English communication in Graz, Austria
On the first day of a beginner class, I like to get the basics out of the way with a worksheet called “What People Say”. This covers the basic phrases you need to survive in an English-speaking country, such as “please,” “you’re welcome” and “bless you!”. What often causes confusion, however, is when to use excuse me, pardon, or sorry. Though you can use any of them in many situations, there are a few exceptions. (And I welcome input from native speakers who use these words in a different way!)
excuse me – when you did something you shouldn’t have (sneezed, burped, opened the door during a meeting, interrupted someone) or when you are about to do something you shouldn’t (like push people through the subway doors in order to get out, or when you want to interrupt someone).
pardon – when you didn’t hear someone and would like them to repeat what they’ve just said. (I’m not sure if “pardon” will get you out of a crowded subway car in New York…)
sorry – when you are genuinely sorry for what you did (e.g. walking in on someone at a meeting, as opposed to sneezing or bumping into someone by accident). In case you’re interested, this is what a rock concert looks like in Canada…
So what do you say when someone has been speaking too quickly and you can’t understand? I would say either: Excuse me? or Pardon? or take after the fabulous Lucille Bluth of “Arrested Development” instead: