We all have moments when we are struggling for that word or phrase during a conversation – but how do we express that in Japanese?
In normal Japanese conversation, you are bound to have come across something called aidzuchi (相槌/ あいづち). Aidzuchi does not translate well into English but refers to filler words, such as um, erm, like, well that we use all the time when speaking to keep the flow of a conversation going.
Some examples of filler words you might hear include:
へー, うん, え, うわ, そうですね, さすが, なるほど, その通り, 本当に, やっぱり
These short words or phrases do not necessarily have a distinct meaning on their own but are super powerful phrases for Japanese learners to make use of. There’s nothing worse than producing an accurate sentence in Japanese, only to end up saying the distinctly un-Japanese “erm” in the middle of it!
When used well, it has the double benefit of increasing the fluency of your speech, whilst giving you a bit more time to think about what to say next.
Compared to English, aidzuchi is much more common in Japanese as it is used to show that you are paying close attention to what is being said (it does not necessarily mean you agree with it). Nodding also counts as aidzuchi!
Types of Filler Words
They can serve several purposes in Japanese:
- As affirmation, eg. うん, 確かに, よかったね, すごいね
- Expressing agreement, eg. 私はそう思う, まったくです
- Expressing surprise, eg. へぇ, まじで
- Inviting the other speaker to elaborate, eg. それで, そしたら, それから
This video by Wakuwaku Japanese gives a great overview of useful aidzuchi you can drop in to casual conversation:
Common Japanese Filler Words
Here are some of the most common filler words you will encounter:
This is often used at the start of a sentence when trying to get someone’s attention, as in “Excuse me”. It is also often used instead of “um” in the middle of speech.
はい・ええ・うん (hai/ ee / un)
As in “yes”, but really just used to indicate that you are listening (think “uh-huh” in English).
そうですね/ sou desu ne
This phrase (and variants of it) can have many purposes. In the context of a conversation it often means “yes, I hear your point of view”.
It can also be used when someone has asked a question and you are thinking of an answer (like えぇと below).
This little word is basically used in place of “Hmm” or “let me see”, ie. used when thinking about what to say next.
へー・えー・うわ (hee / eee/ uwa)
Used when expressing surprise and/or shock at something
本当（ほんとう）・まじで (hontou/ majide)
Both of these phrases mean “really” used to express surprise. まじで is more casual sounding of the two.
なるほど・そうなんです (naruhodo / sou nan desu)
Used when you have been given an explanation for something – could be translated along the lines of “I see”, “I get it” or “That makes sense”.
やっぱり is a more casual form of やはり. It is often used in response to something you expected to hear.
This word can have different nuances depending on the situation – this post by Maggie Sensei explains it better than I can!
確かに（たしかに）/ tashika ni
This phrase means “surely” or “certainly” and shows that you agree with the speaker’s opinion.
This is used to express agreement what the other speaker has said and has the meaning of “exactly” or “that’s right”.
Instant messaging apps such as LINE often have stickers (called スタンプ) which might remind you of useful aidzuchi when chatting with a friend.
So the next time you are practicing Japanese conversation and get stuck thinking of an appropriate response, try adding in some aidzuchi!
***One thing to note: as in English, the overuse of filler words tends to come across as very casual. For this reason, I would refrain from using too much aidzuchi in formal situations and with people senior to you.
A good way to show that you are listening to what is being said without using aidzuchi is to paraphrase what the speaker has said, and end the sentence with ね (“right”). This is also a great way to confirm that you have understood information correctly as a language learner!