013 Checking and clarifying

Hey there, welcome back to the Art of Business English. It’s great to have you with us again. This week we have prepared a super helpful episode on how to check and ask for clarification. What I am going to teach you today are really useful skills for many business situations. The objective is to make you feel more confident and to improve your communication skills.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you are not clear what someone has said to you? Have you had problems as a result of poor communication? If so, then you will love the tips I have for you today.

By the end of this episode you will be able to do the following:

  1. Check that you understood what someone has said to you
  2. Ask for clarification in a polite and constructive way
  3. Clarify what you are trying to say

Let’s get to it then.



Many people often feel uncomfortable when they don’t understand what someone is explaining to them. This is especially the case when you are not speaking your native language. People become self-conscious and instead of asking for clarification they say nothing, or even worse, they ask them person to repeat what they have said, again and again.

There are some issues with using the following expressions.

  1. Could you please repeat that?
  2. Sorry, what did you say?
  3. I don’t understand you, can you say that again?

If you ask someone to repeat what they said, you are inviting them to say EXACTLY the same thing. The issue is that if you didn’t understand the first time, it is very probable that you won’t understand it the second time. This can lead to more embarrassment and problems with communication.

The first thing to remember as a non-native speaker is that the person speaking to you has an obligation to make YOU understand! You shouldn’t feel nervous and bad about your English. You could easily say to the other person. Can we speak my native language? 99% of the time the other person won’t speak your language, so it is their duty to make sure you understand their message.

So, what can we do to avoid using the famous “could you please repeat that? Well, below I will show you.


Sometimes people get so nervous they actually think they haven’t understood something, when in fact they have. So, before you ask someone to repeat something you need to check with them what you think you understood. Let me give you some examples.

OK, I think I understand you, but could you say the last point again?

I think it is clear, but did you say 15 or 50?

Sorry, I think I understand you. You said we could have the contract signed by NEXT week. Is that correct? 

That sounds correct, but could you give me another example?

Did you say the project will be finished next week? Can you explain that in a bit more detail, so it’s clear?

I agree with your first point, but could you explain your last point a bit slower, to make sure I understood it?

Can I just double check I understood that? You said…

Could I just check I have clear what you said? You mean… didn’t you?

When you said… did you mean?

Do you mean this week… or next week?

What you can see here is that I am showing the other person that I have understood some of what they are saying, or I am asking to make sure I understand what they have said.

To take control of a conversation and feel more confident, you need to ask questions and push the responsibility back to the other person. If you tell the person what you think you understood, they will then be able to confirm or correct you.

Secondly, you will feel more involved in the conversation and more confident if you are able to clarify what you mean. It is important to clarify regularly. A common complaint I get from my students is that they feel the conversation moves too fast. They are trying to understand a point and the other person speaks quickly and they get lost. If you stop the other person more regularly to check understanding, then you can control the speed of the conversation.

Let’s now take a look at the next part of this episode. Asking for clarification in a polite and constructive way.

Asking for clarification

This can often be the most difficult part of any meeting, conference or telephone call. We often feel embarrassed and self-conscious when we need to ask for clarification. The most important thing is to avoid simply asking for repetition. As I mentioned earlier, if we do this, then it is possible that the person will repeat exactly what they said. If we didn’t understand it the first time, then why will we understand it a second time.

So, let’s start by looking at some more constructive sentences to use to ask for clarification.

I’m afraid I don’t understand, could you explain that again a bit slower?

What does … mean? Could you provide me an example?

Can you explain that another way?

OK, can you provide me an example of that?

What does USP stand for?

So, how would that work in practice?

Sorry, how do you spell that?

I’m afraid I didn’t catch that, could you explain it again?

Could you say that again, but a bit slower?

Does that…(insert word) mean …(your understanding) or …(your understanding)?

Again, here you will see that by asking questions we are making the other person improve their communication skills. We can then feel more confident and not so embarrassed about not understanding. It is also important to remember that communication is a 2-way street. We should never feel that we have 100% of the responsibility of understanding. The other person also has the responsibility to make us understand their message.

I would now like to look at the last point of this episode. Clarifying what you are trying to say.


Finally, it is important to show also clarify what you are trying to say. I have often found that when we are talking another language we realise that we are sounding more and more confusing. I have often done this myself when talking Spanish. You know what you want to say, but the message comes out in a very confusing way. Sometimes what you are trying to say is relatively easy, but for some reason you over complicate it and your dialogue turns into a disaster. There are some techniques to avoiding this. The first and most simple is to STOP!

Let’s look at some of the language we can use to clarify what we are trying to say.

Sorry, what I am trying to say is…

What I wanted to say was…

Let me just explain that another way.

Sorry, when I said… I actually meant…

I’ll just explain that again…

Ops, I got a bit confused there, I meant to say…

Did you understand that…?

Was that clear, or should I explain it to you again?

Do you get what I mean?

I think that was a bit confusing, would you like me to tell you again?

Is that all clear or should I go over it again?

Remember, by asking questions we can get answers. Secondly, people often feel embarrassed to correct you. So, a great tip is to admit that it was confusing and then ask the person if they would like you to explain it again. People are often to proud to admit they didn’t understand something, so it is very important to read body language and facial expressions. If you see someone is not really understanding you, then STOP and use one of the above expressions to start again.

Study tips

I would like to conclude by offering you some study tips. Remember, we should make a decision to use 1 or 2 expressions a week in our next meeting or telephone call. It is extremely important to remember that if we set small learning goals that are achievable then we will stay motivated. Everyday we can achieve small things, and this will ensure we continue to learn at a steady pace.

Confidence in Business Meetings

Do you get embarrassed when you need to attend a meeting in English? Maybe you feel frustrated when you can't express yourself clearly. Do you want to be invisible in a meeting, hoping that you won't need to answer any questions?

If you would like to learn how to confidently participate in meetings that lead to successful outcomes and more business for you and your company, then I've got the answer.

Final thoughts

Thanks again for joining us, we hope that these checking and clarifying tips will help you to improve your communication skill. The most important thing to remember is that confidence is the key. You need to be asking questions and making sure you understand and are understood. Sitting in silence will only lead to problems and you feeling terrible. Jump in and start asking questions to gain more confidence and clarify what you don’t understand.

As always if you found this episode interesting please share it with your friends. The is the way AOBE can reach more people and help them improve their business English. We LOVE your feedback and comments, so don’t hesitate to send us your questions. Until next time have fun and keep improving your business English.

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Andrew is the CEO and founder of the Art of Business English. Besides teaching and coaching native Spanish speakers in Business English, he is also passionate about mountain biking, sailing and healthy living. When He is not working, Andrew loves to spend time with his family and friends.

Andrew Ambrosius

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