My spoken English is not very good; my vocabulary is weak too.

Sometimes when I am talking to some foreigners, I have to think for a while to find the word I want in my mind but this always makes the conversations swap between "on" and "off".

By this I mean that the conversations are suddenly stopped because I have to look for a suitable word or phrase. Usually it's a minute or two before we can continue the conversation.

Is there a word that can fully describe the "on" and "off" state I experience in these situations?

  • 5
    Having to pause a conversation for a minute or two to find a word is probably too long, IMHO, unless the word is very crucial (i.e., very, very important to the conversation). Because your conversation partner should know the word, you can ask them for the word (e.g., What's the word for ...? What do you call ...? What do you say when ...?), trying to express the word you're looking for in simpler words, using your hands, your gestures, and so on, to get the meaning across. It's better to keep the conversation going than to stop and think for the right word for too long, I think. Jul 26 '16 at 18:54
  • Maybe it has little to do with your question (as it was put) but this link may help you not only to describe your problem more accurately but also provide some good tips how to deal with it.
    – Victor B.
    Jul 26 '16 at 19:00
  • 2
    A colorful way to say it is "I have to go rummaging for a word". When you look through a drawer, say, or a pocketbook, which is crammed with everything imaginable, you are rummaging. It is a haphazard search, not orderly and methodical. So if you are methodical when racking your brain for a word, it wouldn't apply. Jul 26 '16 at 20:22
  • I would call it "Buffering".
    – Aron
    Jul 27 '16 at 3:23
  • @Aron's suggestion is a play on a computer software concept. I would not expect most listeners to understand, and even those that do might find it to be an awkward turn of phrase.
    – jpmc26
    Jul 27 '16 at 6:53

think about
pause to search for
reflect to consider

are all phrases that describe stopping to think about something, which is what you are doing when you think about a suitable word or translation.


would be an adjective to describe the stop/start of a conversation, which can be used even if natives are speaking with each other.

Our conversation would stop while I paused to search for an appropriate word.
The conversation was halting and not fluid.


Maybe you're looking for words like pause and resume?

"We paused the conversation while I tried to think of the right words. Once I had the correct word, we resumed the conversation."

A pause usually implies something will be continued later, after an unspecified amount of time (could be seconds or years).

Although if you're looking for something to say to them, you might go with something like:

Hold on, let me think of how to phrase this.

Hold on is a common idiomatic request to pause or wait.


You had a stunted conversation. It didn't all happen in one, nice, smooth go; it happened in little chunks.

It was also, as a consequence, an awkward conversation (though this doesn't actually mean what you're asking for).

Beyond that, you were actually already pretty close: I wouldn't find it strange if somebody said that the conversation was somewhat stop-start.

However, stopping a conversation for minutes really stretches the meaning of these terms. It's such a long time that it doesn't really fit into any existing idioms. Indeed, you should try to avoid pausing a conversation for that long. Instead, if you haven't thought of the word within five or ten seconds, ask for help or move on to another talking point.

  • 2
    Stunted? Did you mean 'stilted'?
    – peterG
    Jul 27 '16 at 0:46
  • @peterG: No, I meant exactly what I wrote. Although stilted is another good suggestion. Jul 27 '16 at 9:03

Can't think of any words in English to describe your specific situation, but hopefully the following sentence will work for you equally well:

I had to occasionally interrupt our conversation due to my poor vocabulary skills which always make me constantly go online to look up words I don't know how to say in English.


A couple of phrases from traffic might be useful:

Stop-and-go: making or having many stops : stopping and starting again and again (Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary)

This is also sometimes "stop-and-start" (and I believe British English may omit the "-and" for just "stop-go" or "stop-start"). More at the Free Dictionary.

This phrase most often is used to refer to car traffic, such as on very busy highways, where vehicles periodically come to a halt due to congestion, an accident, etc. I think it would be easily understood when referring to your conversation, for example:

I had to keep looking up words in my dictionary, so it was a stop-and-go conversation.

The conversation was very stop-and-go while I was trying to remember new vocabulary.

A similar, related phrase is slow-and-go. This is a phrase that Los Angeles traffic reporters use quite a bit. Where "stop-and-go" means that you periodically must come to a complete stop, putting your car (or conversation) in idle, "slow-and-go" means that the traffic (or conversation) sometimes flows well and sometimes must slow down a lot but never quite stops. You might want to aim for this state as you practice your vocabulary. However, I'm not sure whether the phrase would be widely understood outside of metropolitan California.

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