What is hesitation?

Hesitation is basically when the speakers doubts. They say “Ummm, uhhhh”, to try to gain time so that they can think. There are two types of hesitation:

  1. At the beginning of speech: when you hear the question, you need time to think and form your answer.
  2. In the middle of a sentence: when you want to develop your answer and extend.


Why do we need to avoid it?

Hesitation impedes understanding and can also make the speaker feel nervous. It is often part of a language exams assessment criteria in the discourse management section, for example, to pass the C1 ADVANCED exam from Cambridge Exam English, you need to “have little or no hesitation”.


How can we avoid it?

One of the most irritating things when we are learning a language is hesitation, but there are simple strategies to avoid it. Basically, the best way is to organise your answer. We can use fixed phrases to help us reduce the time we need to think too. This is why it is essential to go over connectors (linking words) and fixed phrases regularly.

Strategies to avoid hesitation:

  • Use auxiliary verbs: Yes, I do. Yes, I am. Yes, I have. Yes, I can
  • Use time fillers: well, sure, of course, for sure, that’s a tricky question, it’s difficult to say, that’s a tough one, let me see, let’s see, let me have a look, good question
  • Use connectors: because, as, because of, due to, however, whereas (etc)
  • Pretend not to know the answer: Well, I don’t know, but…, It’s a tough question to answer, but I think…, I have never really thought about it, but…



Here we have an activity to help you avoid hesitation in your speaking.


How does it work?

What you have to do is simple. With a partner you need to ask the questions. One of you will ask all ten questions and you need to put pressure on your partner so that they do not have time to think. The other person must answer the questions with a 20-30 second answer. If they hesitate, they need to start again.


Questions: person 1

  1. Where do you come from?
  2. What do you do for a living?
  3. What do you most like about where you live?
  4. How often do you do new and exciting things?
  5. Who is your best friend and why?
  6. Are you keen on reading or do you prefer other leisure activities?
  7. Have you got a degree?
  8. What are the benefits of going to university?
  9. How will your English be useful for you in the future?
  10. What is the best way to take advantage of your free time?


Questions: person 2

  1. What is your full name and who named you?
  2. What do you most dislike about where you live?
  3. Are you interested in living abroad in the future?
  4. What did you do yesterday?
  5. What do you do for fun?
  6. Who do you usually hang out with at weekends?
  7. Do you have a large group of friends or just a few close ones?
  8. Are you into learning foreign languages?
  9. How often do you work out?
  10. Why is it a good idea to keep fit and follow a balanced diet?


To make it a little more challenging: you should not show the questions the person answering the questions and mix up the order. This means that they will have to be more spontaneous.



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