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How To Stall (And Instantly Sound More Fluent) In 7 Different Languages

Like. Umm. Ah. Filler words aren’t just there to make you sound clumsy. They’re also an important part of natural speech, and they can help you sound more fluent in another language.
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How To Stall (And Instantly Sound More Fluent) In 7 Different Languages

If you’ve ever listened to a recording of your own voice and cringed at every “like,” “um,” or “you know,” then it might seem counterintuitive to intentionally pepper your speech with these kinds of filler words in another language. But the truth is that these little hiccups are a universal component of human speech. Some researchers believe filler words make up six to 10 percent of spontaneous speech, so if you want to sound natural in your new language, you should aim to imitate the habits of natural speech.

According to psychology professors Jean Fox Tree and Herbert Clark, these verbal tics are effectively “conversation managers” that serve as important placeholders and listening cues. N.J. Enfield, professor of linguistics at the University of Sydney, refers to them as “traffic signals that regulate the flow of social interaction.” Essentially, we use filler words to indicate that we’re not quite done speaking yet. When we fall silent, we indicate that it’s the other person’s turn to talk.

The great irony here is that by embracing what linguists refer to as “disfluencies,” you’re actually making yourself sound more fluent (and buying yourself time when you’re feeling stuck).

Here’s a quick and dirty guide to stalling in seven different languages.

This article was originally published on Matador Network.

Skip ahead to:

German
French
Italian
Spanish
Portuguese
Swedish
Russian

 
 

1. German

German has a lot of filler/stalling words that can be very tricky to translate, as their meaning is often highly dependent on the context. The examples given are the most frequently used among them.

Filler word: Hm
Translation: Hmmm
Example: Hmmm…do you really want to be remembered as the guy who broke out his glow sticks at the company holiday party in front of all your colleagues?
Translation of example: Hm…möchtest du wirklich als der Typ in Erinnerung bleiben, der seine Knicklichter auf der Firmenparty herausgeholt und vor allen Kollegen damit herumgewedelt hat?

Filler word: Äh
Translation: Umm
Example: Umm, nope, “John from the bar” isn’t really ringing any bells. Who is this supposed to be?
Translation of example: Äh nee, bei “John von der Bar” klingelt es gerade nicht wirklich. Wer soll das sein?

Filler word: Ja
When to use it: When you want to express surprise, a sense of warning or urgency, or emphasize that something is obvious.
Example: You better not touch my beer while I’m gone.
Translation of example: Fass ja nicht mein Bier an, wenn ich kurz weg bin!

Filler word: Halt
When to use it: To express resignation (translates roughly to “just”).
Example: That’s just the way he is!
Translation of example: Der ist halt so!

Filler word: Mal
When to use it: To soften the tone of questions and statements, conveying a casual tone (like “just” or “hey”).
Example: Hey, I know you always leave earlier, but would you mind jumping on this 6:00 PM call today?
Translation of example: Ich weiß, dass du immer früher gehst, aber könntest du heute mal das Telefonat um 18:00 Uhr annehmen?

Filler word: Doch
When to use it: To convey surprise, disbelief, or a sense of impatience; to give an affirmative answer to a question or statement containing a negation.
Example: You mean to tell me that you’re actually graduating?
Translation of example: Sagst du mir gerade, dass du doch deinen Abschluss machst?

Filler word: Also…
Translation: Well, so
Example: So, should we get moving already? The line at Berghain is going to be insane.
Translation of example: Also sollten wir langsam los? Die Schlange beim Berghain wird sicher höllisch lang sein.

Filler word: …, oder?
When to use it: To tack “right?” onto the end of a sentence.
Example: You’re friends with that weird guy who cooks pasta in the microwave for lunch, right?
Translation of example: Du bist mit dem komischen Typen befreundet, der seine Pasta in der Mikrowelle kocht, oder?

Filler word: Egal,
When to use it: To change the subject (“anyway…”).
Example: Anyway, let’s just do it our way! Or will that get us fired?
Translation of example: Egal, wir machen das jetzt so! Oder werden wir dann gekündigt?

 
 

2. French

Filler word: Euh…
When to use it: When you’re thinking of what to say next (kind of like “hmm”).
Example: Hmmm…I don’t know…is it really all that weird to eat crepes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
Translation of example: Euh…je sais pas…c’est si bizarre que ça de manger des crêpes matin, midi et soir?

Filler word: Donc
When to use it: When you want to tack “so” onto the beginning or end of a sentence.
Example: So, it’s not a problem if my parents crash here for the next three weeks?
Translation of example: Donc, ça ne pose pas de problème si mes parents restent chez nous pendant 3 semaines?

Filler word: …, quoi.
When to use it: When you need a relatively meaningless filler word at the end of a sentence. “Quoi” literally means “what,” but it doesn’t mean anything when used as a filler.
Example: You know how she gets, like…
Translation of example: Tu sais comment elle est, quoi…

Filler word: Tu vois
Translation: You see
Example: You see, I actually don’t think you appreciate the merits of Cardi B’s lyricism.
Translation of example: Tu vois, en fait je ne crois pas que tu apprécies la valeur du lyrisme de Cardi B.

Filler word: Du coup
When to use it: To take up space at the beginning or end of a sentence. This comes from du coup de ce fait, meaning “as a result of this” or “so,” but du coup doesn’t have a concrete meaning.
Example: Looks like someone let the cat out of the bag. So what do we do?
Translation of example: On dirait que quelqu’un a vendu la mèche. Du coup on fait quoi?

Filler word: Bref,…
When to use it: When you’re trying to start a sentence with “long story short” (bref means “brief”).
Example: Long story short, we’re not talking anymore.
Translation of example: Bref, on ne se parle plus.

 
 

3. Italian

Filler words are a highly regional component of Italian. Those listed below are ones you’ll more or less hear used generically across northern Italy, but the ones you’ll hear used more often in day-to-day life are often dialect-specific (and even city-specific, in many cases).

Filler word: Cioè…
Translation: The literal translation is namely, but it’s used improperly to link sentences together (similar to “actually,” “I mean,” or “like”).
Example: I mean, I guess they’re like, okay as a couple. But I preferred her ex better.
Translation of example: Cioè, credo che come coppia stiano bene. Ma preferivo il suo ex.

Filler word: Tipo
Translation: Very similar to “like” (often as used in conversation as it is in English)
Example: She’s just like, not that good at knowing when to like, stop talking.
Translation of example: Tipo che non è tanto brava a capire quando smettere di parlare.

Filler word: Mmmm…
When to use it: When you need to convey that you’re thinking (not to be confused with mh mh, which can either indicate approval or disapproval depending on the tone).
Example: Mmmm…I think I’m leaning toward pasta again.
Translation of example: Mmmm…penso che opterò di nuovo per una pasta.

Filler words: …vero?…no?
Translation: Right? Isn’t it? (You’re seeking confirmation, but sometimes this is more of a rhetorical question)
Example: It feels good to not give a damn about what anyone thinks, right?
Translation of example: Ci si sente bene a fregarsene di quello che pensano gli altri, vero?

Filler word: Ah!
When to use it: Whenever you’d normally be inclined to do so in English.
Example: Ahh, so that’s why you’re never on time!
Translation of example: Aaah! Ecco perché sei sempre in ritardo!

Filler word: Beh
Translation: Well…
Example: Weeeeeell…if I were you, I wouldn’t be so quick to put his name in your phone as “future husband.”
Translation of example: Beh…se fossi in te, non salverei il suo numero sotto “futuro marito.”

Filler word: Aspetta eh…un attimo…
Translation: Wait…one sec…(the most common thing to say when something doesn’t quickly come to mind)
Example: Wait, don’t tell me…is he the guy you met at goat yoga?
Translation of example: Aspetta, non dirmelo…è il tipo che hai incontrato a goat yoga?

Filler word: Bla bla bla
When to use it: To mock somebody who’s talking too much, or to quickly summarize a previous fact or conversation (mostly if it’s too boring or long)
Example: The date went okay. We talked a lot about his aunty, blah blah blah, his grandma, blah blah blah, his dog, blah blah blah, and then we finally got to talk about his ex.
Translation of example: È andata abbastanza bene. Abbiamo parlato molto della sua zietta, bla bla bla, di sua nonna, bla bla bla, del cane, bla bla bla, ma alla fine siamo riusciti a parlare dell’ex.

 
 

4. Spanish

Filler word: Bueno,
Translation: Well, okay
Example: Okay, let’s decide after we have coffee.
Translation of example: Bueno, después de tomarnos el café decidimos.

Filler word: Pues…
When to use it: To introduce a sentence (similar to “well…”)
Example: Well, I don’t know, it’s not always fair to judge someone by their Coachella photos, but I’m not going to stop you.
Translation of example: Pues…no sé, no está bien juzgar a alguien por sus fotos de Coachella, pero no te lo voy a impedir.

Filler word: O sea…
Translation: Like…
Example: I don’t get it, like…what is this so-called “work of art” actually trying to say?
Translation of example: No lo entiendo, o sea, ¿qué quiere decir esta “obra de arte”?

Filler word: Pues nada… / Y nada… / En fin…
Translation: Anyway, okay, well
Example: Well, I’ll stay at home, then.
Translation of example: Pues nada, entonces no salgo.

Filler word: …, ¿sabes? / ¿viste?/¿ves? / ¿cierto?
Translation: You know? / See? / Right?
Example: I prefer dates who brush their teeth, you know?
Translation of example: Prefiero tener citas con personas que lavan los dientes, ¿sabes?

Filler word: Ya
When to use it: When you’re listening to someone talk and you want to indicate that you’re listening (kind of like “uh-huh”).
Example: “First, I was asked to describe exactly what I did at my previous job…” “Mmhmm.”
Translation of example: “Primero me pidieron que describiera lo que había hecho en mi antiguo trabajo…” “Ya…”

Filler word: Total
Translation: All in all
Example: All in all, in the end he just wasn’t my type.
Translation of example: Total, al final no era mi tipo.

Filler word: ¿… o qué? / ¿… o no?
Translation: …or what? / …or not?
Example: Should we order a mojito or what?
Translation of example: Pedimos un mojito, ¿o qué?

Filler word: A ver…
Translation: Let’s see/well…
Example: Let’s see…it says here that you’re in a relationship, but when I met you the other day, you said you were single.
Translation of example: A ver… aquí dice que estás en una relación, pero cuando conocimos el otro día me dijiste que no tenías pareja.

 
 

5. Portuguese

Filler word: Ehhh
When to use it: When you’re still thinking.
Example: I don’t know, I think it’s kind of tacky.
Translation of example: Ehhhh…eu não sei, mas eu acho isso um pouco brega.

Filler word: Então
When to use it: To begin a sentence (like “so” in English).
Example: So, what are you going to do when you have no one to blame for your problems any longer?
Translation of example: Então, o que você vai fazer quando não tiver ninguém para culpar por seus problemas?

Filler word: Nossa
When to use it: To show that you’re impressed (can be in a positive or negative way). In some regions of Brazil, like Minas Gerais, there are variations such as nóóóó, nuuuuu, nossi).
Example: Wow, that performance really made me cringe.
Translation of example: Nossa, aquela apresentação me incomodou.

Filler word: Tipo
Translation: Like
Example: You know that sense of rage that makes you like, want to break everything?
Translation of example: Sabe quando bate aquela raiva que dá vontade, tipo, de quebrar tudo?

Filler word: Ahã
When to use it: To agree with someone (can be used ironically).
Example: “Sorry for the delay! The elevator broke!” “Okay.”
Translation of example: “Desculpa pelo atraso! O elevador quebrou!” “Ahã”

 
 

6. Swedish

Filler word: Alltså (colloquially asså)
Translation: Well, so (used to start a sentence and to show that it’s your turn to speak)
Example: So, you know, I was thinking about what you said the other day, and you’re so right. Ben does look like Alec Baldwin when he’s mad.
Translation of example: Asså, du vet, jag tänkte på det du sa häromdan, och du har så rätt. Ben ser ut som Alec Baldwin när han är arg.

Filler word: Liksom
Translation: Like, kind of
Example: He’s kind of difficult to read, but he probably likes it that way.
Translation of example: Han är liksom svår att läsa, men han tycker nog om det.

Filler word: Såhär
Translation: Like, kind of, sort of (the combination typ såhär, which translates to “kind of like,” is common)
Example: Well, I can like, sort of see myself eating cinnamon buns for breakfast every day until I die.
Translation of example: Asså, jag kan typ såhär se mig själv äta kanelbullar till frukost varje dag tills jag dör.

Filler word: Typ
Translation: Like
Example: We could like, Netflix and chill or something.
Translation of example: Vi kan typ kolla på Netflix och chilla eller nåt.

Filler word: Ba
Translation: Was just like (when you’re paraphrasing what someone else said)
Example: He was like, why are you stuffing bread in your purse?
Translation of example: Han ba, varför stoppar du ner bröd i din handväska?

Filler word: Ehh
When to use it: In any generic stalling context.
Example: Uhh…I don’t know, maybe it’s because you haven’t dealt with your baggage yet?
Translation of example: Ehh…Jag vet inte, kanske är det för att du inte har tagit hand om ditt förflutna än?

 
 

7. Russian

Filler word: Ну,… / Nu,…
Translation: Well, so
Example: Well, let’s not spend time analyzing the words of a fool.
Translation of example: Ну, давай не будем тратить время, анализируя слова дурака. / Nu, davay ne budem tratit’ vremya, analiziruya slova duraka.

Filler word: Короче,… / Koroche,…
Translation: Long story short, basically, well
Example: Well, long story short, she never called me.
Translation of example: Ну короче, она мне так и не позвонила. / Nu koroche, ona mne tak i ne pozvonila.

Filler word: В общем,… / V obschem,…
Translation: So, basically, all in all
Example: Basically, now I’m left with a crappy haircut and empty pockets.
Translation of example: В общем, в итоге у меня сейчас дурацкая причёска и пустые карманы. / V obschem, v itoge u menya seychas duratskaya prichyoska i pustiye karmany.

Filler word: Вот / Vot
Translation: Here it is, well, so, there you go
Example: So, that’s it then. I guess I’ll die alone surrounded by cats.
Translation of example: Вот так — мне придётся умереть одному/одной* в окружении кошек. / Vot tak — mne pridyotsya umeret’ odnomu/odnoi* v okruzheniye koshek.
*Masculine/feminine

Filler word: Так / Tak
Translation: So, well, alright
Example: Alright, let’s go. Everyone’s going to give us dirty looks if we walk into the theater late.
Translation of example: Так, пошли. Если мы опоздаем в театр, на нас будут косо смотреть. / Tak, poshli. Yesli my opozdayem v teatr, na nas budut koso smotret’.

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