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Stop Saying "Um" and "Uh" to get higher CELPIP Speaking Scores
Episode 624th June 2024 • The Speak English Fearlessly Podcast • Aaron Nelson
00:00:00 00:19:21

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Do you struggle with saying "Um" and "Uh" too much? If so, listen to today's episode where you'll learn 3 strategies that will help you kick these pesky filler words out of your vocabulary!

"Um" and "Uh" can seriously hurt your CELPIP scores if you use them too much. Don't let that happen to you!

00:00 Frustration with Filler Words

01:58 Introduction to the Podcast

03:14 Understanding Filler Words

03:57 Why We Use Filler Words

06:03 Strategy 1: Notice Your Filler Words

10:26 Strategy 2: Allow Pauses

12:12 Strategy 3: Practice Regularly

15:14 Bonus: Join the CELPIP Success School

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The other day I was listening to an interview on the radio, but I didn't last more than a few minutes before I got so frustrated with one of the speakers that I changed the channel. They were both native English speakers. They were talking about something that I was interested in. They were easy to hear, but the person who was being interviewed couldn't finish a single sentence.

Without saying, uh, um, the whole time it was literally every single sentence. And, like I said a moment ago, I felt so frustrated that I ended up switching stations because I just couldn't handle hearing so many um, um, uhs.

Yeah, it wasn't good.

Um and uh, and other filler words, are regular parts of everyday speech. Probably as podcast, at some point you're going to hear me say um or uh. And if you listen to all the conversations happening around you on a regular day to day basis, either in your first language or in English, if you listen hard enough, and long enough, you're going to notice it around you, too.

It's normal.

But problems begin to happen when ums and ahs and all those other filler words begin to be a regular feature of everything that you say.

On the CELPIP exam, too many ums and ahs can also get you into trouble because of something called listenability. In today's episode, we're going to talk about three strategies that you can put into practice today that will help you to begin to reduce those ums and ahs. 📍

Well hello there, and welcome to the Speak English Fearlessly podcast.

This is the podcast for motivated English learners who want to speak English. Fearlessly and learn practical tips and strategies to conquer the CELPIP exam. I also love the feature encouraging interviews with regular people, people just like you who are working towards becoming fluent in English so we can learn from their experiences together.

Who am I? My name is Aaron Nelson, and I've been an English teacher for over 16 years, and I now help students prepare for the CELPIP exam through online classes. Um, today we're going to be talking all about, um, how to improve your speaking skills. Um, this is a skill that will help you with, uh, both your English fluency skills in general, as well as, uh, help you achieve, um, higher speaking scores on the CELPIP. Oh, wasn't that a little bit annoying to listen to all those ums and ahs?

It was annoying for me to say. Painful, even, for me to be saying it. But you know what? Filler words, which um and uh are a part of, are kind of normal. Just listen for it. Like I said in the introduction, just listen for it on purpose over the next couple of days. in the conversations happening all around you.

I guarantee you, you'll hear it. You'll pick up on it. Maybe even you'll notice yourself using them. They're everywhere. People use them all the time.

And you might even notice someone who overuses them. If you do, pay attention to how that person makes you feel as you're listening. It might just drive you crazy. Why do we use filler words? Well, the most common reason why filler words are used are if we're nervous, if we're feeling distracted, or if we're just trying to figure out what to say next.

And if you're feeling nervous, distracted, and trying to figure out what to say next, you will find yourself susceptible to using filler words. And boy, oh boy. Those feelings happen quite frequently when you're trying to use your second language, right? I mean, if you're trying to speak in English, if that's your second language, don't you frequently feel nervous?

Don't you sometimes feel distracted? Like you're trying to come up with an idea and then something happens around you and you lose track of what you're wanting to say? Or if you're just struggling to come up with the right word to say next? Yeah, All of those things happen when you're trying to speak in a second language.

And all of those things, like I just said, can lead you into moments when you use um, or uh, or mm, in order to come up with something to say next, or to help you through that difficult moment. But relying on filler words can also be because of just bad habits.

If you're used to using filler words in even your first language, they will be a natural feature in you speaking in a second language or a third language or however many languages you speak, in our case, English. If you use those filler words, even in your first language, they're going to be appearing in your second language, too.

And like I said in the intro, if you use too many of these filler words, you run the risk of frustrating your listener in an everyday situation. And on the CELPIP exam, Aaron, It's even worse. Over reliance on filler words can lower your score, and you don't want that, do you? So here are three practical strategies that you can begin using right now that will help you kick those filler words out of your speech.

Number one, You have to notice them. If you're not aware of your own use of filler words, then it's going to be pretty hard for you to begin getting rid of them, right?

Chances are you already have the perfect tool that can help you begin noticing how many filler words you use. Your cell phone. Here's how to get started. Grab your phone. Open your phone's voice memo app. Record yourself speaking in English, talking about any topic that you wish. It could be talking about the things that you did that day.

It could be talking about the plans that you have for the weekend or an upcoming trip or how an exam went. Like if you're in school or whatever comes to mind. try speaking about that topic for at least a minute without stopping.

When that minute is up, hit stop, when you are finished, grab a paper and a pen and play your recording. Every time you hear yourself use um or uh, mark it on your paper. How many did you hear? Were you surprised?

You know, for me, my filler words weren't even um or uh, though I know I use them. For me, whenever I feel nervous I cough. Like that. If you've been a regular listener to this podcast, then you know that I'm kind of on the introverted side of things.

Not always. But frequently, I prefer to remain quiet. So I don't do very well in large group situations. I don't always avoid them. I don't hate going to them, but I don't always do very well in those kinds of settings. One day, after going to a large group event of some sort, I think it was a party or something, my wife mentioned to me that whenever I was saying something and lots of people were listening, I would frequently cough between ideas or main points that I was trying to make.

She said I kind of did it a lot. She noticed it. Then, I started noticing it because she told me. that she had noticed it. I began listening to myself as I was speaking. And sure enough, she was right. I noticed that I would, after speaking in a conversation, isn't that weird?

That was my filler word. It was a cough, not a, um, and wow. Once I noticed that I was doing this, I started to pick up on it all the time. I was doing this daily, all the time. And I didn't notice this filler word. That's not really a filler word, but I didn't notice that I was relying on this strategy in everyday conversations until my wife pointed it out to me and it's helped me to begin focusing on reducing the amount of times that I do it.

So that's what I'm getting at with this whole first point in order to improve on it. You need to notice that you're doing it. I needed to notice that I was coughing in the middle of my conversations with people in order to try to help me relax a little bit more or to help me to think about what I was going to say next.

And it didn't happen until my wife pointed it out to me. And now that I know I'm working on. stopping it. The same thing will happen to you as you begin recording yourself practicing you'll begin to hear how often you use ums or ahs.

And if you want to, you can even ask a friend, someone that you trust, maybe a spouse or a partner, someone that you know has your best interests in mind, to let you know if you use ums or ahs too much. And like that, you'll begin to get an idea if this is a problem for you. Number two, allow pauses. In general, people have a difficult time with silence, especially between words.

If a space appears in our conversation, ums and ahs are often used to fill up that space, just because we don't feel comfortable with silence. In order to fix this, learn how to become comfortable with short, pauses, short ones, not long ones, short ones. Tell yourself, .

It's okay to pause and think for a minute before I speak again, especially if you're involved in a day to day English conversation. It's okay to think for a second. You don't have to fill every single space with a sound, especially if it's um, or uh. On the CELPIP, you have to be a little bit more careful.

Some pauses that are not too long are okay. Like you don't want to pause for more than a second or so before saying another word. And you don't want to fill your conversation or your answer with too many pauses because that's going to damage your score on the listenability side of things again. But a few of them that are not too long are okay.

You don't have to fill every single second of your recording with sound and especially you don't have to fill every single space between words with an um or an uh. So allow for some pauses. The third strategy, and this one is the most important. It's practice. I've heard it said many times, many, many times that professional presenters, people who make presentations for a living, they have an insane practice routine.

In order to give a spectacular speech. They will invest an hour of practice for every one minute. of their talk. That's a lot. That is an insane amount of practice, isn't it? And for a normal person like you or I who don't have to give these big presentations in front of large crowds or for your work, for example, that kind of practice is probably not attainable and not even practical.

For the average person who is preparing for the CELPIP, like maybe you, it's not even possible. for you to pour in that kind of practice for a single answer. But the principle behind it does matter. And it's very important, and it will help you if you use it. For CELPIP practice, try running through your answer three or four times as you practice, and then try recording yourself.

For example, one of the speaking tasks is to talk about something that happened in the past. CELPIP A past experience. Maybe try thinking about your last vacation, or a memorable time that you had with your best friend, or a family member, or your spouse. Then record yourself, use your cell phone, use that voice app again, and talk for at least 60 seconds.

Record it, and then stop. After those 60 seconds are finished, play back your recording. And again, like what we said at the very beginning, write down how many times you use ums or uhs. So this first one is with no practice. This first recording is no practice at all. You're just thinking about the question, okay, what was one memorable vacation that I can think of?

I'm going to speak about it for 60 seconds, no stopping, no preparation time, and then see what happens.

Next, run through the same explanation that you gave three or four times, and then record yourself again.

I bet that you'll notice a great improvement, both in the reduction of the filler words that you use, but as well, in the In the flow of ideas, so, just as a recap, you need to notice that you are using filler words. You also need to allow for some pauses, but not too many.

And finally, practice. Practice these three ideas daily and I promise you that you will see results. Bonus. If you want to really work hard at removing filler words and improving your speaking skills for the CELPIP exam, then you need to join the CELPIP Success School today. Through unlimited direct text and voice message support, I can literally help you see what you're saying and notice when you're using too many ums and ahs in your speech, and then we'll work together, you and I, to help you remove those ums and ahs.

And because you're a listener to this podcast, you can get a 25 percent discount. Just go to and join today. That's that 25 percent discount. What are you waiting for? Join today! And thank you for listening to today's episode.

I hope that you found it helpful and I will see you again next Tuesday



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