15 Phrases to Politely Ask for Clarification
Phrases to grab someone’s attention
Explain to your students that saying something along the lines of “Hey you!” isn’t a good way to grab someone’s attention when asking a question. Instead, teach them how to use more polite phrases, like:
Also, make sure to explain that these expressions are often used with a flat intonation.
Expressions for when you don’t understand something
Instead of letting your students say “What?” or “Huh?” when they don’t understand something, have them express their misunderstanding politely with phrases like:
Also, since these are used to convey confusion or misunderstanding, demonstrate to the class that they have the same rising intonation that’s used when asking a question.
In addition to these three short questions, here are three long-form phrases that your students need to know when they can’t hear or understand you:
Could you repeat that, please?
Could you say that slower, please?
I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you.
Questions for when you need more information
For times when your students get the gist of what you’re saying but need additional information to understand completely, they can use these clarification questions:
What do you mean?
Do you mean…?
Could you be more specific, please?
Could you give me an example, please?
Not only do these questions sound more polite, your students are far more likely to get a better response when asking clarification questions.
Phrases to say when you’re clarifying
There are also going to be times when students also need to clarify themselves. Here are some phrases that will help them get the point across better.
In other words…
I meant to say…
Don’t forget to say “please”
One of the main reasons why ESL students often come across as demanding when they ask for clarification is because they’re not saying “please.”