Using ‘um’ in a video is quite different to how it is used in face-to-face conversation.
I was brought up with the belief that using the word ‘um’ was a sign of poor speaking skills and should be avoided during conversation. Perhaps this is wrong. Maybe ‘um’ has an important use in normal conversation.
What does the research say?
Nick Enfield at the University of Sydney has conducted research on language, culture, cognition and social life. His research has found that our use of words like ‘um’, ‘uh-huh’, ‘mm-hmm’ are important.
It turns out that during a conversation there is a 1 second window that opens up when someone stops speaking. What happens during this 1 second window is important. So too is when it happens during this window. Research involving speakers of 10 different languages has shown that on average an answer to a question will be made in around 200ms (a fifth of a second). There is a wide variation of times taken to answer dependent on the language spoken and presumably cultural norms. English speakers on average take 237ms to respond, Japanese take the shortest time at just 7ms, while Danes, apparently involve deep thinking in preparing a response, take the longest at 469ms.
If you are asked by a colleague whether you would like to meet up after work for a drink, and you answer ‘no’ inside 100ms (half the average time) this signals a flat rejection. If you answer ‘yes’ inside the average time, then you will be off to meet up after work. However, if you delay another 400ms (twice the average time), you will be asked again if you really want to go. Both, your answer, and how long you took to provide that answer after the question was asked, are important.
If no response occurs inside of this 1 second window you may face a frown for lacking cooperation and be asked again. This is where ‘um’ comes handy. It is used to signal that you should wait another 700ms (three times the average time) before expecting an answer. This delay can mean ‘hold on while I process what you have asked’, or could equally be warning you that a negative response is coming.
If you find yourself using ‘um’ when you need time to prepare an answer to the question you have just been asked, you should not feel that this reflects badly on your speaking skills. This is exactly the circumstance when the word should be used during everyday conversation.
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