A recurring problem I have in Japanese dialogue is when I can't quite hear what someone said, attempt to ask them something to the effect of "excuse me?" or "what was that?" only for them to rephrase it (most likely because they think I don't know the word).

In some cases, they might even try to say it in English, and worst cases, grunt and use sign language.

This might not be completely evident if all your dialogue is done over the phone, (or if you don't look like someone who might not understand).

What are some efficient, unambiguous ways of asking someone what they said?

I'm mostly interested in an unambiguous way to phrase it, but I would prefer to simultaneously be able to be polite.

  • "え?" and "ん?" don't quite cut it.
  • Replying "赤い何ですか?" might work if you heard enough, but what if you didn't hear that much?
  • "「」って何?" is not relevant, because then you heard enough to ask a specific question.

2 Answers 2


I would opt for the phrase もう一度ゆっくり言ってください。

もう一度 once more
ゆっくり slowly
言ってください please say it

If speed is not an issue in your not understanding the speaker, もう一度言ってください should be sufficient. If you're still finding that the speaker is rephrasing, adding 同じことを between もう一度 and 言って will really drive that point home.

  • "同じことを" should indeed drive the point home. Dec 7, 2015 at 23:24

You may find these translations from DMM英会話ブログ useful. This is on a site for Japanese learners of English, and includes:

  • すみません、何と言いましたか?
  • なんて言いましたか?
  • ゆっくり/大きな声で話してもらえますか?
  • もう一度言ってもらえますか?

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