The Importance of Umming and Ahhing


What do you do when you’ve started your sentence, but suddenly need a moment to think about what to say next?

“Did he, you know, inform them of the changes to the, uh, agenda?”

Most people will use a filler. “You know”, “like”, “uh”, or “um” are a few examples in English.

A lot of people say fillers like this should be avoided. And it’s absolutely true that if you use them in the wrong situation, like an important business meeting, they can make you appear nervous or unsure.

But in some languages, especially in casual speech, fillers are extremely common. And avoiding them completely can make you seem stiff and unnatural.

I recommend chatting to a few native speakers and asking them to tell you about how fillers are seen in their language.  In French, for example, fillers occur frequently in casual speech. In Polish, on the other hand, most people try to avoid fillers as much as they can.

Using the right fillers can also help you to blend in better with native speakers. We don’t generally think about the fillers consciously. Getting them right can give the impression that this language comes very naturally to you.

Using the wrong fillers can disturb the flow of your sentence for the listener. Imagine saying “Comment ça … uhh… va?”

That strange English sound “uh” just doesn’t belong in a French sentence. The vowel in “uh” doesn’t even exist in French, which is why it sounds so weird in the first place.

So if you do decide to use fillers, make sure to avoid using the same sounds you’d use in your mother tongue. Instead, pick something that native speakers of your new language would use.

Below is a small list of languages and some of their filler sounds. If the language that you’re learning isn’t on here,  take a look at this article on Wikipedia.

1) English

“Uh…” (Prounounced like this.)
“Um…” (The vowel above followed by an “m”.)

2) French

“Euh…” (For pronunciation of this sound, plus a list of other French filler words check out this post.)

3) German

“Äh…” (Like the vowel in the English word “bed”.)

4) Polish

“Yyy…” (Which sounds a lot like a long version of this sound.)
“Ehh…” (A lengthened form of the vowel in “bed”.)


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