Ever felt lost or unsure in a Spanish conversation?
Everyone feels this way sometimes, but especially when learning a new language. There will be times when you don’t understand someone, you can’t keep up, or you just don’t know how to answer.
It’s best to know how to express your lack of understanding by learning how to say “I don’t know” in Spanish.
Learning and using these phrases doesn’t mean you’re failing in your efforts to speak Spanish. Quite the opposite, in fact! Owning up to where you are now in Spanish, and not faking your skill level, can actually keep you out of trouble and help you grow. When you confess you don’t understand, the other person can help you out. They can teach you the Spanish words you need, or repeat what they said in a different way.
That, my friends, is where the real language learning magic happens.
When you let others know you’re not understanding, you learn how to understand. You overcome one of the biggest language insecurities, fear of mistakes and speaking, and plough right into new territory.
Don’t take these phrases lightly. This is where every beginner’s successful language journey starts.
Feeling better about your insecurities now? Good. Let’s start learning how to tell others “you know nothing”.
How to Say “I don’t know” in Spanish
There are a few ways to say “I don’t know” in Spanish. The most common one you’ll see is no lo sé. But you may also hear yo no sé or just no sé.
Any of those are fine, and they’re often used interchangeably. To be technical, the difference is that lo represents “it” — the “it” that you don’t know. That’s why you don’t have to use lo. But, it’s common to do so in Spanish, even though in English we would normally omit “it” because it’s implied.
Keep in mind that sé comes from the verb saber meaning “to know”. If the subject of the sentence changes, you’ll have to change sé to match the Spanish pronoun.
For example, if you wanted to say “we don’t understand” it would be nosotros no lo sabemos. And “he doesn’t know” would be él no lo sabe. Again, the lo is optional, as is the pronoun. When you conjugate the verb to match the pronoun, you can drop the pronoun because it’s understood who you’re talking about. no sabe still means “he doesn’t know”.
Maybe you just don’t know the answer right this second. In that case, you can say aun no se or todavía no lo sé for “I don’t know yet.” And if you’re not very confident in your answer, you can use the phrase *no lo sé con certeza for “I don’t know for sure.”
How to Say “I don’t understand” in Spanish
To admit you’re not following, you can say no entiendo for “I don’t understand” in Spanish. This is how most beginners learn to say it, but if you want to be more specific, you can use the past tense form. No entendi means “I didn’t understand.”
Either way you say it is fine and lets the other person know you’ll need a bit of help grasping the context.
How to Say “please could you repeat that” in Spanish
So you admitted you don’t understand, and now you need to ask them to repeat what they said in Spanish. To say “please could you repeat that” you use the phrase por favor, ¿podría repetir eso? Of course, por favor — or “please” in Spanish — can go at the beginning or end of the sentence, as in English. The phrase could also be ¿Podrías repetir eso por favor?
Now let’s picture this scenario: your conversation partner has repeated the phrase. It was still too fast and you still didn’t understand! You’re starting to sweat… you don’t know what to do to keep the conversation going.
No worries! Simply ask for them to repeat it again, only this time more slowly. “Speak more slowly please” is habla más despacio, por favor. You could also say, más lento, por favor, which just means “slower, please.” Again, either is fine. It’s personal preference, and whichever you find easier to remember in the moment!
If that still didn’t help, you can say otra vez for “again” or una vez más, por favor to ask “one more time, please.”
How to Say “sorry, I don’t understand you” in Spanish
To apologize for not understanding someone, you can say perdon no te entiendo (“sorry, I don’t understand you”). You could follow this with solo entiendo un poco de español, which is “I only understand a little Spanish.” Or, shorten it to solo entiendo un poco (“I only understand a little.”)
How to Say “I’m a beginner” in Spanish
There’s no shame in admitting you’ve only just begun your Spanish studies!
To let someone know you’ve just started learning Spanish you can say soy principiante. That means “I’m a beginner” in Spanish. You could also use soy novato/novicia to say “I’m a novice.” This is a handy phrase to know because the other person will know they should use simpler speech and vocabulary with you.
You can elaborate a bit more. For instance, you could say Hablo un poco de español, pero sólo soy principiante. (“I speak a little Spanish, but I’m just a beginner”). You could also say “I’m learning Spanish” with estoy aprendiendo español.
You could even add on the time frame of how long you’ve been learning, like llevo tres meses aprendiendo español (“I’ve been learning Spanish for 3 months”). You could change aprender to estudiar as well, meaning you “study” Spanish instead.
How to Say “I’m not sure” in Spanish
Not feeling too sure how to respond? Use the phrase no estoy seguro to say “I’m not sure” in Spanish. Seguro means “sure” or “certain”. You could also use this phrase with “I don’t know for sure.” Instead of no lo sé con certeza, which I shared above, you could use no lo sé con seguro. It’s just a nuanced difference, and a bit more formal.
Of course, keep in mind that you could always drop the no to change these sentences to the positive form. Estoy seguro means “I’m sure,” just as lo sé means “I know.” And if you didn’t understand before but you do now, you can say ahora entiendo meaning “now I understand”.
The Phrase for “I don’t know how to say…” in Spanish
If you don’t know how to express yourself in Spanish, then ask! If your conversation partner speaks a bit of English, they may be able to help.
To say “I don’t know how to say…” in Spanish, you use No se como decir… Then, add on what you don’t know how to say. For example, you could say: No sé cómo decir “wallet” en español. Yes, it’s utilizing a bit of Spanglish here, but you’ll be able to keep the conversation in Spanish as much as you can while also learning.
You could also use the phrase ¿Qué es ___ en español? for “What is __ in Spanish?” Then, you’re learning new vocabulary as it’s relevant to you. It’ll keep you speaking and moving forward, and you’ll remember the new words better because you’re using them in a current situation.
How to Say “I don’t remember” in Spanish
There are two verbs for “to remember” in Spanish: recordar and acordarse. It’s a pretty nuanced difference, but the best way to think about it is that recordar is “to recall” and acordarse is “to remember.”
So, to say you don’t remember in Spanish, you could say both no recuerdo (“I don’t recall”) or no me acuerdo (“I don’t remember”). Because acordarse is a reflexive verb, it needs a reflexive pronoun, which is me.
That’s getting into the grammar side of things, so don’t worry about it too much for now. Just remember the phrases themselves and worry about understanding the details of the grammar later as you learn more about pronouns and verbs.
How to Ask “What did you say?” in Spanish
Another way to ask someone to repeat themselves that will probably feel more natural is ¿Qué dijiste? This means “What did you say?” in Spanish. This is the more informal way to say it, but it’s common to use. If you’re talking to someone of authority or you want to show respect, you can use the polite version ¿Qué dijo?
Why not simplify it further? You could say ¿Cómo? for “What?” or “Come again?” Either way, the other person will know you didn’t hear or understand.
Whenever you use these question phrases, make sure to use a higher inflection at the end of the sentence. That lets the other person know it’s a question. You do this naturally in English as well as most languages. But sometimes when we’re overthinking how to say something, we forget inflection. So raise the pitch for questions!
How to Say “I’m sorry” in Spanish
Lastly, if you’re feeling a bit embarrassed by your lack of understanding, you can apologize. You can use lo siento for “I’m sorry.” But you could also use perdón or disculpe for “excuse me”. You can also use this to apologize for being a bother, by saying disculpa la molestia.
Don’t get too caught up in being embarrassed or apologizing, though — you’re learning, after all! Most people understand. But, sometimes it can feel more polite or necessary to apologize. So you can use these phrases.
Making Mistakes in Spanish? Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Don’t worry about the little misunderstandings and mistakes. Don’t worry about how much you know or don’t know. Just don’t sweat the small stuff.
With these phrases, you can get by anyway. You can keep the conversation in your target language, while learning how to better understand it. That’s really all that matters. The whole point of language learning is to make many mistakes and keep pushing forward until it clicks. Because when you don’t understand, or you make a mistake, you’re more likely to remember the correct answer later. Never be afraid to admit you don’t know.
Now, if you’re ready to move on to bigger and better things in Spanish, check out our favourite Spanish resources to improve your learning. Start learning how to make conversational chitchat in Spanish, and pick up small talk tips like learning about the weather in Spanish.
That’s a great place to begin your studies. And if you want a deeper, faster push into the language, work on creating a home-immersion environment.
Have there been situations where you’ve been too afraid to admit you don’t understand someone in Spanish? How did you work through it (or not)? Share your stories with me in the comments!
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.