Elena

I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.

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A slower approach to language learning [Guest post]

A slower approach to language learning and how to get the most out of it in a guest post by Danae Florou from alphabetagreek.com.

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What is your inner language learner’s Hogwarts house?

Imagine Hogwarts was a language learning school: you’d learn subjects like Study of Ancient Tongues, History of Linguistics, Care of Endangered Languages and Defense Against the Fear of Speaking.

Those would be the most epic 7 years of your life. Luckily you’re not a monolingual muggle, or you couldn’t be there!

You would, of course, be sorted into one of the four houses depending on your personality and attitude as a language learner.

So, where would the Sorting Hat place you?

language learner's hogwarts house

Gryffindor

Their daring, nerve and chivalry set Gryffindors apart.

Gryffindors are known for their bravery and boldness. You belong here if you are unafraid to speak from day one and you dare to open your mouth soon into your learning journey.

Talking to strangers is no big deal for you. Whenever you have a chance, you start a conversation in your target language even if you’re still a beginner. You work your way around words, you make the most of the simple grammar structures you know, and you focus on communicating your idea without worrying about mistakes.

A speech contest in your target language sounds like fun for you. You wouldn’t prepare a script, but you’d go in front of the crowd and improvise. You’d make a few accuracy mistakes, but your verve and confidence would charm the audience.

For you, the most important thing about learning a language is being able to express yourself and to communicate with others. Grammar is not your priority: you don’t have time to spend on books, you want to live the language in the outside world!

Strengths of a Gryffindor language learner

Bravery, confidence to talk from day one, no fear to make mistakes.

Weaknesses of a Gryffindor language learner

Lack of attention to grammar and accuracy.

Learning tips for a Gryffindor language learner

Try to find fun ways to incorporate grammar studies into your learning routine. It’s true that you don’t need impeccable syntax to be understood, but you won’t get to an advanced level if your grammar is all messed up.
You can work on one structure at a time: learn the basic theory and put it into practice on the first occasion. Try to notice your mistakes and to polish your speaking bit by bit.

Hufflepuff

Those patient Hufflepuffs are true and unafraid of toil.

Hufflepuffs are patient and hard-working. If you’re not looking for instant results, but you know that progress will come only through study and effort, then you’re a Hufflepuff.

You don’t mind practising vocabulary over and over again: you know that you need consistency and hard work in order to improve. Even when you’re stuck on a learning plateau, you don’t lose your motivation. You’re confident you’ll break through it by studying every day.

You created an effective learning habit and you stick to it with great self-discipline. This way, you keep getting better slowly but surely.

You don’t like showing off your skills, so you often keep your progress to yourself.

For you, the most important thing in language learning is the personal gratification you get when you realise you’re getting better. Your favourite rewards are being able to read a novel, to understand your favourite series without subtitles or to get by in your target language when you’re on holiday.

Strengths of a Hufflepuff language learner

Patience, consistent learning habit, hard-work.

Weaknesses of a Hufflepuff language learner

Not acknowledging your achievements.

Learning tips for a Hufflepuff language learner

Be proud of your results and celebrate yourself from time to time. Think of your before and after in language learning and give yourself a big pat on the shoulder. This will help you get more clarity on what you did and what you still need to work on. Don’t be afraid to share your positive results with others and to start speaking: you’re much better than you think!

Ravenclaw

Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure.

Ravenclaws are intelligent, witty and sharp. You’re one of them if you’re a bit of a bookworm and a grammar geek.

You like studying complicated rules, finding exceptions, spending time on textbooks and theory. Difficult explanations are an exciting challenge for you. Doing grammar exercises is one of your favourite ways to pass the time. You create your own learning strategies, which sometimes are quite unique. You’re fast at understanding new topics and have a good intuition for the language.

You are a perfectionist and you want to speak with accuracy and correct grammar. That’s why it takes you a while before starting to use the language. You also tend to be competitive towards other students.

For you, the process of learning itself is already a reward. You are more interested in expanding your knowledge than in using the language to communicate with others. Often, you feel more at ease with books than around people.

Strengths of a Ravenclaw language learner

Intelligence, love for studies, good intuition for grammar and rules.

Weaknesses of a Ravenclaw language learner

Perfectionism and being competitive.

Learning tips for a Ravenclaw language learner

Try to let go of your perfectionism and of your fear to make mistakes. They are the most powerful learning tool and it’s important to let them happen.
Also, don’t compare yourself to other learners. Everyone has their own journey, their strengths and weaknesses. You’re not in competition with anyone, except maybe with the older versions of yourself.

Slytherin

Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness.

Slytherins are cunning and ambitious. If you aim at becoming a polyglot and at being fluent in several languages, this is the best house for you.

You are creative and full of resources. In your spare time, you read articles about language acquisition and you’re up to date with all the best hacks to memorise vocabulary and learn grammar. You’re the first to try the latest apps and websites and you are ready to spend a little extra money to buy the best resources.

Your balanced and innovative study routine is a big source of pride for you. You try to fit language learning even on the busiest days and you like to excel in what you do.

Sometimes, you tend to be overconfident and you rarely accept suggestions from others. You believe your study method is the most effective and you rarely question it. You are too proud to ask for help to a teacher or a fellow student.

For you, the ultimate goal is to be fluent in several languages. You want to be a source of inspiration for others, and someone they look up to because of your outstanding achievements.

Strengths of a Slytherin language learner

Self-confidence, ambition, resourcefulness.

Weaknesses of a Slytherin language learner

Not questioning their methods and not asking for help.

Learning tips for Slytherin language learners

Accept that you, too, have some weaknesses and don’t be afraid to ask for help. When you face a big challenge, go to another student for advice or consider studying with a private teacher. They might have ideas for you to overcome your obstacles and make things easier for you. You don’t need to solve every problem on your own.

I am definitely a Ravenclaw learner, with a bit of Hufflepuff for consistency and a sparkle of Slytherin when it comes to asking for help.
What about you? Which house (or houses) represents you best? I’m so curious to read it in the comments!

Psst! Have you noticed? No study method is wrong, no attitude towards language learning is wrong: you’re awesome the way you are, with your strengths and your weaknesses. 🙂

Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with Pottermore or the Harry Potter franchise. I wrote this post out of admiration for J.K. Rowling’s work and passion for language learning.

language learner's hogwarts house
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Elena

I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.

25 cosy language learning activities for introverts

… to indulge yourself in during the Christmas holidays.

Christmas makes me feel all warm inside, with thoughts of hot chocolates, fluffy blankets and lots of quality me-time.
It’s the best time to stay in, while it’s cold and dark outside, and spoil myself a bit. Which means lots of time for language learning in all its forms.
Today I am going to share with you 25 cosy, comfortable, stay at home language learning activities that introverts will definitely love.

1. Write your presents list in your target language

This way you’ll learn some words that are relevant to you at the moment. If you catch up with your language partner after the holidays, you already know how to say what you received – or what you wanted but you didn’t get…

2. Cook a Christmas meal with a recipe in your target language

You can use the recipe for a meal from your country or a dish that is common in most places. You can bake your own bread, a yummy cake, or prepare a healthy salad. If you’re adventurous you can cook a traditional dish from the country where your target language is spoken.

3. Sing a Christmas song in your target language

You’ll probably feel a bit silly, but we like silly. Singing a famous Christmas carol will be easy because you’re already familiar with the melody.

4. Discover music in your target language

Go on a Spotify or YouTube discovery spree. Google the name of the language you’re studying + a genre you love. Or why not, start listening to a whole new genre.

5. Read the translation of a book you love in your target language

Think of an old favourite, a book you’ve read so many times you know all that’s happening, page by page. Reading it in your target language is going to help you pick up new vocabulary without effort. And even if you’re not likely to use Quidditch vocabulary in your daily life, you’ll get plenty of fun and satisfaction anyway.

6. Watch a movie in your target language

Better if it’s a famous one that most people have watched: you get extra culture points. Head over to IMDB and look for the best-rated or recently released movies in your target language.

7. Watch a Disney movie or a Christmas classic translated into your target language

As for the translation of a favourite book, this is another way to pick up some vocabulary with little effort. I bet you have a movie you watched so many times you know it by heart. That’s a perfect choice! It’s going to be weird to watch it in another language, but learning your favourite monologue in your target language? Priceless.

8. Write a diary entry for the year ending or a list of things you are grateful for

Do some of your yearly reflection in the language you’re learning. According to your level, give yourself some writing prompts and write in your diary what happened to you this year, how you feel about it, what you wish for the new year.

9. Do grammar exercises

Grammar geek friend, you’re welcome here. Doing grammar exercises is a wonderful way to unwind during the holidays. You can focus on practising a new rule and leave the world and its noise outside – if you ask me, it’s one of the small pleasures of life.

10. Write a poem or a tale in your target language

Get creative, experiment with words, try to train your imagination to work in your target language, too. Don’t worry too much about grammar, here. I know, it’s hard, but for this task, you should let go of your perfectionism. You’re allowed to take some poetic licence.

11. Send Christmas wishes to friends speaking your target language or a conversation partner

Taking care of your meaningful connections is a priority. Send a thought to your friends speaking a different language, just send a text message or you can even draw a pretty card. The most important thing is for you to nurture your relationships.

12. Teach a few words in your target language to your family and friends

During the celebrations, you might have the chance to talk to your loved ones about the language or languages you’re learning. Try to arouse their curiosity and teach them a few words, a sentence or a little-known fact. Don’t overdo it, though!

13. Do a web search about the Christmas traditions of a country where your target language is spoken

Do it in your target language, obviously! Learn about the traditional Christmas dish of the country or a special way to celebrate in a city you’ve visited.

14. Learn something new

It can be a fun fact about the language you are learning or you can read something about a topic you’re passionate about, in your target language. Read a page on Wikipedia or an article from a newspaper or a magazine.

15. Colour-code your notebook and sort your notes

Oh, how I like it when things are tidy and organised. If you’ve been piling up notes over notes, use some time during the holidays to sort them. Divide vocabulary, grammar, idioms and use a colour-code to separate different topics. It will make it easier to review, later.

16. Scroll through Pinterest or Tumblr for learning inspiration

Careful with these, it’s easy to waste a whole afternoon there. Set an alarm after 30 minutes, just in case. Then dive in among pretty pictures, untranslatable words and learning inspiration.

17. Look for #merrychristmas or #christmas hashtags in your target language on Twitter or Instagram

You’ll get a tiny peek into Christmas celebrations, preparations and fun times in the country where your target language is spoken. You can learn some colloquial expression and, if you’re brave enough, you can join the conversation and post something using the hashtags yourself.

18. Follow a tutorial on YouTube in your target language

That time between Christmas and New Year is when you start learning something you always wanted to but never did. True, it might not last long, but at least you can take a couple of sewing tutorials in the language you’re learning and hit two birds with one stone.

19. Take an online course

It can be a course about the language or a course held in your target language, up to you. There is plenty of choice on websites like Open Culture, Coursera, Future Learn or Udemy. Be careful not to be overwhelmed by the number of things you can learn!

20. Listen to a podcast or watch a YouTube video and write down new words and grammar structures

Podcasts and YouTube videos are good for times when you don’t want to focus too much, but if you have some time try to actively listen to new vocabulary, grammar and expressions. If you notice them and write them in your notebook, listening to the episode again later will reinforce your knowledge.

21. Meditate or do yoga

Meditation and yoga are wonderful ways to take care of yourself and become more mindful. I’ve recently started following the channel Yoga with Adriane and I can already feel the benefits of a regular yoga practice. You can look for guided yoga or meditation practice in the language you’re learning.

22. Write a list

Is it just me, or writing a list is an extremely satisfying activity? It can simply be a list of things to do, or places you want to go, but also the things that make you smile and feel good. You guessed it: write the list in your target language.

23. Study with an app

But make sure you don’t spend too much time on them! They are ideal for short breaks or little study sessions. So if you don’t have many hours to practice between meals with your family and Christmas parties, you can dedicate a few minutes to learning anyway.

24. Take a lesson online

I am a very big fan of learning online – as an introvert, it has been quite a revolution for me. Many teachers might be on holiday, but you can at least start looking for a tutor you feel like you can trust and book a lesson for January.

25. Daydream in your target language

Are you a member of the overthinkers’ club, too? Then do it in your target language. This can also be a little remedy to the crazy amount of thinking you do sometimes. It will take more of an effort to do it in a different language, so you’ll be able to slow it down a bit.

 

And because I want to thank you for being around and reading until the end, I am adding a special present: a language lover’s playlist. It’s a Spotify playlist of 90 songs in 36 languages, selected from different genres and artists. I wanted to give you some inspiration, so there are no big radio hits and no songs in English (those are way too easy to find). In the Secret Library, you’ll also find the tracklist. Enjoy it and let me know what you think!

Are you going to try any of these activities? Have you scheduled any special language learning plan for the holidays? Let me know in the comments. 🙂

I wish you a lovely festive season, with plenty of meaningful connections and enough me-time!

Disclaimer: some links in this post are affiliate, which means I will receive a small commission with no additional cost for you if you buy anything through the link. I only recommend products that I use or have used myself.

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Elena

I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.

Japanese fillers and other useful conversation words

When I moved to Japan I was determined to learn the language as fast as possible. I didn’t take into account my shyness and my perfectionism, though. Whenever I opened my mouth to speak, I became super self-conscious. I could hear my mistakes and I kept hesitating, too nervous to produce a whole sentence without pausing.

That’s why it took me months to start using the language with some confidence. In the beginning, I would go along with my introvert side and just listen and observe. Then I started to imitate what I was hearing. Not only the words and expressions but also the sounds, the silences, the pauses. Finally, after about a year, I was able to speak with confidence with friends, colleagues, teachers and strangers.

I had learned how to talk, but also how to react to others’ words, when to pause, how to listen. I had even understood that there was no need to fear hesitation: I just had to express hesitation in my target language, too.

Speaking in Japanese

Japanese is a language where so many things are left unsaid – in a way, it is a great language for introverts and observers. To speak it, you have to understand the Japanese way to suggest something or to leave it unspoken.
More than in other languages, abruptly starting a conversation won’t sound natural.

To help you feel a bit more prepared to speak Japanese, today I’ll introduce you to some useful words and expressions. These will help you to start a conversation and to keep it going.

では、始めましょう!/dewa, hajimemashou/ So, let’s begin!

japanese fillers

Words to start a conversation

あのう、すみませんが… /anou, sumimasenga... /

This is a must-know. It means “Excuse me” and it’s used to get the attention of the person you want to talk to.

あのう、すみませんが。清水寺はどちらですか。
/anou, sumimasenga. Kiyomizudera ha dochira desu ka/
Excuse me, which way is the Kiyomizudera temple?

あのう /anou/

By itself, it is used to attract the listener’s attention. Think of it as “Say…”, “Err…”, “Well…”.

あのう、鈴木さん、今時間がありますか。
/anou, Suzuki san, ima jikan ga arimasuka/
Err… Mister Suzuki, do you have a moment now?

In informal conversation, you’ll often hear also あのね /anone/, more feminine, and あのさあ /anosaa/, used mostly by men.

えっと /etto/

This word is very useful to take some time and think of what to say or what to reply. It’s used when hesitating and its meaning is similar to “Let me see, err, well”.

えっと…みどりさんですよね。
/etto… Midori-san desu yo ne/
Let’s see… You’re Midori, right?

それで /sorede/, では /dewa/ (formal), で /de/, じゃ /ja/ (informal)

When used in the beginning of a sentence, they mark a new topic. They can be translated as “So”.

それで、今日の会議を始めましょう。
/sorede, kyou no kaigi wo hajimemashou/
So, let’s start today’s meeting.
で、昨日の試合、勝った?
/de, kinou no shiai, katta?/
So, did you win yesterday’s match?

実は /jitsuwa/

This is used to bring up the main topic of a discussion, or to confess or admit something. It means “To tell the truth, as a matter of fact, actually, frankly”.

実は、相談したいことがあるんですが…
/jitsuwa, soudan shitai koto ga arundesuga/
To tell the truth, there is something I need advice with…

 

Words to keep the conversation going

ところで /tokorode/

You can use this word when you want to change the topic of discussion. It means “By the way”.

ところで、この本を読んだことがありますか。
/tokorode, kono hon wo yonda koto ga arimasuka?/
By the way, have you read this book?

たとえば /tatoeba/

It means “For example”.

邦画に興味を持っています。たとえば、黒澤監督の映画が大好きです。
/houga ni kyoumi wo motteimasu. Tatoeba, Kurosawa kantoku no eiga ga daisuki desu/
I’m interested in Japanese cinema. For example, I love movies by director Kurosawa.

 

Japanese fillers: Aizuchi 相槌

Aizuchi 相槌 are interjections and fillers used in Japanese during a conversation to let the speaker know you’re listening attentively to what they’re saying. They are essential for the conversation to go smoothly: without them, the speaker might think you’re not interested, or you’re a bit distant. Through aizuchi, you encourage the speaker to tell you more and you show that you want to hear their story.

They might sound weird to you in the beginning, but it’s important to learn how to use them when speaking with Japanese people.

それで /sorede/ (formal), で /de/ (informal)

These two words can be used also as aizuchi. When someone is telling you a story, you can use them as questions to know more. They can be translated as “And then?”, “Then what?”.

– あのね… 田中くんをデートに誘ったよ。/anone… Tanaka-kun wo dēto ni sasotta yo/
-へええ!で? /ee! de?/
– Well… I invited Tanaka on a date. – Whaaat? Then what?

はい /hai/, ええ /ee/, うん /un/

These words mean “Yes”, with different degrees of formality. はい /hai/ is formal, うん /un/ is informal. As fillers, they have a similar use as “Yes, I see, OK, Uh-huh”.

パーティの前に新しいドレスを買いたい。/pātī no mae ni atarashii doresu wo kaitai/
うん。 /un/
散髪もしてもらいたい。 /sanpatsu mo shite moraitai/
うん。 /un/
– Before the party, I want to buy a new dress. – OK. – I also want to get a haircut. – I see.

そうですね /sou desu ne/ (formal), ですよね /desu yo ne/, だよね /da yo ne/ (informal)

These are used to agree with something the speaker said. They mean “I agree, you’re right, indeed”.

この音楽、きれいですね。 /kono ongaku, kirei desu ne/
そうですね。 /sou desu ne/
This music is beautiful, isn’t it. – I agree.
高野くん、かっこいいね! /Takano-kun, kakkouii yo ne/
だよね! /da yo ne/
– Takano is cool, isn’t he? – Totally!

そうですか /sou desu ka?/

It means “Really? Is that so?” and it’s used when someone tells you something you didn’t know. To show interest in a good news you say it in an ascending tone. To show empathy for bad news you say it in a descending tone.

彼氏と別れました。/kareshi to wakaremashita/
そうですか。 /sou desu ka/
– I broke up with my boyfriend. – Really?

へええ /hee/

When pronounced in an ascending tone, it shows surprise or enthusiasm, a bit like “Whaaat?!”. Careful, because when it’s pronounced in a descending tone it shows you’re not too interested in what is being said.

来年アメリカへ行くよ! /rainen Amerika e iku yo/
へええ! /hee!/
– Next year I’m going to America, you know! – Whaaat?!

本当ですか。 /hontou desu ka/ – 本当に /hontou ni/ – マジ /maji/

These expressions indicate surprise, like the English “Really? Seriously? Are you serious?”.

橋本さんが首になったよ。 /Hashimoto san ga kubi ni natta yo/
マジ? /maji?/
– Mister Hashimoto got fired, you know. – Seriously?

でしょ! /desho!/

This is a casual expression showing agreement, and it means “I think so too, I told you so!, I know right?”.

このアニメ、やっぱりいいね。 /kono anime, yappari ii ne/
でしょ! /desho!/
– As expected, this anime is good! – I know right?

 

These are some of the most common expressions you can use to make your Japanese conversation sound more natural.

If you don’t feel ready to use them in conversation, yet, try to identify them in movies, series or shows. Observe their use and get familiar with it. Learning how to use them will make a big difference in the way you socialise in Japanese!

What are the most common fillers and conversation openers in your language? Is it common to show interest in the conversation by using gap fillers?

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Elena

I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.

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 René 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 venerdì 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 è 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 è 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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Elena

I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.