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Indonesian Filler Words: Sound Like a Native Speaker

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“To banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality.”
― John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice

Great quote, isn’t it? 

We humans are prone to imperfections. We may not like them, but it’s very boss-like to accept them and move forward. After all, these small flaws can be found just about everywhere: in our appearance, voice, ideas, or even language skills. 

We don’t always come up with the best words, expressions, or transitions while speaking. Our ideas often feel like a jumbled mess—doubly so when trying to speak in a foreign language! 

That’s where Indonesian filler words come in.

But what are they, exactly?

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. What are filler words and why do we use them?
  2. Indonesian Filler Words: Impress Native Speakers with the Best Fillers
  3. Pros and Cons of Filler Words
  4. Conclusion

1. What are filler words and why do we use them?

Woman with Question Marks

A- What are filler words?

Filler words, or conversation fillers, are the expressions we use to fill gaps within our conversations. They could be sounds (“uh” / “uhm” / “err”), words (“like” / “so” / “basically”), or even expressions (“I think” / “in my opinion” / “I believe”).

Filler words are originally normal words we use to convey certain meanings, but when used as fillers, they’re usually meaningless and just there to serve as sentence connectors.

Whether you like or dislike the idea of filler words, most of us use them subconsciously. That’s not only in our real-life conversations, but also online when sending emails or texting friends and family. Filler word preferences and usage differ from one language to another, and from one dialect to another. 

B- Why do we use them?

Now, you might be wondering, “What’s the psychology or science behind filler words?” I’m so glad you asked…

Politeness

Indonesians hold very conservative values. Their culture places much importance on respect and politeness. 

Using filler words is a great communication hack for being respectful, especially in embarrassing situations where you want to avoid leaving a negative impression.

For example, if you called an Indonesian friend and asked them for a favor, it would be rude for them to just hit you with a straightforward ‘no’: Tidak, aku tidak bisa. (“No, I can’t.”) Rather, you’d more likely receive a friendlier and longer response with loads of Indonesian filler words mixed in.

Bear in mind that this applies to other cultures and countries as well, though to varying degrees.

Clear Communication

Two Men Conversing

Ever get annoyed by people who talk without taking a breath? We all do.

It’s hard for most people’s brains to absorb large amounts of new information quickly. Most people prefer to take their time in order to avoid overwhelming others in their conversations. 

This is where we make the most use of filler words. They help us communicate our ideas to others slowly, without needing to repeat ourselves or make any awkward pauses. It gives others the opportunity to think and observe.

Take speakers with interpreters for example. If you’ve ever followed closely, you’ll have noticed that politicians speak slower than usual at international conventions where interpreters are working behind the scenes. This makes the job easier for interpreters, and it always comes at the cost of using filler words in speech.

Lying

If you’ve ever heard someone overuse filler words or frequently use them out of context, chances are you’ve already listened to a lie or two

Not everyone who uses filler words is a liar, but if you notice they’re being used a bit too much or out of context, you can assume they’re meant to distract you from the truth or to buy the speaker more time.

The good old “uhhh” children say after they get caught doing something they shouldn’t be is a great example.

2. Indonesian Filler Words: Impress Native Speakers with the Best Fillers

Nah 
Well

This filler word (or interjection) is used for several purposes. It’s different from the “nah” in English, and could mean a variety of things beyond “well.”

Example #1
Nah, itu bagus.
Well, that’s good.

Example #2
Nah, kesimpulannya adalah besok.
So, the conclusion is tomorrow.

Jadi 
So

Example #1
Jadi, apa yang Anda pikirkan?
So, what do you think?

Example #2
Jadi berapa umurmu?
So, how old are you?

Ee 
Um

Ee isn’t exactly a word, as it’s almost never written down. It’s pronounced more or less like “erm.”

Example #1
Ee, baik.
Um, okay.

Example #2
Ee, itu bagus.
Ee, that’s good.

Kan 
Am I wrong? / Am I right?

Example #1
Bagus, kan?
It’s good, right?

Example #2
Sangat cepat, bukan?
Very fast, right?

Atau 
Or

Example #1
Atau apa?
Or what?

Example #2
Apakah kamu gila atau?
Are you crazy, or?

Begini… (Informal: Gini…
So, it’s like this… / Well… / Look…

Example #1
Begini… Tim ini dibagi dua saja.
Well… Let’s split the team in two.

Example #2
Begini ya, saya tidak tahu apa-apa.
Look, I know nothing of it.

Terus 
Then / And then

Example #1
Polisi datang. Terus, aku nggak tahu lagi.
The police came. And then, I don’t know (what happened afterward).

Example #2
Terus?
And then?

Kalau 
If / About

Example #1
Kalau presiden Amerika yang baru, kamu sudah dengar?
About the new President of the U.S.A., have you heard?

Example #2
Kalau merah, suka tidak?
If (it is) red, will/do you like it?

Apa tu… / Apa tu namanya…
What is it… / What’s its name…

Example #1
Saya perlu satu lusin… ee, apa tu? Ah ya, palu!
I need a dozen of… erm, what is it? Ah yes, hammers!

Example #2
Naik apa tu… angkutan umum yang berisik dan oranye itu? Ah, bajaj!
Riding what’s its name…the public transportation that is noisy and orange? Ah, bajaj!

Note: Tu is short for itu.

Tu kan…
See…

Example #1
Tu kan… Kertas itu tidak cocok untuk printer ini.
See… That paper does not suit the printer.

Example #2
Tu kan, mereka sudah kenal.
See, they know each other.

3. Pros and Cons of Filler Words

You might think filler words are insignificant, but their usage leaves an impression of us on other people. They shape how people view us, how they perceive our words, and how they talk and react to us. People’s perception of your personality, level of self-respect, agreeableness, and more might just hang in the balance. 

In the following sections, you’ll find a detailed breakdown of some of the pros and cons of using filler words.

A- Pros

Two Women Laughing

You sound more natural.

Especially as a language learner, you want to sound as natural and approachable as possible. Using the occasional filler in Indonesian will lend you a more familiar feel and make it easier to befriend locals (or at least have great conversations that people don’t find annoying).

This down-to-earth approach to using filler words is key to blending in and integrating into a new environment. 

You sound friendlier.

In many situations, especially when you look different from people around you in a foreign country, you might notice that people are a bit more cautious around you.

Using filler words in your conversations makes you sound friendlier and your speech easier on the ears. This makes learning filler words a no-brainer.

B- Cons 

Now that we’ve discussed the pros of using conversation fillers, let’s talk about the other side of the equation.

You’re deemed as hesitant and meek.

The last thing you want people to think when you’re presenting a project, discussing an idea, having a casual conversation, or even dating, is that you’re the hesitant type.

You cannot sell your ideas to others when you don’t show confidence in them yourself. 

Abnormal or excessive usage of filler words might give people this impression of you. In important interactions, be sure to use less conversation fillers.

You’re perceived as having low self-confidence.

A Confident Ballerina

Like hesitance, low self-confidence isn’t an impression you want people to have of you, especially when you have to ace a job interview or even just pass airport security.

Using filler words frequently might make people deem you as someone with low confidence. Remember to reduce your use of fillers in situations like those described in the last paragraph. 

C- How to Substitute Filler Words

A Woman Holding Her Index Finger Near Her Mouth to Indicate Silence

Here’s a great quote from writer Charles Caleb Colton: “When you have nothing to say, say nothing.”

This quote is especially relevant to filler word overusers. If you feel like you’re having a hard time coming up with your next sentence, just have a moment of silence until you know what to say next.

This will not only help you sound more confident, but it will also help you think more easily as you practice doing it.

4. Conclusion

Did you learn something new and useful in today’s article? If so, let us know in the comments!

Not sure how to practice eliminating filler words? 

Try tapping your leg or belly every time you notice yourself using them. With continuous practice, you’ll eventually begin forcing yourself to remain silent. 

If you feel like filler words won’t cut it for you, you may want to try learning a few other essential components of the language. For example, a well-placed quote, proverb, or idiom can go a long way! Also focus on immersing yourself in Indonesian to really take your language skills up a notch. 

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