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Well, Um, are, Like Fillers Okay to Use?

“Well, um, are fillers like okay to use?”

Fillers are unnecessary sounds or words that are inserted within our speech during a conversation. For example, “um”, “like”, “uh”, “you know!” and “actually.”   Why do we do this? It’s just one of the turn-taking strategies us humans use in conversations. During conversations when there is a pause, it is natural to think that the speaker has finished talking and the other speaker jumps in to for their turn.  However sometimes the pause is just someone taking some to think about what to say next. Therefore ‘fillers’ are a signal to indicate that you are not done speaking yet, but just having a moment to reorganize your thoughts.

Is it acceptable? There are two standpoints to this question. One side we have people who are outraged with the use in of fillers in any situation and condemn it is sloppy, meaningless and restricting conversation. On the other side we have those that believe using fillers occasionally in formal and informal conversations is fine as it results in a smoother conversation.

Fillers are just an element of the human language, as we can’t keep up a highly grammatical and flowing conversation all the time. Of course, it is possible to overuse fillers and give people the impression that the speaker is uncertain and weak in their language production. For example, “ I, like, went to, you know, that store that is, like, right down, um, like 5th avenue…” This makes it difficult to understand what the person is saying! Therefore it is important to limit the number of fillers used when speaking.

Do you feel like hesitation will affect fluency in your second language? As second language learners we are often told that we should be able to ‘formulate our thoughts clearly and coherently,’ before speaking. Yes, this is important, but we must also accept that there will be pauses in our speech, because there will be a point where you will not know how to put in the right words. So to avoid an awkward silence where other speaker might see it as a sign for their turn, we must have some of these ‘filler’s in the second language handy and ready to use. Using a couple of fillers here and there will not cause your speech to become incoherent but rather help it flow much smoother.

Here is a list of some ‘fillers’ we use frequently in English:

  • um..
  • ahh..
  • you know..
  • like..
  • ok..
  • right..
  • well…
  • basically…
  • literally…
  • actually…