I live in an Asian country and I am not a native English speaker. I see native English speakers here run into misunderstandings with locals that are trying to communicate with them in broken English all the time. And these misunderstandings are not gone when native English speakers communicate with locals in the local language. I would even assume that in this case misunderstandings are even more frequent. It goes to show that misunderstandings are not only due to differences between languages, but also due to different concepts and cultural realities.

Now, you can imagine what a headache then it is for me, a non-native speaker trying to communicate with locals using my broken English.

So, among other problems, I often run here into such a situation, in which things are described to me by a local resident not sufficiently enough (so that I understood that correctly), so later I do things wrong (but right according to my understanding) and then I am blamed for having not bothered to ask additional questions to make sure that my understanding was correct. The problem is I didn't even know that my understanding was wrong. At the moment when the things are being described to me I don't even have a slightest clue that the way things are being understood by me in that description is quite different from the way things really are. So later, when I am being blamed for having not asked specifying questions I don't know how to respond to that and, in fact, to protect myself from being a scapegoat again. How would a native English speaker respond in such a situation?

To make things clearer, I will give some examples here (the last blank in each example is for a phrase that I am looking for):

Example 1:

Local: I told you to buy the bread from the bread store, which is right in front of the train station. Why did you buy it from a wrong store?

Me: What do you mean "from a wrong store"? This one was right in front of the train station, and, plus, this one was the best to fit a description of a bread store. In fact, it's not a bread store. It's a cake store! But all other stores in that place sell other stuff.

Local: That's why you should have realized right away that that was not the store that I meant.

Me: So which store did you mean?

Local: I meant the one close to the post office.

Me: Close to the post office?!!! But that is 300 hundred meters away from the train station! Besides, there lies a small park between them! How is that "right in front of the train station?!"

Local: Well, for us, locals, it is still right in front of the train station.

Me: Well, how did I know that your "right in front" is so much bigger than mine?

Local: Why didn't you ask?

Me: ____________________________________________ .

Example 2:

Local: Why did you give the envelope to Jake Smith?

Me: Didn't you ask me to give it to him?

Local: I asked you to give it to Jake Lesley!

Me: We don't have a worker named Jake Lesley. Probably you meant Jack Lesley.

Local: Exactly!

Me: Well, when you were asking me to do that you only gave me his first name. Besides, as I can tell now, your pronunciation of "Jack" is just the same as "Jake". I didn't know that you meant Lesley instead of Smith.

Local: Then why didn't you ask?

Me: ______________________________________.

Apart form the names, I didn't make up anything else in these examples. All the words are kept intact (just in case, all the communication between me and locals was carried out in our broken English). They are taken from my real-life experience that I have acquired while living here.

I understand that probably there is no one standard way in English of how to respond in those situations, which means that my question then is too broad and a good candidate to be closed.

If that's the case, then can you at least give an adjective describing that accusation? Like, "You are accusing me for not asking, but I am afraid your accusation is rather ________________ ."

  • How do we know if your translation "which is right in front of the train station" is accurate? The meaning of "near/close/around" is not the same as "right in front" which if we're being picky should really be "opposite". If you wanted to be generous, you could say "we got our lines crossed" OR ""it got lost in translation"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 7, 2022 at 10:51
  • @Mari-LouA - What do you mean by "your translation"? The whole communication in both examples was done in English. So it was not my translation, it was the local's translation of his/her thought into English. The problem is not that they are not aware of the fact that they often misuse English (which is inevitable), but is that they accuse of not asking to make sure.
    – brilliant
    Aug 7, 2022 at 10:53
  • @Mari-LouA - Yes! It was me (non-native speaker), communicating with a local person (non-native speaker) in our broken English.
    – brilliant
    Aug 7, 2022 at 10:57
  • OK, that's clearer now. Even among native speakers English can lead to misunderstandings. Experience should tell you to triple check instructions if the speaker's command of English is weak.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 7, 2022 at 10:59
  • 2
    I would say "Please make yourself clearer next time." And possibly "I am not a mind reader". I would not get drawn into an argument: which is what many people intend when they turn their own mistake into an attack. The ruse can provoke a mistake from you, and at that point they have "won". Aug 7, 2022 at 11:18

1 Answer 1


I would say

Please make yourself clearer next time.

followed possibly by

I am not a mind reader.

But I would not say the second sentence until they begin to speak, and then I would interrupt them, say that, and turn away to do something else.

I would not get drawn into an argument: which is what many people intend when they turn their own mistake into an attack. The ruse can provoke a mistake from you, and at that point they have "won".

  • Someone should have explained your "ruse" idea to me when I was 12. Aug 7, 2022 at 11:35

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