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?
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 impeccable, 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 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 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” 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” 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” 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” 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” 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” 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” 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?