Language learning

Quick language tip – learning fillers

Image courtesy of Ame Otoko on Flickr

Image courtesy of Ame Otoko on Flickr

I don’t buy that fluency means perfection. I reckon there are levels of fluency and sounding like a native speaker is not the be all and end all. The way I see it, fluency refers more to ease of speech not the perfection of that speech. But that’s not what this post is about. I wanted to share a little tip that will have you sounding more like your target language – more ‘fluent’ – and less like an Australian/American/Brit/whatever you are speaking the target language.

First off, you need to learn what is used in your target language for ‘um’. These are called fillers. There’s nothing that will bring attention to the fact that you’re not quite there yet than dropping the very English ‘um’ when you’re thinking of a word. Imagine this – “Estoy buscando a mi … umm … cinturón”. When you do this you break out of the Spanish and you’re calling attention to the fact that you’re learning. While there’s nothing really wrong with people knowing that, I don’t like to advertise the fact. In Spanish, a common filler is a sort of ‘ehh’ sound. By forgetting ‘um’ and using the target language equivalent you’ll blend in more – even though your pronunciation or grammar is not quite perfect.

Of course, your speech will sound better and you’ll seem more competent if you don’t use any fillers (in any language!). It’s an annoyingly hard habit to break, though. I actually think you sound more native by dropping a few fillers every now and again, even though they’re not quite correct or ‘proper’ language. If you’re going to use any, just make sure they’re from the same language as the ‘real words’ you’re using.

There are also what is called ‘placeholders’ which are useful to know. These are things like ‘whatchamacallit’ or ‘thingamajig’. By knowing these you can get around not knowing every single word you need – and who knows every single word they’ll ever come across?

By getting in the habit of using these while using your target language you’ll be training your brain to use the language more completely instead of using part target language and part native language. You’ll also call less attention to the fact that you’re  a native English speaker which has its benefits – we’ve all had those moments when someone realises you’re a native English speaker and from that moment only wants to speak English with you! Anything you can do to trick people into speaking your target language with you is a good thing in my eyes!

Has anyone ever used this technique while learning a language? What do you think about it?

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3 thoughts on “Quick language tip – learning fillers

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