How To Politely Tell Someone You Can’t Understand Their Accent

There are thousands of languages in the world, which means that the different accents can lead to misunderstandings in communication. If you don’t understand an interlocutor’s accent, there are many ways to politely point it out without offending them.

Make eye contact and use polite words to foster a positive experience between you and the speaker. Do not judge them and politely point out that you do not understand their accent, for example: “Would you repeat that a little slower, please?”

Using encouraging words is a primary way to inform someone that you do not understand their accent. Thereby you create a positive environment where the person feels comfortable enough to repeat themselves. Every person has a unique way of speaking, so the first step to polite communication is eliminating the mindset that there is a “right way” of communicating.

Misunderstanding Accents

There are thousands of different languages worldwide, which means that people will pronounce things in their own way. [1] Even in the same country, people have difficulty understanding what other people say because of thick accents.

You might need to ask someone to slow down or enunciate words more clearly if you misunderstand someone’s accent. Be polite to maintain positive relationships with the people around you.

Politeness includes being appropriate with your body language and word choice.

Polite Ways to Tell Someone You Cannot Understand Their Accent

If you cannot interpret someone’s accent, there are plenty of ways to politely inform them you have a misunderstanding.

Polite words and positive body language encourage people to engage in the conversation, even if they are called out on their accent. Also, people feel comfortable when you let someone know that you don’t understand them.

You should also stay mindful of your body language. Remain actively involved in the conversation and show interest in what the person is saying.

Positive body language

Using positive body language is an important part of speaking. The type of body language you use expresses your intention. For example, positive body language expresses a positive intention.

A few basic examples of positive body language include:

  • Smiling
  • Expressive hand movements
  • Relaxed shoulders
  • Facing feet toward the speaker
  • Nodding
  • Rubbing chin

Posture is another important part of the conversation. Stand with your back straight and your shoulders open.

Point your hips toward the person you are speaking to and use animated facial features. Using expressive hand movements and animated facial features will promote a welcoming environment.

Smiling, scrunching your eyebrows, and nodding are also ways that can help prompt someone to repeat themselves comfortably.

Avoid pointing, crossing your arms, or putting your hand on your hip, which can make you seem angry. This type of body language can come across as hostile or accusatory, which is not conducive to natural conversations.

Choose your words wisely

Choose what you say wisely by selecting positive, uplifting words. Polite language fosters an encouraging environment. Plus, positive words show that we are interested in what others have to say!

When approaching someone about their accent, frame the situation positively. Avoid placing blame or making the misunderstanding appear like it was problematic.

Use words like “please” and “appreciate” to express gratitude when asking someone to repeat themselves.

Positive word choice and phrases include:

  • “Please”
  • “Thank you”
  • “Would you mind…?”
  • “Do you mind…?”
  • “Excuse me…”
  • “If you do not mind…”
  • “Pardon me…”

Beginning your request with a positive phrase like, “Pardon me…” expresses respect for the person. Using a respectful phrase like this one is a polite way of interjecting the conversation without appearing like you are interrupting.

You can take the opportunity to follow up by saying:

“Pardon me, would you speak louder, please? Your accent is very soft to my ears.”

Example Phrases To Tell Someone You Can’t Understand Their Accent

Knowing example phrases can help you if you do not understand someone else’s accent. These phrases can mediate a tense situation and help people feel comfortable. Learning to reach out in short phrases will help you get your point across.

Remember, as you speak that you enunciate your words and use considerate language. Be mindful if you have an accent yourself.

Most people who have accents are aware of it and will not be surprised when asked to repeat themselves.

These phrases are great for different situations. Whenever accent becomes an issue, be sure to point it out. Eliminating confusion is just as important for the person with the accent as it is for you. Clear communication goes two ways.

Key reasons people struggle with accents are speed and general pitch. Memorize a few key phrases so you can communicate properly in any situation.

If you just don’t understand them

Some of the most common example phrases that you may use when politely telling someone you cannot understand their accent include:

“I could not understand you because of your accent.”

“I am unfamiliar with your accent.”

“I am having difficulty understanding your accent.”

“I am having trouble understanding your accent.”

“I am having trouble with your accent.”

When they should repeat

Example phrases if you need someone to repeat what they said include:

Would you mind repeating that slower for me, please?”

“Could you say that again slower this time, please?”

“Would you mind repeating that, please?”

“Could you repeat [insert question] for me, please?”

If they should talk slower

A few example phrases if you need someone to slow their talking speed include:

“Excuse me, would you mind slowing down, please? I would like to make sure I hear everything you say.”

“Would you mind speaking slower, please?”

“Could you repeat that slower for me, please?”

When prompting someone to repeat themselves because of confusion, encourage them positively by outlining the question or phrase you want them to repeat.

For instance, you may prompt the person to repeat what they just said, the price of an item, or another subject you recently discussed.

It is up to your discretion to include an apology like “I apologize” or “I’m sorry” when telling someone that you cannot understand them. Using apologetic phrases are assurances that show genuine interest.

A Few Rules If You Do Not Understand An Accent

There are a few rules to keep in mind for misunderstanding accents.

Never pretend to know what the person is saying

Nodding or pretending to understand indicates you do not care what the person has to say. Ultimately, pretending to understand someone’s accent is more offensive than it is polite. Take the time to admit the communication confusion politely.

Don’t be afraid to speak up

Telling someone that you do not understand them can seem awkward at first, but don’t be afraid to speak up. Communicating that you do not understand someone’s accent will most likely benefit your relationship if you are respectful in your delivery. Most people with accents will agree that they prefer someone who speaks up. It instantly establishes mutual respect.

Do not insult a person’s accent or native language

It is never okay to tell someone their accent or native language is wrong. Insulting someone’s accent is very offensive and will permanently damage your relationship. Remember that speaking multiple languages is a great accomplishment and you should not diminish that achievement.

Do not correct a person’s accent

Never try to correct someone’s accent. Saying “No, you are supposed to say it like this.” is very insulting. Someone’s accent is not a flaw, and you should never try to correct someone for how they pronounce something.

Be aware of cultural body language

Cultural body language can have a big impact on communication. Because if you behave in a way that is contrary to their culture, you are likely to offend them.

Why you must say it politely

Telling someone that you do not understand their accent politely eliminates misunderstandings and creates a positive environment. It is important to remain polite because it shows that you are respectful of other people’s feelings.

The most important reasons that you should remain polite include:

  • Foster comfortable environments
  • Being a good role model
  • Avoid actionable offenses
  • Remaining respectful
  • You just should!

There are endless reasons that you should be polite. The most important reason is how difficult it can be when someone treats you inappropriately. One rude comment can ruin your day. Stay positive, be patient, and be polite if there is a misunderstanding.

If things go really badly

When someone says something that is considered actionable, you give them a plausible reason to bring a legal case against you. Inappropriate or misguided responses when you do not understand someone’s accent can result in legal action.

For instance, casting judgment on someone because of their accent is an actionable offense. Advisory in a situation where you cannot understand someone’s accent is to always approach it with caution.

Remember, there is no “right” way to pronounce something.

You can ask someone to repeat themselves, if necessary. But, you should never ask someone to say something in the way you think is “correct.” Assuming there is only one way to pronounce something is disrespectful.



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