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What to do when people don’t understand you in English

What do you do when people don’t understand you? Do you repeat what you said? Do you stop speaking? Do you feel bad?

When we speak a second language (and even in our first language), people may not understand us 100% of the time.

This can be because of pronunciation, sentence structure, choice of words, and many other reasons. There’s no reason to feel bad about it- it’s part of speaking a second language. Yet, it’s always a learning opportunity.

Here’s what you can do when you face it:

  • First, try to rely on non-verbal communication. Your body language and your voice – not just your words- are meaningful. Smile and take a deep breath. When we smile, it’s projected inwards and outwards, and makes our communication more at ease.
  • Then, say what you wanted to say again. It could be the same words, only more slowly and powerfully, or if necessary rephrase it. Don’t be afraid of repeating yourself or sounding redundant. As listeners, people often need to hear something more than once in order to understand it. Focus on one or two key words in your message. Make sure you say them with confidence in your full voice.
  • Then, pay attention to what it was that got you stuck, or was not fully understood by your listener. Whether it is a sound, a grammar structure, or a certain word, make a note about it and practice it so next time it won’t be a barrier.

Watch the full episode:

Once you finish, let me know if you have ever experienced a situation when someone didn’t understand you, and what you did.

Find it useful? You might also enjoy the episodes about listening skills and American intonation.

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6 Responses

  1. I’m Cenan. I’m from Turkey. Currently I’m living in Ottawa. I’m looking forward to your speaking launch. Last year I joined one time , it was very helpful for my communication skills, there no one judge you, people wants to help each other for improve to group vocabularies and push each other.
    Thank you Hadar and Hadar’s Team!!!

  2. Hi Hadar!

    I think that you have an amazing way for describe that situations, the feelings and “guilties” when we are learning. Your videos are helping me a lot.

  3. Hi Hadar my name is Yelile, I am from Venezuela, I’ m living in Michigan. When you are old you can think is impossible to learn and understand a second languaje, but you are right with effort, constancy …. yes it is possible. Thank you so much for your support and encourage us with all your material . You are right I am leaning not freeze me went native don’t understood me. THANK YOU SO MUCH.

  4. After watching your videos I feel very well, because I notice that I have a lot to learn about pronunciation, but I notice that I have to make more effort. Thanks a lot Hadar, you convince me more and more. God bless you.


  5. Hi my name is Selami. I am from Turkey. But I am living in Uruguay now. I came to Uruguay last June 18th. for steel structure installation in upm construction site. İ need to improve my conversation skills with people.

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