I’m sorry, I don’t understand!

understand communication problems

As you’ve probably noticed, learning a language isn’t easy, even when it’s a lovely well-structured, Latin-based language like Spanish.

We’ve all experienced that moment when somebody is talking to us but we have no clue what they’re saying.

You know you’d be fine if you could just ask them to repeat their words. Or maybe ask them to speak a little slower.  Read on and find out how to do both.

This article is part of our series of classes aimed at everyone who is just starting to learn Spanish.  Written by our bilingual teacher, Aurora Ielpi, the course looks at the type of practical Spanish you’ll use in real life situations in both Spain and Latin America. 

I’m sorry, what?

There is one simple word you can use whenever you need someone to repeat what they’ve just said. That word is ¿Cómo?

This is typically used the first time someone says something and you didn’t understand. It’s the phrase Spanish speakers use if somebody speaks to them when they are distracted or can’t hear them well.

Check out  0:57 of the following video:

Sorry, can you repeat that?

If you need to hear the words repeated once again, try using

  • Perdona, ¿me lo puedes repetir?

Here’s another example from YouTube:


The person you’re talking to will repeat what they’ve said and, hopefully, this time it’ll be easier for you to understand them.

Since communication can be tricky no matter what language you’re using, you can also say

  • Perdona, no entiendo.

This translates as “Sorry, I don’t understand.”

Some people may use No te entiendo (In Latin America: No le entiendo). By using this phrase, you’re pointing that there might be a problem with the way the other person is communicating (volume, pronunciation, etc.). This could lead to a repetition of what has just been said, plus an explanation or justification into the bargain.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to continue the conversation without any misunderstandings. And no matter what the outcome, it will always be a good opportunity to enhance your listening skills!


I don’t really speak Spanish. Can we speak in Spanish, please?

It may sound like a paradox, but it isn’t! A common problem language learners have is that, when trying to practice their newly-acquired language skills, they are boycotted by native speakers. Native speakers also want to practice their language skills, and the conversation might end up being in your own mother tongue. It is vital to nip this in the bud! But how?


  • ¿Puedes hablar más despacio, por favor?

You’re respectfully asking the other person to speak more slowly and you’re showing your intention to keep the conversation in Spanish. Don’t fall into the trap of switching languages! The only way to practice conversation is by speaking, so persevere and you’ll get there sooner or later.

¿Tú o usted?

There are two ways of addressing people when you are talking directly to them. One, more formal and polite, usually shows respect towards the other person’s age, seniority or authority. The second way is common between friends, family and people your own age.

Usted is the more formal and shows familiarity and proximity. Do you know when to use each? In some situations, it can be a bit confusing. How do you address a doctor who is your own age? And a taxi driver? And your portero?

A good rule of thumb is:

  •  Donde fuere, haz lo que vieres.
    (When in Rome, do as the Romans do.)

In other words, if you’re being addressed as usted, use usted. If, on the contrary, you’re being addressed as , opt for . Every culture has its own way of interpreting formality and respect, and a polite intonation is just as important as the right verb form.  So, if you feel uncertain about which of the two to use, as long as you’re being respectful expressing yourself, you’ll be just fine.

We cover the issue of ‘tú’ and ‘usted’ in more detail in our class on basic Spanish questions.

Communicating better

Communication problems are part of learning a language. Knowing the phrases in this lesson will help you overcome those problems, and, most importantly, you’ll enjoy the conversation as well.

This Basic Spanish Course

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the classes in this free Basic Spanish course.  There are classes on introducing yourself, giving personal information, and the top 30 essential Spanish verbs. And we’re continually adding more free lessons!

Interviews with native-Spanish speakers

Want to see how native-speakers communicate?  The Hablarama team have been out on the streets of Pontevedra and Vigo in northern Spain, interviewing young Spaniards about a whole host of interesting subjects. Check out the videos here: Real Spanish.