I'm mostly bilingual - I speak (hopefully) decent English and I speak Hebrew that's passable most of the time (although I have a pretty strong accent that I have to work on). But sometimes I run into a problem where I don't know how to say what I want to say.

For instance, a couple of days ago I was going to suggest playing the song in a different key, but I realized that I don't know how to say 'key' in Hebrew... after I started speaking, and ended up not knowing how to continue. This was slightly awkward.

How do I communicate my point and get the point across, plus reduce the awkwardness?

I realize that I could have just not said anything, but I'm looking for answers that address how to deal with the awkward situation after I already tried and failed to get my point across.


3 Answers 3


Gesturing and paraphrasing, as suggested here, are good approaches. (In your case you probably know the words for "up", "down", and "move", which should help you get your point across.)

Another technique is one I've seen my non-native-English-speaking coworkers use. When one of them is speaking and gets stuck, he pauses, holds up a finger (the "wait a moment" signal here in the US), and says something like "I don't know the word". Or, if another coworker he shares his native language with is present, he'll say "how do you say" in English and then say the foreign word and often get help.

Hebrew is a fast, compact language, which makes it hard to both follow and inject a pause, but maybe "lo yada daver" or similar is still concise enough to work, even if under pressure you can't conjugate or decline correctly -- you just need to get the point across.


There is always just saying the word in the language you know, and coupling it with other cues such as gesturing. But don't make the thread of the conversation pause for too long.

There will be the inevitable pause as you get to the word you don't know. Once you are there, people will surmise that you are looking for a word.

In this case, say the word in English in the hope that someone in your group knows the word. Fortunately, English is commonly studied as a foreign language.

If that does not work, try gesturing. You may try the key scale: "do re mi ..." while gesturing with your hand different levels.

Still receiving the "100 yard stare"? You may want to restart the sentence using a word construct that you do know.

All of this should happen in a relatively short time. If you sense that you have taken enough of the group's time, I would suggest apologizing and inviting the group to move on.


You can always say "what's it called?" and follow up with words similar to what you want. Even native speakers do this, eventually everyone will forget a word or another.

In some cultures, you can also snap your fingers rhythmically to let people know you are searching for a certain word. It makes the pause become less awkward.

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