At the beginning of the next video extract, Emily Blunt is interviewed about the film The girl in the train. Notice how both herself and her interviewer intersperse their utterances with fillers.
I have listed the fillers they use (some of them repeatedly) in the first section of the video 0:00-02:10.
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN interviews –
Emily Blunt and more. To watch the interview, click here
Interviewer: you know, actually, so, now…
Emily: um, yeah, er, I mean, sort of, kind of …
The point I am trying to make by showing this extract is that well educated native speakers resort to fillers constantly and that English learners are advised to include them in their speaking, as well.
What is the function of fillers?
They give you a bit of time to think what the next word will be. On top of that, fillers make you sound more natural and fluent. Filling the blanks when you are speaking, results in fewer awkward silences.
How do I use them?
My advice here is to first observe how fillers are employed by fluent speakers and then make a point of introducing them progressively and over time. The following guide can give a kick-start.
At the beginning
Basically, right, well, yeah, actually, ok then
Kind of, sort of, like
In the middle
At the end
Or whatever, or something
If you see what I mean
Fillers used in context
A: So… what are you up to this weekend?
B: Er… haven’t made any plans yet.
A: Would you like to …um… meet up for a drink and shopping or something?
B: Well, actually, I’d rather spend Saturday outdoors, in nature, if you see what I mean.
A: I see. I am not .. quite… an outdoorsy kind of person myself, you know. I am more … like … a city guy.
B: Yeah. No probs. Basically, that’s the opposite of what I am … so… no common ground here. Right! This is … kind of … weird because I like you but .. er …we don’t have much in common, so… goodbye. See you around! … maybe, I mean.
A: Ok then, perhaps in another life or something. Cool! Bye.
This dialogue is dotted with an excessive number of fillers which indicates that the speakers were hesitant and thinking on their feet. It is a bit over the top but I hope it gives you an idea of their frequent positions.
When not to use them
To be avoided when giving a talk to an audience or in the context of a professional meeting where you want to raise business confidence and supposed to know what you are talking about. This is not to say that you should cut them out completely but rather, reduce their use.
In an exam, you are allowed to use them but again, word of warning, moderately.
Other techniques to give yourself time
Reformulate the question:
What are you going to write about in your essay?
Well… what am I going to write about? Haven’t made up my mind yet but probably about the influence of social media on everyday’s life.
When you can’t remember the right word:
How shall I put it?
What’s the word I am looking for..?
What I am trying to say?