In natural, spontaneous discourse many native speakers make use of so-called discourse markers (such as now then, well…), which help speakers organise their speech. Besides those, there are other discourse markers which are simply fillers: words/expressions which carry no actual content, no real meaning. However, they fulfil an essential communicative function: they buy the speaker some extra time to think about what they’re going to say next while keeping the conversation going and keeping the floor (turn to speak).
In correct, educated speech it is not appropriate to overuse them. In an English test, however, they may be useful, to help you sound more natural, as well as allow you some extra time to come up with your next idea.
Some of these fillers include you know, I mean, or like, which is typically used by younger speakers.
If you want to listen to native British speakers overusing these fillers, you can start by watching this interview with Victoria Beckham (click on the picture to watch the video with subtitles in English- instead of ‘captions disabled’, select ‘English’) [originally seen on http://mythatsenglish.blogspot.com.es/2011/01/victoria-beckham-proud-to-be-british.html]
You can also listen to this caller, who phoned BBC Radio London to express his views about young people nowadays:
Finally, you can also listen to this BBC reporter who is somehow uncomfortable talking about a sensitive subject and is trying to find the right words. (Only days before, a white teenager had been stabbed to death, apparently for no reason at all. There had been complaints about the media coverage of the crime, as people pointed out that there had been many such murders of teenagers before, but because they were not white, they hadn’t received the same treatment in the media). As you will notice, he overuses the expression ‘you know’, as he looks for a politically correct way of expressing the situation.
How do native speakers feel about these fillers?
- The ‘Kind of, Sort of’ Era
- Why we use discourse markers and filler words like ‘um’, ‘like’, ‘you know’ and ‘er’.
Finally,in these videos you can find examples of how to use some of the discourse markers above:
More about speaking tests: