMOmeter, therMOmeter, therMOmeter.

Even though it may feel a little awkward or uncomfortable to really hold or exaggerate the stressed syllable, it will help the other person understand which word you’re using, if you’ve stressed the correct syllable.

If that doesn’t work, try another syllable, just in case.


Clearly Pronounce the Initial Sound at the Beginning of the Word

If they still don’t seem to understand which word you’re using, try articulating or pronouncing the sound that comes at the beginning of the word.

This initial sound might be a consonant sound, a consonant cluster, or maybe even a vowel sound.

Because we hear that sound first, it needs to be clearly pronounced.

Here’s what I mean. Listen to how I exaggerate the initial sound in these words in the video:

  • journalist: /dʒ/
  • previous: /pr/
  • thermometer: /θ/
  • universal: /ju/

As you can hear, I’m making an effort to clearly pronounce the initial sound on those words.

At times, when you’re speaking quickly and fluently, you may rush through those sounds and that means the other person may not catch the word you’re using.

Even if it’s a really hard sound to say like the “th” (/θ/) on “thermometer” and “theoretical,” spend some extra time trying to get it right.

The other person will appreciate your efforts to speak clearly.


Clearly Pronounce the Final Sounds at the End of the Word

Still no luck? Try saying the word again, but this time, clearly pronounce the sounds at the end.

Many non-native speakers drop sounds at the end of words, either because of influence from their native language, because the consonant cluster is really hard to say, or because they’re trying to speak fast English.

However, we may need that final sound to identify the word you’re using or to tell it apart from a similar word.

For example, try saying these words with extra attention to the final sound or consonant cluster:

  • journalist: /st/
  • entrepreneur: /r/
  • psychological: /l/
  • previous: /s/
  • thermometer: /r/

How to Repeat a Word in Conversation

In a normal conversation, you’ll go through this process quickly:

  • First, you’ll repeat the word by emphasizing the stressed syllable.
  • Then you’ll try exaggerating the first sound.
  • And if it still doesn’t work, you’ll try exaggerating the last sound.

Try Using a Synonym Instead of Repeating the Word

At this point, if the other person still isn’t sure which word you’re using, use a synonym instead.

This may help them connect the dots and then they’ll say the word that you were struggling to say.

Instead of “journalist,” try the word “reporter.”

Instead of “psychological,” try the word “mental.”

Instead of “entrepreneur,” try the word “founder.”


Try Describing the Word You’re Struggling to Say

Even better, describe the word that you were trying to say.

Instead of struggling to say “journalist,” try saying “the person who reports on the news,” or “the person who writes about the news.”

Instead of “entrepreneur,” say “a person who starts companies or businesses.”

Instead of “thermometer,” say “the thing that we use to measure temperatures” or “the device that we use to measure whether it’s hot or cold.”

You’ll sound more fluent when you can find another way to describe what you mean without saying the same word again and again and again.

After all, you may have chosen the wrong word, or you may have picked a word that’s more common in a different region, or a different country like the UK, Australia, South Africa, or Canada.

The most important thing is that you’re prepared to handle situations where the other person doesn’t understand every single word you say.

When you come up with the solution, the other person can feel more confident that they’re going to be able to understand you throughout the rest of the conversation.


When You Need to Repeat the Entire Idea

Now, let’s talk about what to do if you need to repeat the entire idea.

Remember that this is completely normal! Even native speakers struggle to get their ideas out sometimes.

Once you know that you need to repeat the whole idea, start off by mentioning that you’re going to repeat yourself:

  • Let me try that again.
  • Let me rephrase that.
  • Let me explain that again.
  • Let me put that another way.

Now you want to repeat the same idea in slightly different words.

You can start off by saying one of these phrases:

  • What I meant was…
  • What I meant to say was…
  • What I was trying to say is…
  • I was actually trying to say that…

You can find even more expressions for clarifying what you mean here.

Once you’ve told the other person that you’re going to repeat yourself, do your best to express the same idea in slightly different words.

This may seem challenging if you’re not used to doing it, but it’s a really important communication skill!


You Help Other People Understand You By Repeating Your Idea

At times, we need people to repeat an idea a few times in slightly different ways so that we finally get it.

It might have nothing to do with your language skills at all.

You’re simply helping another person understand a concept or an idea that may be unfamiliar to them.

Use these moments of miscommunication as an opportunity to challenge yourself to find even better ways to express yourself.

Remember to keep a sense of humor and a positive attitude when you have to repeat yourself.

Chances are your accent and your language skills are perfectly fine.

Sometimes we just need to repeat ourselves one or two times so that our meaning is clear.


Your Turn

Leave a comment and let me know the words you find tricky to say in American English. Have you ever been asked to repeat them?

For more practice with useful expressions for clarifying meaning in conversation, check out these videos:

Want more tips that will help you sound more natural in English? This free email course will help you speak more clearly and be more easily understood.

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