Basics of Japanese: Aizuchi – Conversation Fillers
There are certain cultural things we all do to show someone we’re listening and engaged in the conversation. For instance, looking the speaker in the eye and not interrupting while someone’s talking. Occasionally, we’ll even encourage the speaker to provide more details with an “oh yeah?” or “no way!” as we listen to their story.
This last thing is known as aizuchi (あいづち) in Japanese, and they’re seen as very important to having a natural conversation in Japanese. At the same time, they can be difficult for Japanese learners to use initially because it feels like you’re interrupting the conversation–or being interrupted.
Naruhodo (なるほど) – I see
Hontou (ほんとう) or Hontou ni (ほんとうに) – Really; no way
Sou desu ka (そうでうか) – Is that so?
Sou desu ne (そうですね) – Yeah
For something surprising or interesting, many will say Heee (へえぇ).
And the most common one… a simple Un (うん) or Ee (ええ)!
Aizuchi in Action
Hifumi is going to tell Omatsu-chan about his day yesterday. Hifumi’s lines are in normal black, and Omatsu-chan’s aizuchi will appear in red. Read Hifumi’s lines aloud and imagine hearing Omatsu-chan “interrupt” with her aizuchi. It’s a little distracting at first, but you’ll get the hang of it!
きのう、ぼく は がっこう へ いきました。 （うん） そして、がっこう で ともだち の はなちゃん に あいました。 （へえぇ） はなちゃん と いっしょに ひるごはん を たべました！ （ほんとうに？） ええ、それから、えき に いって、（うん） このCD を かいました。 （そうですか） うん。 ききますか。
Kinou, boku wa gakkou e ikimashita. (Un) Soshite, gakkou de tomodachi no Hana-chan ni aimashita. (heee) Hana-chan to issho ni hirugohan o tabemashita! (Hontou ni?) Ee, sorekara, eki ni itte, (un) kono CD o kaimashita. (Sou desu ka) Un. Kikimasu ka?
Yesterday I went to school. (Yeah) And at school I met with my friend, Hana-chan. (Oh yeah?) I ate lunch with Hana-chan. (Really!) Yeah, after that, I went to the train station (yeah) and bought this CD. (Is that so?) Yeah. Shall we have a listen?
Words of Warning
Unfortunately, aizuchi often sound very much like agreements to people who aren’t used to hearing them, especially since many of them are said while the person in nodding! It’s important to remember that these don’t mean the person agrees with you or what you’re saying. It only means that they are listening and understanding!
Aizuchi are especially important when you’re on the phone with someone and they can’t see that you’re listening to them. In English, we often feel like we’re being blown off if the person on the other end keeps saying “yeah… yeah… yeah” but it’s the opposite in Japanese! If you’re completely silent on the other end, your Japanese friend is going to be worried you hung up on them!
Next time you have the opportunity to hear two or more Japanese speakers talk, listen out for their use of aizuchi! You’ll commonly hear it on TV shows or anything that’s not scripted. If you find a good example, why not share it with us?