Become a master of conversation – know your fillers and your pauses

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Let’s face it! We’ve all been there. Even native speakers, I can assure you, often end up running out of ideas during conversation. But they have an ace up their sleeve that you might be missing. That ace is called a “filler.”

What is a conversation filler?

Fillers are irrelevant transitory words usually used in spoken English to allow the speaker to gain some valuable time to gather their thoughts or complete an idea.  Abusing the use of fillers often has a bad reputation, but they most certainly have a place in natural conversation which makes them an important area of language to consider.

Why should you use “fillers”?

Conversation fillers will help you sound fluent like a native speaker. Striving to sound more natural is part of learning a language and mastering fillers will definitely give a new sense of confidence.

Here are some examples of conversation fillers:

Use to following to respond in conversation:

  • Really?
  • Right
  • Sure
  • How awful!
  • Oh no!
  • You’re joking!
  • What a pity!
  • Auxiliary verbs to make short questions (as in “Have you? did you? Is it?…“)
  • Non-words (as in “mmm, uh-huh…“)

While speaking you can resort to the use of the following fillers:

  • Well
  • Ok
  • So
  • Let me think…
  • I mean
  • I guess/think
  • You know
  • Like (as in “I’m… like… really sad that you lost your…“)
  • What I want to say is…
  • The point I want to make is….
  • Anyway,…
  • Well, what I mean is that …
  • Back to our topic …
  • As I was saying …
  • The basic idea is…
  • kind of… (as in “he’s kind of nice…“)

Once you feel like you have experienced enough with including fillers in your daily conversations, see if you can take your spoken English to another level by simply embracing pauses. Research shows that like filler words, pauses give you a chance to take a break and figure out what comes next. However, a pause makes you sound more confident and in control, whereas overused filler words are distracting and make you sound as if you don’t know what to say.

Used sparingly and effectively, filler words can make you more relatable to your audience, give you time to catch your breath and emphasize key points. But when they become crutch words, used out of nervousness or lack of preparation, they hurt your credibility. As you prepare for your next presentation, identify the words you lean on most, and train yourself to avoid them. Then, next time you’re in front of an audience, use silence to gather your thoughts, rather than filling the air with sound.