Recently, I’ve been thinking about the non-obvious things in a language. Such as the subtle differences between speaking at an advanced level and speaking like the locals.
Sure, studying grammar, revising vocabulary, reading and getting your hands on anything you find interesting and effective is the way to go if you want to learn a language. But when it comes to speaking, like real life speaking with locals, is this enough?
Here’s a confession. I thought I was advanced in English. Until I came to Canada.
I was indeed speaking English at an advanced level. I could attend University lectures and talk about these topics adequately. I could read and understand articles in the newspaper. I could write an essay! When it came to speaking about everyday topics though? Not even close.
No, I didn't become fluent overnight, but I managed to avoid sounding like a robot. How?
I came up with a strategy. I took a few lessons to get a boost in my speaking about everyday topics and also learn about local small talk.
I also started paying attention to the way locals talked to each other; I noted everything down and used it right away. The information I got from my lessons as well as the eavesdropping (!) paid off.
Although there are so many factors involved in speaking in your target language, what I’m about to tell you in this post is not about studying harder, nor about attempting to speak only when you understand academic Greek!
Even before reaching the advanced level, there is a way to sound more natural; it's a little trick that has to do with using pauses to your advantage. And this is exactly what I noted down when I was paying attention to the locals in Toronto:
Filler words are definitely not the magic kind of trick, so here’s a visual example to see what I mean.
With Christmas around the corner... do you know what makes a Christmas tree a great Christmas tree? Imagine a tree like this one:
And then imagine adding fillers. Such as ornaments, extra branches or garlands.
Fillers fill in the space between the branches and make your tree stand out; as with ornaments, filler words you naturally use in your native language can make the difference when you speak in your target language; in our case, Greek.
Filler words are a natural pause to think, without stopping speaking altogether, before going on with what you want to say. They help your audience understand you have more things to add.
Of course, filler words or sounds are different from language to language. Often, learners make mistakes by translating the filler words from their language to their target language (which is definitely what I did!). This simply proves how much we’re used at using them; we try to find a way to add them in our target language.
In addition, these words (and sounds!) can give you valuable time in order to remember a tricky word or collect your thoughts when trying to speak Greek for the first time in a while.
Exactly like the extra branches on the Christmas tree, they fill in the space between your words.
Below, you’ll find a list of some very common filler words & sounds we use in Greek and a link to a great mini - series videos to watch and listen how to use them.
1. Λοιπόν [Lipón]
Translated as “so” or “well”, λοιπόν initiates a topic if used at the beginning of a sentence, or at the end of a question:
Λοιπόν, πάμε να μιλήσουμε για τα ρήματα τώρα.
Τι θα φάμε, λοιπόν;
It even connects sentences, when one of them is the conclusion:
Αγαπώ την Ελλάδα, γι’ αυτό λοιπόν έμαθα ελληνικά!
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2. Έτσι [Étsi]
“Like this”, έτσι: when used as a filler word it goes after a question in order to reinforce the meaning, especially when you know the others agree or have to agree with you:
Δεν είναι σωστό, έτσι;
It’s also used when you explain something to others:
Μου αρέσει, έτσι, να πηγαίνω βόλτα στην Αθήνα.
3. Βασικά [Vasiká]
If you know how young people use “basically” in English, then βασικά is basically the same! It highlights the meaning of a sentence, at the beginning of a sentence, in the middle or even at the end.
Βασικά, δεν ξέρω την αδερφή της.
Δεν ξέρω, βασικά, την αδερφή της.
Δεν ξέρω την αδερφή της, βασικά.
4. Εεεεεε … [ééééé]
Not a word, but a sound, as the sound “um” in English. Use it when you try to think or remember something at the beginning of a sentence. It can prove very handy as you try to remember a certain word; we tend to use it a lot!
Εεεεεε … νομίζω ότι μου αρέσει πολύ αυτό το βιβλίο.
5. Θα έλεγα [Tha élega]
This means “I’d say” and as a filler word goes well with statements, such as:
Είναι, θα έλεγα, τα πιο ωραία σουβλάκια της Αθήνας!
6. Ας πούμε [As púme]
This means “let’s say” and it’s used for examples or when explaining something to others or telling a story:
Το ωραίο κλίμα, ας πούμε, είναι από τα θετικά της Ελλάδας.
Και τότε όλοι έμειναν, ας πούμε, σπίτι και έπαιξαν χαρτιά.
7. Ξέρω ’γω [Kséro 'gó]
This is commonly used when you’re wondering about something, since it's literally translated as "do I know (?)" but really means "I don't know":
- Σου αρέσει αυτό το τραγούδι;
- Ξέρω ‘γω; Καλό είναι.
Among young people, it can be used much more frequently, between any word or meaning:
Θα πάω, ξέρω ‘γω, αύριο να δω μια ταινία…. άκουσα, ξέρω ‘γω, ότι η ταινία αυτή ήταν, ξέρω ‘γω, καλή.
This last one sounds a bit annoying? It is! Which means that with filler words you need to be careful; use them - but not all the time. As with your native language, find the right amount of how and when to use them to get this nice flow when you speak - even if at the same time you're looking for the right word to say!
Here you’ll find a mini series of 3 videos with locals speaking in Greek and using all of the filler words above; Can you spot them?
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