Express hesitation in Italian and connect with the natives

Feeling part of an online community and building relationships with people who share your interests is a wonderful way to grow your motivation and make steady progress in your studies. If you’re an introvert, it can become the perfect balance between connecting with people and being comfortable having your own space. That’s why I decided to take part in #DolceVitaBloggers linkup, hosted by Kelly @italianatheart_, Jasmine @questadolcevita and Kristie @mammaprada.

This month’s topic is The Italian Connection, but explaining my connection to Italy would be way too easy: I’m Italian, duh! Instead, I am going to tell you a little secret that can help you connect more with Italian people, and teach you some words to go with it. Ready?

express hesitation in Italian

For some people, starting to speak is the hardest part of language learning. Learning some vocabulary on an app is fine, doing grammar exercises is a blast… but speaking? I’m not ready yet! What if I stutter, mumble and say incomprehensible things?

You might feel like you want to wait just a liiittle bit longer before talking to native speakers. You will talk when you know more words, or after you’ve polished your grammar, or when you are able to produce a whole sentence without hesitation. The thought of filling your sentence with “Um, ah… er…” freezes you.

Hey, I feel you! I’ve been through the fear of speaking a target language. I’ve also been terrified of being really awkward in my native language. Sometimes, when I’m in front of people I don’t know, I can’t think of a single word to say. So I won’t push you to speak at any cost if that makes you uncomfortable.

For now, I just want to give you two reasons why you don’t need to be scared to start speaking in Italian.

Why you should dare to speak Italian

The first one is: Italians will be so happy about it. It doesn’t matter if you mess your verb tenses or if you can’t remember how to say “shy”. Being a foreigner who studies their language and tries to communicate through it will create an instant connection between you and any Italian you meet. They will be so proud you decided to learn Italian. They will be helpful and maybe even offer you a coffee.

As a general rule, Italians are indeed a friendly bunch and they won’t care much about language barriers. Probably their English isn’t top notch, either, but you’ll see them giving it a shot anyway. So go with the flow, mix up your sentences with some hand gestures, and have fun communicating in Italian.

The second reason is: there is nothing wrong with hesitating while speaking! People have been pausing, hesitating and filling those pauses for as long as we’ve had language. Moreover, every language in the world has sounds and words to fill the silence between sentences.

According to some research, hesitation actually makes you into a better speaker. It makes your sentences sound more natural and contributes to creating trust between you and the person you’re talking to. When you are talking with someone and trying to connect with them, you really don’t want to sound like a scripted tape! Besides, taking time to formulate your ideas and answers in a conversation is a good habit also in your native language. It shows thoughtfulness, attention to the listener and prevents you from saying things you’d regret one second later.

Fillers in Italian

Now that you know there is no need to eradicate hesitation, pauses and fillers from your conversation, you hopefully feel a bit more confident about speaking with Italian people.
To really hesitate like an Italian, though, you need the right words. Let’s have a look at some fillers you can use to sound more natural. Then you’ll be ready to dare opening your mouth and starting to build your Italian connections!

Mmh… Ehm… Uhm…

These neutral sounds are similar in most languages, and you can use them as you would “Hmm” in English. They express perplexity, doubt, uncertainty. “Ehm” can also express embarrassment together with hesitation. Don’t confuse them with “Mmm!”, the sound you use when you talk about a yummy food!

Mmh… non ricordo dove ho messo le chiavi. Hmm… I don’t remember where I put my keys.
Ehm… ho dimenticato il tuo regalo a casa. Er… I forgot your present at home.

Dunque

Dunque means “therefore, so” and as such, it can be used to connect sentences. The famous proposition Cogito ergo sum by RenΓ© Descartes is translated as “I think, therefore I am” in English, and “Penso, dunque sono” in Italian.
When used as a filler, “dunque” indicates you are collecting your ideas before speaking.

Dunque… cosa stavamo dicendo? So… what were we saying?

Allora

“Allora” is a very versatile word that deserves a post of its own. It means “then, at that time” and it can be used as a synonym of “dunque” as “therefore, so”. It is also translated as “then” in sentences like “Ci vediamo domani, allora!”, “I’ll see you tomorrow, then!”.
As a filler, you can place it at the beginning of a sentence when you are thinking of what to say.
The most common use of “allora” is equivalent to the English word “well” as an introduction to a sentence.

Allora, siete pronti? Well, are you ready?

Vediamo

“Vediamo” literally means “Let’s see”, so you can use it in the same way. In many sentences where it’s used as a filler, it can be replaced by “allora” and “dunque”.

Vediamo… dovrei essere libera venerdΓ¬ mattina. Let’s see… I should be available on Friday morning.

Aspetta

“Aspetta” means “wait”. You can use it when you need a bit more time to think, but you want to let the listener know you’re getting there. You can also use it when you just remembered something.

Aspetta, la festa non era domani? Wait, wasn’t the party tomorrow?

If you are talking with someone you don’t know well, you should use the formal “aspetti”.

Insomma

“Insomma” is another word that conveys many meanings. You can use it to wrap up a sentence, or as an exclamation to express impatience and frustration. In some contexts it’s translated as “so-so”, other times it’s used as a filler meaning “like”, “you know”.

Questa Γ¨ Chiara, insomma, l’amica di cui ti ho parlato. This is Chiara, you know, the friend I told you about.

Boh

“Boh” is a very common word used in colloquial speech to express that you don’t know something or that you are totally indifferent to it.

– Come si dice “amico” in francese? – Boh! – How do you say “friend” in French? – No idea!
Boh, possiamo andare al cinema o stare a casa, per me Γ¨ uguale. Dunno, we can go to the cinema or stay home, I don’t mind.

Beh

“Beh” is an informal expression that means “well, so”. It’s very common in Italian.

Beh, io vado! Well, I’m going!

You can also use it to introduce your opinion about something, sometimes expressing mild disagreement to what someone else has said.

Beh, io preferisco la cucina italiana. Well, I prefer the Italian cuisine.

Mah

“Mah” is an expression of doubt or uncertainty. You can think about it as a vocal equivalent of a shoulder shrug. You can use it as a reply to a question if you don’t know the answer.

– A che ora torna Marco? – Mah! – At what time is Marco coming back? – Who knows!

When you use it at the beginning of a sentence, it implies you’re not too convinced about something. It can be loosely translated as “well”.

Mah, non saprei… Well, I don’t know about that…

 

Well, now that you know the most common Italian fillers you are all set to embrace your imperfections and start connecting with the natives. Remember that hesitating is natural, even in your native language. It takes courage and time to start speaking, but you can do it! Good luck!

Have you ever felt like you couldn’t speak for fear of hesitating or making pauses? How did you overcome your fear?

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20 Comments

  1. 7th December 2017 / 11:52 am

    I love this post Elena. The though of speaking another language is indeed daunting, but you’re right practice makes perfect and a simple attempt shows you are interested and willing to learn. Thank you for sharing your connection and it’s great to connect through this link up. Buon Giornata. Lorelle πŸ™‚
    https://amindfultravellerblog.wordpress.com/

    • Elena
      7th December 2017 / 12:15 pm

      Hello Lorelle, thank you for your comment!
      I’m glad you liked this post πŸ™‚ I though, as I am already Italian myself, I might help people connect with Italy better. Speaking is one of the hardest parts of language learning, but if you know your basics it gets a bit easier.
      Buona giornata a te, a presto!

  2. 7th December 2017 / 12:06 pm

    Elena! Thank you for this! Such a useful post. I didn’t know ‘Insomma’ what a brilliant filler word! These are just what you need when learning a language. Thank you so much for joining up to #DolceVitaBloggers! xx

    • Elena
      7th December 2017 / 12:17 pm

      Hello Kristie, and thank you again for creating #DolceVitaBloggers. I hope this post can help Italian learners connect a bit more with the Belpaese πŸ™‚
      A presto! xx

  3. 7th December 2017 / 12:52 pm

    Thanks for the tips! I think I will be using “Dunque” more often now! πŸ™‚

    • Elena
      7th December 2017 / 2:27 pm

      Glad it helped! “Dunque” is a great word to make your Italian sound more advanced! πŸ™‚

  4. 7th December 2017 / 9:06 pm

    This is a great post! I’m a big fan of ‘allora’ and ‘boh’ when speaking Italian πŸ™‚ I was really scared to speak at first but I think it was partly because of how wonderful and expressive Italians sound when they’re speaking, something I knew I couldn’t imitate at first!

    • Elena
      7th December 2017 / 10:17 pm

      Hello Rebecca, thank you!
      Yes, “allora” and “boh” are great, I use them a lot. If you learn how to master these two, then you’re on a good way to master Italian in its nuances.
      It’s always a pleasure to read of someone liking the sound of Italian so much. I hope you’ve overcome your fear of speaking by now!

  5. 8th December 2017 / 1:41 am

    Elena, this was a super useful post! It’s so interesting how even filler words vary from language to language. You have a wonderful way of explaining things, from the examples to the use of colors and bold font. I am going to share this with others learning Italian! By the way, learning Italian has helped me become so much more confident. I had a horrible experience learning French (lived there twice, studied it for 10 years), and I hate saying this because I don’t want to offend anyone, but I got to the point where I stopped talking altogether there because people were so critical of my French when I was just trying to learn. Italians have been nothing but kind to me even when I could say not much more than ciao, and it has meant the world to me.

    • Elena
      8th December 2017 / 8:50 am

      Kelly, thank you so much! I’m happy it helps.
      I’m sorry to read you had a bad experience with French, it must have been hard to persevere in language learning after that. I’m glad you did, and now you are so passionate about Italian and you’re making lots of progress. It’s great to read about people who love Italy. Sometimes, as an Italian, I get a bit too critical of my country. Your words reminded me of the positive things we have, thank you for that!

  6. 8th December 2017 / 8:09 am

    Such a great post, Elena! Allora is a favorite word of mine πŸ™‚ Insomma is a great addition to the list. I am currently obsessed with dunque πŸ˜‰

    • Elena
      8th December 2017 / 8:41 am

      Thank you, Ishita! Yes, “allora” and “insomma” are great words and they can be used in many different ways, so it’s also fun to experiment with them. πŸ™‚

  7. 8th December 2017 / 11:50 am

    Great post and great tips! I’ve found Italians are always so open and friendly. I still get self conscious and then someone will tell me they are impressed with how well I speak the language. I’ve even had someone tell me they thought Italian was my first language. That made me feel incredible. The most important thing is just speak when you can, laugh at yourself when you make a mistake and realize that we aren’t perfect – and don’t have to be!

    • Elena
      8th December 2017 / 12:19 pm

      Thank you, LuLu! I’m really happy to read you have also had a good experience when speaking with Italians. If a native speaker compliments your language skills it’s really a big boost of confidence and motivation!
      That’s so true – being able to laugh at our own mistakes is often the best way to overcome shyness, lack of self-confidence and perfectionism!

  8. 8th December 2017 / 8:07 pm

    This post is amazing!!!! Thank you SO much!! That is exactly what we are like, we do the apps, we write, we read but when it comes to speaking we go all shy. This past summer we tried with our Aunties in Italy and they were so sweet that we definitely want to not be afraid to just go for it and try! Nanna’s easier to chat to because she sits and listens even if we sound terrible – she’s a good nonna! :p We love that you shared some fillers, they are so useful! πŸ™‚ Thank you!

    Lucy and Kelly
    http://www.theblossomtwins.com

    • Elena
      9th December 2017 / 11:26 am

      Hello, Lucy and Kelly! Thank you, I’m glad this post was useful. πŸ™‚
      I am the same when it comes to language learning, I always tend to leave speaking on the side because I’m super shy. So, whenever I can, I try to share little tips to help people overcome the fear of talking.
      I hope you’ll keep practising with your Nanna and that next time you go to Italy you’ll have nice chats in Italian with your Aunties, too. In bocca al lupo! πŸ™‚

  9. 9th December 2017 / 10:11 am

    A wonderful post about your Italian connection and beh insomma, about how we can connect with Italian!!! I need these fillers so much, I use so many fillers in English but sometimes even just fillers and sounds aren’t the same across languages! The Italians use “ehm” a lot more than “um” I’ve noticed!! Anyways just getting around to reading the link up posts now and so happy you’ve joined up! #DolceVitaBloggers unite!!!

    • Elena
      9th December 2017 / 11:30 am

      Thank you, Jasmine! I hope my post helps lots of people connect with Italy a bit more. πŸ™‚
      I think fillers are great both for beginners, who can feel more confident to start speaking and for more advanced students. Then, using the Italian fillers instead of the English ones can really be the step you need to speak in a natural way.
      Thank you for hosting this wonderful gathering of lovers of Italy! It was such a joy to read the posts. πŸ™‚

  10. 10th December 2017 / 12:51 am

    Elena, you are amazing. Thank you so much for the fillers! Soooo handy! I can’t wait to use them with my nonno and my partner, Davide.

    • Elena
      10th December 2017 / 10:15 am

      Thank you, Angela! I hope you can start using these fillers in your sentences soon and impress your nonno and your partner. πŸ™‚

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