What is etiquette for asking the speech impaired to repeat themselves?

I’ll wager anybody who’s worked with the public has had the problem. A patron/customer/client who has advanced CP or is deaf or sometimes evens just a very thick accent asks your assistance. You are very polite and want to help them, but you just simply can’t understand what they’re asking. I hate to keep asking “I beg your pardon?”, especially when it’s somebody with a physical problem because I know how frustrating it must be for them, but at the same point if I can’t deduce what they’re asking/saying then I can’t help them.

How do you ask them to repeat themselves, often repeatedly, in such a way that it’s sensitive to their problem?

I’d apologize all over the place for not understanding them and then politely ask them to write it down.

I’ll be following this thread, as my husband just had a phone encounter with a man who had such a crippling stutter that he couldn’t tell us his address. We have to go to this man’s business in a couple months. I was finally able to get his address from his phone number, but we will be face-to-face with him and I have no idea how to handle it. Do you attempt to finish his sentences for him? He can barely get more than three words out before he gets hung up again. I hope he’ll have a pad and pen handy, but if he doesn’t, how do we do business with him without offending him?

I usually say something along the lines of “I’m sorry, I don’t understand” and then repeat the part that I did understand and suggest the part I didn’t understand. That gives them the opportunity to say ‘yes that’s what I meant’ or just repeat the part you didn’t understand.

I say, “Huh?”


CubHubby, who has to talk to all sorts of people in his job, generally says something like this: “I notice that you have a speech problem/some difficultly communicating. Please bear with me and speak slowly so that I can understand you.” He also uses the technique of repeating back what his understanding of the information is, which allows for instant correction of any misunderstandings. He finds that acknowledging the problem allows both people to cooperate to overcome it. I’ve tried this too and it has worked well for me.

Those I’ve spoken to recently also seemed to have hearing difficulty. (Perhaps they were fairly deaf when they were learning to talk, and that’s part of their problem?) At any rate, they had no problem repeating to me, over and over, "Could you repeat that?, “I didn’t catch that”, and the catch-all mentioned above, “Huh?” It may take a while longer for you, but it probably seems like an everyday occurrence to them.

Can I just interject and beg you NOT to do this. Please, please don’t do this. It’s irritating and offensive. Patience, grasshopper, patience.

I agree. But maybe he’d want someone to help him just to move the conversation along. For example, he was hung up on the number 9 (a common problem for stutterers), and after a long attempt, finally asked my husband, “What comes before ten?” It seems like he might welcome the assistance. This is more than a stammer. It’s realistically a 30-second to 1-minute delay for him, if he gets it at all.

Do what vain old deaf ladies do: Snap "Don’t mumble, you dirty little man!"

People who have the problems you describe are most likely very used to others asking them to repeat themselves. I’d say the most important guideline is to be patient and kind and not show your frustration. “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” “Sorry, I still didn’t quite catch that.” etc. I know sometimes people react poorly to being asked to repeat themselves repeatedly. BUt it’s not your fault you can’t understand them any more than it’s their fault they can’t speak clearly.

What??? I Can"t Hear You!!! What Did You Say???

I usually point my finger in their face and say “Speak American!” Works like a charm.
Not really.
I have this a lot where I work. The best thing that I do is say “I didn’t quite get that,” and keep asking them to repeat it. They usually know that they have an impairment, so I don’t go out of my way to act like I am a jughead and apologize too much; they usually feel patronized and we both become uncomfortable. As long as I am patient, we can work it out. I like xbuckeye’s move, tho-give them your take on it for confirmation. I think it will save a lot of frustration and grief.

Bolding mine.

Please don’t do this. It’s rude as hell. And this is comming from someone who used to stutter as a child. I also work with a person who stuters. When I hear people try to finish his sentence; it makes me want to cringe.
This thread makes me wonder. I used to have a hard time understanding people with speach problems or even thick accents. Now that I have an austistic child, who has speach problems, I can understand people a lot more clearly. -And not just people with speach problems but people with thick accents as well. I’ve even been called upon to translate for some people. I wonder if my son has somehow trained my brain to be able to understand these folks?

“I’m sorry I’m not sure what you said. Did you ask for a …?”

That’s what I did. She seemed okay with it.

Yes, I found some sites that say you shouldn’t try to finish their sentence, regardless of how long it takes them to put one together. When this guy asks for help, we’ll help him.

My mother had a mild stutter (it was worse when she was a child). So I do have compassion for people who suffer from stuttering.

I don’t have lots of personal experience with this, but I’d second what others have said about not finishing sentences and asking politely for them to repeat themspeves.

I’d also add one more piece of advice: listen. This should be obvious, and I’m sure it is obvious to many -if not all- of the posters here, but I think that some people don’t really get it. Paying attention and actively listening to someone who you have a hard time understanding can help a lot, as can learning a particular speaker’s ideosyncracies.

I have speech problems. Saying “huh?” over and over drives me up the freaking wall. “Huh” is not a word; it’s a sound you make when you are trying to puke.

Ask me politely to repeat what I just said. If you don’t get it the second or third time, I give up.

I hope my previous post didn’t seem too snappy. I really only meant that it’s impolite to ask a person to repeat themselves if you weren’t listening very carefully and should have been.

From what I have heard from a friend studying speech pathology, the telephone is really difficult for stutterers, but they may have a lot less trouble in person, particularly when on familiar territory. (As part of her class, they would call businesses and pretend to stutter, and then call back to explain after having gotten hung up on. That seemed a little shady to me, but at least the first part taught them what it’s like to be a stutterer trying to call.)

Don’t finish the sentence for them; I have a colleague at work who stutters on the phone and even though I know what word she is stuck on I just let her get to it. I feel terrible because I think I may have hung up on her or another colleague with a stutter, so now I make sure to wait a little bit on a call where I don’t hear anything.