27 - Sorry, didn't catch that

For us language-learning losers, this is one of the most useful words in the Japanese language:


Your J-E dictionary will say that this word means, "to be able to hear (something); to catch; to be audible."

Today I want to explain 3 ways this simple word can boost your level of J-awesomeness...

#1 - I can't hear you...

The simple negative form of this word, 聞こえない (kikoenai) is useful for when you're having trouble hearing someone or something.

Let's say you're at a noisy restaurant. Your Japanese friend, lover, teacher, etc. says something, but all you can hear is AKB 48 blasting through the speakers:

So you say:

I can't hear you.

This is one of those phrases that English speakers mess up a lot, because they say 聞けない (kikenai), which could, technically speaking, mean "I can't hear you..." But 聞けない is usually used to mean "can't ask." (see the example at the end of this lesson).

Simple enough, yeah?

If not, just blame my teaching skills.

Now let's look at why this simple phrase is so helpful for students of Japanese...

#2 - Getting people to actually help you learn.

You go to a Japanese language school, and they'll tell you to say something like this when you don't understand someone:

sumimasen, mou ichido itte kudasai.
I'm sorry, please say that one more time.
(Literally: "Excuse me + again + one time + say + please.")

That sentence is totally correct.

But here's the problem:

If a native speaker hears you ask this question, they are NOT going to repeat what they said. More likely, they're going to (1) try speaking English to you, or (2) try to simplify what they said.

Because all they're really hearing you say is, "I suck at Japanese."

And so they say something different the second time.

And the third time.

And you end up unable to catch any of those new phrases they were using--those phrases you want to learn!

One way to get around this is to say something like:

e, nani? kikoenakatta.
Sorry, what was that? I couldn't hear you.
(Literally: "Huh + what? + I couldn't hear you.")

(Note: So that's the past negative tense of 聞こえる [kikoeru], in the plain form. In ますform [polite form], it'd be 聞こえませんでした [kikoemasendeshita], but I think you can use the plain form in 99% of cases... that a foreigner is likely to find themselves in [i.e. not at your job].)

The reason I love this phrase is that if you can manage to say it very naturally, Japanese people often will repeat what they were saying.

Then you can burn their words into your brain... or your Anki flashcard deck, I guess. ^_^

#3 - Oh, I thought you said...

Part of the art of learning a language is the art of making horribly embarrassing mistakes.

This will happen.

One form in which this happens is responding to something that you thought you heard, but is actually different from what the speaker was saying.

For example...

kyou sushi ikou.
Let's go to sushi today.
(Literally: "today + sushi + let's go.")

e? tooku nai?
Isn't that kinda far?
(Literally: "huh? + far + is not?")

tooku nai yo. kono aida itta toko chikai jan.
No. That place we went the other day is near here.
(Literally: "far + is not. + this + time period + went + place + close + isn't it?")

aa, sushi ne. zushi tte kikoeta.
Oh, sushi. I thought you said Zushi.
(Literally: "ah + sushi + ね. + Zushi + って + heard.")
(Note: Zushi is on the coast, about an hour and a half south of Tokyo. I've never been T_T)

In case you didn't catch it, the formula is:

[thing I misheard] って聞こえた
[thing I misheard] tte kikoeta
I thought you said [thing I misheard]

って (tte) is like a conversational quotation marker.

Then 聞こえた (kikoeta) is "I heard." In the sense that, "That's what entered my ears."

I use this all the time... because I'm always mishearing people, then backtracking after I say something stupid.

For an embarrassingly long time, I was saying ~って聞いた (~ tte kiita) here, because that literally means "I heard."

But the nuance of ~って聞いた (~tte kiita) would be that the other personactually said that.

Hope this phrase turns out to be useful to you, too. ^_^

Bonus Phrases

へん な おと が きこえる。
I can hear a strange sound.

そんな こと きけない よ!
I can't ask (him) something like that!

あの ふたり けっこん した って きいた よ。
I heard those two got married.