We often instinctively reach for filler words when struggling to string sentences together in a foreign language. These are some of the filler words that I hear most often each day that Egyptian Arabic learners can start using right away to make their speech sound more natural. This post does come with two warnings attached: one, don’t depend on يعني too much because it will harm your capacity for quick-thinking in Arabic / you will start to sound like the Egyptian equivalent of a valley girl, and two, these words WILL make their way into your English speech patterns if you get really good.
1. يعني – ‘ya3ny’
This is the Arabic equivalent of ‘like’–this goes for Shami as well. Just put it wherever you’d put ‘like’ in a normal sentence, and you’re good.
Use يعني in moderation. Please.
2. بس – ‘bas’
بس both means ‘but’ and ‘only/just’ in Egyptian Arabic, and it is a wonderful little word that you will quickly start using no matter what language you’re speaking. Here you can find some usage examples.
3. هو – ‘hwa’
This is a good one for starting sentences. It’s difficult to pin down an exact meaning but ‘It’s just that…’ is kind of an equivalent. You start a sentence this way more often when you’re explaining the ‘why’ behind something, and it can be combined with بس too. It’s especially useful when you’re trying to soften a request or be extra polite. For example:
هو بس كنت عايزة اتأكد أنه المدير موجود = I just wanted to check that the Director is in.
4. ماشي – ‘mashy’
This word is basically the Arabic version of okay–if someone asks you to do something, they’ll often end the sentence with ماشي and you can also respond with a ماشي. Ex: أنا عايزاكي تقراي الصفحة, ماشي؟ ماشي = I want you to read the page, okay? -Okay.
But this is also a filler word in the sense that you can pepper your speech with ماشي while telling a story to make sure the other person is following For example, you could say:
طب انا كنت في شارع التحرير, ماشي؟ = Okay, I was on Tahrir St. Okay? …and then continue on with your riveting narrative.
I know there are other good ones out there, but these are the first I could think of–add your suggestions in the comments!