Learning German: Making sure you’ve understood

When learning a language, our understanding of what’s being said normally comes before our ability to be able to speak the language and become confident enough to contribute to the conversation. The use of gestures and visual clues often allow us to get the gist of a sentence. That said, there will be times when you might have a problem understanding what’s been said or you may need support to express what you want to say in German. It’s important that you know how to ask for help when this happens. Below are some useful phrases to help you.

If you want to say I don’t understand, you can simply say ich verstehe nicht (I don’t understand) or ich habe das nicht verstanden (I didn’t catch that). You can combine this with some of the vocabulary we’ve covered in previous posts to flesh it out a little.

Entschuldigung, ich verstehe nicht.
Excuse me, I don’t understand.

Es tut mir leid, das habe ich nicht verstanden.
Sorry, I didn’t catch that.

There will also be times when the person speaking to you is simply speaking too fast for you to be able to understand them, in which case it’s a good idea to ask them to repeat what they’ve said: Könnten Sie das bitte wiederholen? (could you please repeat that?). You could also ask them to speak more slowly.

Können Sie bitte etwas langsamer sprechen?
Would you mind speaking a bit more slowly?

Mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut.
My German isn’t very good.

Of course, as in English, you can also say what?, which in German is was? or wie bitte?
Wie bitte, was hast du gesagt?
Sorry, what did you say?

Entschuldigung, was haben Sie gesagt?
Excuse me, what did you say?

Was bedeutet “Wohnwagen”?
What does ‘Wohnwagen’ mean?

When you don’t know or can’t remember how to say something in German, you might want to ask was heißt …? (how do you say…?) or wie nennt man das? or wie sagt man das? (what’s this called?).

Was heißt “driving licence” auf Deustch?
How do you say ‘driving licence’ in German?

Wie sagt man das auf Deutsch?
What’s this called in German?

And, of course, if all else fails, you can fall back on Sprechen Sie Englisch? (Do you speak English?). If you really must…

Don’t forget to come back for the next blog post to help you continue with the conversation.

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