Would you believe that one of the most difficult tasks I have encountered as an Italian teacher is to help my advanced and fluent students eradicate completely the use of English gap fillers from Italian conversations? 

Gap fillers are those little words we use to take small breaks during conversation to think or breath and let our listener know that we have not yet finish. We could almost say that we use them instead of punctuation. They are mostly used in an unconscious way and not because we really want to use them, in fact they don’t have any real meaning. Therefore, words or expression such as ‘yknow’, ‘so’, ‘like’, ‘well’, ‘I mean’, ‘ya’ crop up continuously during our Italian conversations with my fluent students! If an Italian with no English were involved in these conversations, they would think that these people are Italian, but they would be wondering what ‘yknow’ means. Some others may think that they are from a region close to the Austrian border. In fact, everyone in Italy knows that ‘yes’ in German is ‘ja’. 

We do have gap fillers in Italian, they are called ‘intercalari’ and we do use them a lot. The most famous Italian gap filler is ‘allora’ and it is also known by non Italian people. In fact, frequently during my lessons with beginner students I am asked: ‘There is a word that Italians use all the time… Allora, what does it mean?’. 

To counteract the use of English gap fillers I have started giving a short list of Italian ‘intercalari’ to use instead. The most obvious is, for example ‘si’ which replaces ‘ya’.

We can replace ‘yknow’ with ‘vedi’ or ‘sai’ (informal), ‘so’, ‘like’ and ‘well’ with allora, ‘so’ could also be replaced with ‘quindi’ or ‘dunque’ and ‘I mean’ with ‘voglio dire’. 

I have also started to apply a new technique (it is not a corporal punishment!), but I would like it to bear fruits before ‘cantare vittoria’ singing victory! I will explain how it works in a future post. 

There are also other types of ‘intercalari’ in Italian or gap fillers in English: swear words or ‘le parolacce’ in Italiano. As my students don’t use them during our conversations I will leave them aside… at least for now!

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