What should you say when you didn’t understand someone? This video gives several ideas of words and phrases to use to say “what?” when you need someone to repeat himself. Don’t by shy using these phrases!
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When someone is speaking to you and you don’t understand what he has said, it can be hard to ask for clarification. But understanding is important. So in this American English pronunciation video, I’m going to give you various phrases people use to ask people to repeat themselves.
When I’ve lived abroad, learning how to say ‘what?’ politely was one of the first things I did. When it’s your second language and you’re speaking to a native speaker, of course you’re going to need to ask for clarification often.
Well, the simplest, quickest way to ask someone to repeat himself is just to say ‘what’? It’s not impolite, but it’s best to use this with people you know. With people you don’t know, or people you have a formal relationship with, like your boss, there are more polite phrases you can use.
But to start, let’s talk about ‘what?’. Your intonation here is very important. Intonation being the melody of your voice. You must make it go up in pitch at the end. Otherwise, it has a different meaning. What? Curve up. What? Notice I’m putting a Stop T at the end. That’s the way Americans pronounce that: what? Stopping the air in the throat, closing the mouth. What?
If you make your voice go down in pitch: what. What. What? What. Then you’re saying something like “Why are you looking at me like that?”. For example, let’ say I’m pregnant, which I’m not anymore, and I’m at a restaurant with my husband. I order two entrees, an appetizer, and a dessert and he looks at me like this. I might say, “What. I’m pregnant and I’m starving.” What. With the intonation going down. If you’re saying “I didn’t understand what you said,” the intonation goes up: What? What. What?
So intonation here is key.
What else can you say? A bit more polite would be: Pardon? Or, I beg your pardon? Or, I’m sorry? Notice for all of these, the pitch goes up at the end. They’re questions, written with question marks. I’m sorry? – means “I didn’t understand, please repeat yourself”. I’m sorry. Pitch goes down, is an apology.
Let’s go over the pronunciation of ‘pardon’? [slowly] Pardon? We start off with the p consonant, pa-, pa-, pa-. Small burst of air right into the vowel. It’s the AH as in FATHER vowel. Drop your jaw and keep the tongue tip forward before pulling it back for the R. Par-, par-. One mistake non-native speakers make, is they pull the tongue back right away, prrr, prrr, prrr.
Paaah – Paaahr. Practice that with me slowly. Par- Pardon? What’s happening to the letter O? It makes the schwa sound here, and it’s disappearing into the N. You want to do this. It sounds more American. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Pa-, drop the jaw. Par-, pull the tongue back and up for the R. Bring the middle of the tongue towards the middle of the roof of the mouth, par-. Now, for the D, lift the front of the tongue so it’s against the roof of the mouth. Pardon? You make a D sound in the throat, and then an N. You don’t need to move the tongue for that. Pardon? Pardon? If it’s easier for you to separate the D and the N, you can flap the tongue against the roof of the mouth quickly for the D, then put it right back up for the N. Pardon? don? I think it’s easier to leave that flap out. You can just leave your tongue in place.
Make sure you make that second syllable very quickly. It’s an unstressed syllable.
I beg your pardon? Most native speakers would blow through I beg your- I beg your- I beg your pardon? And make ‘pardon’ the clear, stressed word. I beg your, I beg your, I beg your. I beg your pardon? There’s less energy and air in the voice. I beg your- Notice ‘your’ is reduced to ‘yer’. I beg yer, I beg yer, I beg your pardon?
I’m sorry? You might hear some Americans say this with only the M consonant. M’sorry? The word “I’m” should be pretty fast. For the word ‘sorry’, the first syllable is a lot like the first syllable of ‘pardon’. Par-? Sor-? Sorr? Drop your jaw, then bring the tongue into position for the R. Sorry? Just a light EE vowel at the end, -ee, -ee, -ee? I’m sorry? M’sorry? M’sorry? This is the one I use when I need to be more polite.
You might also have heard ‘Dome again?’ This is not too common, it’s a little more quirky to use that. Come again? What does the pitch do? It goes up. Come again?
I use “What?” most of the time, and “I’m sorry?” with people I don’t know. This is if I didn’t understand a word or a sentence. But if there’s more I didn’t understand, if someone’s been talking for several seconds and I’m trying to figure out what they’re saying but can’t, for example, on the phone with a bad connection, then I might say something more.
For example, “I didn’t understand. Could you repeat that?” Statement, then a question. “I didn’t understand. Could you repeat that?” Or, “I didn’t catch that. Can you say it again?” “I didn’t catch that” is an idiom that means I didn’t understand, or I didn’t hear what you said.
I didn’t catch that.
Idiomatic meaning: What?
I hope this video helps. It’s good to prepare phrases to have in certain situations. Memorize and practice the pronunciation of What? And Pardon? Or, I’m sorry? That way, it’s less stressful to use them in the moment.
What situations make you nervous that you won’t know what to say? What situations do you wish you had some practiced phrases for? Let me know in the comments below.
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