Do you get tired of using the same old phrases when you ask people to repeat themselves? If so, spice up your life and change how you ask.
The most exciting change would be not having to ask at all – to be able to understand people the first time, every time. This would spare everybody a lot of extra conversational work, not to mention the frustration of repeated comments that turn out to be boring or brainless. It would also prevent the embarrassment of asking for repetition and hearing, “I wasn’t talking to you.”
But the reality of hard of hearing life is that we often misunderstand, misinterpret, or completely miss the spoken message. This is what we do, regularly, like the ticking of a clock. So – fish swim, birds fly, and people with hearing loss ask for repetition. If we avoid doing this when we should, then we’re bluffing, just playacting at conversation – and this really annoys our family and friends.
It’s a tough call, because we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Our loved ones hate to see us bluffing but, whether they admit it or not, they also get sick and tired of having to repeat themselves. What’s more, they secretly suspect that we say “pardon?” even we don’t have to! (And let’s be honest here: who among us hasn’t spit out a “pardon?” just a bit too quickly, when we have actually understood what was said? And then were too proud to retract? But that’s rare; 99 out of 100 times when we ask for clarification or a repeat, it’s because we truly need another crack at it.)
But here’s what our family and friends don’t know: people with hearing loss get as bored asking for repetition, as hearing people do giving it! Do they think we like having to slow down the conversation, or putting it completely into reverse? Do they think we enjoy watching their eye-rolling and sighs while we wait for the requested ‘repeat’? And do they not understand that we have to fight our own eye-rolling when, after we ask them what they said, they can’t remember?
And please – don’t get us going about how we itch for the brass knuckles when someone pulls the ‘oh never mind’ stunt. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the severe stress of that classic blow-off has caused someone’s hearing to drop a few decibels!
Let’s come off that rant and back to the original question. If you use the same two or three ‘could-you-please-repeat-yourself’ phrases, use something different next time. Below is a list of standard English phrases to try; I’m sure there are other interesting ones out there – but remember that the goal is communication, not confusion.
When I was growing up, my family had its own dialect – just a few words, really – that did not translate well beyond our front door. Even today, I let some incoherent gems slip out, courtesy of my father’s love of spoonerisms and stretching out real words into something crazy, such as watching ‘tele-ma-vision’. But the one that has really stuck with me is this: if we didn’t catch what someone said, we would ask “hizza-what?”, especially me, the hard of hearing kid. Can you imagine how difficult it has been to shake this habit, let alone the confusion it causes?
Friend: What did you just say?
Gael: I’m the one with hearing loss – I asked what you said!
Friend: But you hissed at me!
Gael: Oh no, did I say hizza-what again?
Friend: There, you hissed again!
Standard Verbal Requests for Repetition
1. With people you don’t know very well, or when you don’t want to be too casual
Repeat that again, please? (Variation: Again?)
I beg your pardon? (Pardon me? Pardon?)
Run that by me again…
Sorry? I’m sorry?
Speak louder, please?
Would you mind repeating that (speaking up), please; I have hearing loss.
2. More casual, good for acquaintances and strangers
I didn’t catch that?
I’m hard of hearing?
3. With family and closest friends:
Holy Mother o’ Fred, do I have to tell you 10 million times? Move your hand from your lips and tell me what you said, cement-lips!
4. In a category by itself: : Come again?
The previous phrases are spoken suggestions. Here are some useful visual moves that get the message across nicely. (You may want to practice these in front of the mirror.)
Hand cupping ear
One raised eyebrow, with a half-thrust-forward of the neck
Quick upward jab of the chin, both eyebrows raised
Quick ear tilt towards the speaker, both eyebrows raised
Tricky-but-effective: Bring eyebrows together and open eyes wide. (If you don’t open eyes wide, you just look angry.)
A person seeing any of the above will very quickly repeat themselves.
As for other languages, use this webpage which shows how to ask for repetition in many languages. If I ever go to Albania, I’m set: Ju lutem, më thuaj edhe një here. Or, if I end up in the mythical Highland village of Brigadoon, I can ask for a repeat in Informal Scottish Gaelic: A can thu sin a-rithist, ma’s e do thoil e? But the Volo translation, Pallun ütle tuud viilkõrd, won’t help me much, because I can’t find out where it’s spoken!
Regardless of our fine-tuned speechreading skills or the technical brilliance of our hearing aids and cochlear implants, people with hearing loss will continue to ask for repetition. We might as well enjoy ourselves, or at least not bore ourselves, while we’re at it!