Check Understanding by Paraphrasing


When you need to check that you understand what someone said it is useful to paraphrase them. There are several ways to do it and I’ll provide some examples that are simple enough for you to try next time you speak English.

What’s paraphrasing?

Paraphrasing is when you repeat what a person says and change just a little bit. Sometimes the meaning changes but most of the time it does not.

In this post I’ll show you how to paraphrase to check understanding so, of course, we hope that the meaning is still the same.

Keep it simple

It’s best to keep things as simple as possible, especially if you’re checking instructions.

“To get to the hotel you get off the bus, walk toward the black office building and turn left at the adjacent alley.”
“Do you mean to get to the hotel I get off the bus, go toward the black office building and turn left at the alley just next to it?”
“That’s right.”

Remember to check unknown words and phrases

If someone uses words or phrases you don’t know, you can check their meaning by paraphrasing and changing the unknown word.

“I’d like you to provide the appellant’s contact details.”
“Appellant? So, am I right to think you’d like me to provide the contact details for my mother, who wants to make the court appeal?”
“That’s right.”

“The main problem right now is lifestyle. A reduction in dietary cholesterol would solve some of your problems, especially when combined with an exercise programme.”
“Would I be correct in thinking you want me to cut out fatty foods and start working out?”
“In a nutshell, yes.”

If you can practise this in a real conversation, that is great. If not, why not listen to a podcast and email the podcaster or leave a comment for them?