Whether it is your New Year’s resolution to learn Spanish or to improve your speaking skills, Spanish filler words make up one of the essential building blocks of how native Spanish speakers communicate. Filler words, which can be words, very short sentences, or even sounds, are meant to fill the pauses or gaps in your conversations.
Whether you speak Spanish or any other language, filler words are unavoidable and frequently used instinctively. They indicate that the speaker is thinking or remembering what to say next — a useful strategy for conveying your points and ideas. Resorting to filler words is also a good way to slow down and avoid errors, such as using the wrong words in a sentence or conveying the wrong message. It’s also the best way to avoid awkward silences and weird looks from those on the receiving end while you are thinking of what to say next.
Now, let’s review the most common Spanish filler words and how to use them like a native speaker.
The Most Common Spanish Filler Words
En plan and es como (“about” and “it’s like”)
These Spanish filler words commonly precede statements about what you were doing or how you were doing something. The only difference between both words is that en plan is common in Spain, whereas es como is used in Latin America.
Entonces and así que (“then” and “so”)
In general, both of these are conjunctions that join clauses if placed in the middle of a sentence. These make the sentence sound more formal. If you move them to the beginning of a sentence, they become filler words, rendering the sentence more casual.
Pues and bueno (“well” and “good”)
Both words are added to the beginning of the sentence to let others know that you are not sure about something or that you are thinking about what to say next.
¿Sabes? (“You know?”)
This is probably the most simple question you can ask. Therefore, adding it at the end of a statement allows you to find out if others understand and even agree with what you are saying.
Digo (“I mean”)
If you ever had a moment in which you realized that you said something wrong and needed time to think and correct what you said, digo would have been your life-saving filler word.
O sea (“that is”)
Even though it has the same meaning as digo, o sea is used in a different context. O sea is used whenever you need to elaborate or be more specific about something you initially said.
When you need to emphasize or convey the essence of something you wish to say, adding this filler word at the beginning or just before you express your main idea is useful.
Etcétera, y demás, y tal (“et cetera,” “and so on,” “and so forth”)
In addition to these words having the same meaning, they are all placed at the end of a sentence in order to demonstrate that there are many more examples that could be included.
Spanish Filler Words That Technically Aren’t Words
Ehhh… y emmm… (“Ah… and um mm…”)
Although these filler words cannot easily be looked up in the dictionary, they are sounds that are used quite freely — almost anywhere in a sentence — in order to linger while thinking about what you are going to say next.
When To Use Filler Words (And When Not To)
It is important to remember that filler words are a normal part of speech, no matter how advanced you are at speaking Spanish. Their use can help you sound more natural, especially if you are speaking Spanish in casual conversations. In addition, they help those who are listening process and understand your message at the right pace, provided that they are not overused.
On the other hand, some also believe that filler words do not add meaning to the core message you are trying to convey and can generally be distracting, which is why it’s key to not overuse them. Within professional and academic environments, it is not recommendable to use filler words, as it is important to communicate in a more succinct manner. People in public speaking professions, such as politicians, journalists and educators, to name a few, practice minimizing the use of filler words by familiarizing themselves with their content and preparing what they are going to say in advance. Interviews, presentations and even meetings can be prepared for, allowing professionals and anyone else to enter these moments in a more relaxed and confident state of mind.
Although Spanish filler words are not encouraged in every situation, at the end of the day, they are a universal part of speaking Spanish, and everyone uses them to some extent.
This article was originally published on the Spanish edition of Babbel Magazine.