Author Topic: Phone, MIL, and language barriers  (Read 5103 times)

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kitchcat

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Phone, MIL, and language barriers
« on: October 02, 2012, 10:15:22 PM »
BG: DH and I are in a commuter marriage, meaning we live apart Monday - Friday and are together on weekends. Neither of us have a landline and only use cell phones.

Recently, my MIL has been calling me more frequently during the weekday. I find it a little odd that she usually calls me, not DH (especially since DH is a mama's boy ;)) and resorts to calling him second if I don't answer. Anyway, I'm not sure how to handle all these phone calls. If it was a weekend and we were together, I would just hand the phone off to DH. But seeing how she knows our living arrangement, it's pretty clear that she's trying to reach me specifically.

Well, I've been bad and letting all her calls go to voicemail.  :-[ Why? Well, English is not MIL's first language and she speaks with an intensely thick accent. Furthermore, she speaks "broken" English so even without the accent, she could be difficult to understand. The first time I heard her speak, I thought she was speaking her native language, I kid you not. I've learned to understand her fairly well in person (she tends to make up a lot of words/phrases, but I can usually get the gist of what she's trying to say). The phone however, is a completely different story. I cannot understand a word of what she says.

If it was anyone else, I would just tell them the truth and ask them to email or text me. However, MIL's is very poor at reading/writing English, so that's pretty much not an option. On top of all this, MIL is very sensitive about her language barrier. She's been rudely tormented and teased by past coworkers, her ex-husband and his new wife, and even complete strangers about it. I can tell it is a very emotional issue for her, so I really feel it would hurt her to be told the truth regarding why I don't answer her calls. I'd rather her just assume I'm terrible about answering calls because I don't want her feelings to be hurt, not to mention I wouldn't be able to understand her anyway.

How should I handle this? DH and I have no idea.
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AustenFan

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Re: Phone, MIL, and language barriers
« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2012, 10:26:31 PM »
I think you should tell her you try to keep busy during the week so that you & DH don't have to spend the weekend running errands and cleaning the house, but that you'd love if you could set aside half an hour on whatever night works for her to catch up. That way you know how long you're on the hook for while still respecting that she's your MIL and you'd like to continue your good relationship.

I also think you should ask DH what her hobbies/interests are so that you can ask a couple questions and allow her to do most the talking. If you can make out a couple points to ask about next time (last week you said you're joining a new knitting group, how is it going? Are the people friendly? What are you making?) you should be able to get by without it being a constant battle to understand what she's talking about.

Are you close enough that you can meet her for coffee?  I find it easier to understand people in person.

kitchcat

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Re: Phone, MIL, and language barriers
« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2012, 11:55:52 PM »
I also think you should ask DH what her hobbies/interests are so that you can ask a couple questions and allow her to do most the talking. If you can make out a couple points to ask about next time (last week you said you're joining a new knitting group, how is it going? Are the people friendly? What are you making?) you should be able to get by without it being a constant battle to understand what she's talking about.
Are you close enough that you can meet her for coffee?  I find it easier to understand people in person.

This would not work because I literally can not understand ANYTHING she says on the phone. It doesn't even sound like English. I've tried many times before and it's no use. So there is no way I can even pretend to have a conversation with her. It's not an issue of me being uninterested and wanting to just let her talk while I space out. She's trying to have a two-way discussion with me about something specific and I can't understand her whatsoever.

We live about 200 miles apart so we only see her every few months. I thought about using skype, but she pretty much refuses to to touch a computer.
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norrina

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Re: Phone, MIL, and language barriers
« Reply #3 on: October 03, 2012, 09:33:36 AM »
What if you went with AustenFan's suggestion of telling her how busy you stay during the week, and then suggest that she call at a set time on the weekends so that she could catch up with you and your DH together? I'm presuming here that DH does understand her, at least to a degree, and could act as your interpreter.

My guess is that she is lonely, and is calling all the time to fill that gap. Does she have any hobbies or interests? Maybe she could find a local club or Meetup devoted to her interests, and that would get her out of the house and around people. I realize that the language barrier would still exist there, but depending on the type of activity there may not be so much conversation (dinner parties would be bad, a jogging club might be okay, for instance). How does she feel about animals? My FMIL has a small dog that she dotes on, and I think he has helped her a lot with companionship.



Hmmmmm

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Re: Phone, MIL, and language barriers
« Reply #4 on: October 03, 2012, 11:03:39 AM »
I think it is sweet that MIL is trying to stay in touch with you during the week, afraid you might be lonely or need something while separated from your DH.

I agree that telling her that you are really busy during the day. 

Pick an evening during the week when you'll be at home and not distracted.  I've learned I'm much better at dealing with accents when I'm completely able to focus. 

Also, anyway you can get her to use a video chat?  I have one co-worker I can not understand via phone but am much better when talking to him with video.

Marbles

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Re: Phone, MIL, and language barriers
« Reply #5 on: October 03, 2012, 01:15:49 PM »
Is there any chance you can do a 3-way call with your DH? Then he can field the questions or cleverly restate them for you.

"I dunno, Mom, I don't think Kitchkat wants to floss the cat tonight. Hun, what do you think?"

Alternately, you can blame technology. "MIL, I'm really embarassed to say this, but the sound quality on my phone is pretty poor. I love talking to you, but I have the hardest time understanding you on my phone. The sound quality is much better on DH's phone. Maybe it would be better for you to call me over the weekend, so we can talk over DH's phone."

Yvaine

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Re: Phone, MIL, and language barriers
« Reply #6 on: October 03, 2012, 01:26:36 PM »
Alternately, you can blame technology. "MIL, I'm really embarassed to say this, but the sound quality on my phone is pretty poor. I love talking to you, but I have the hardest time understanding you on my phone. The sound quality is much better on DH's phone. Maybe it would be better for you to call me over the weekend, so we can talk over DH's phone."

Oh, now this is genius. I'm a fan of blaming technology for all kinds of things, when doing so can spare people's feelings!

LazyDaisy

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Re: Phone, MIL, and language barriers
« Reply #7 on: October 03, 2012, 01:39:58 PM »
This situation is really tough because unless it's addressed head on now, you will be dodging your MIL's calls for the rest of your marriage/life. Blaming technology will only work in the short-term. I know you've stated that she's sensitive to critique of her accent but I think that you can let her know without being insulting that you can't understand her on the telephone as much as you would like to talk, and so conversations will need to be text or email. Unless she works with a professional to help with her pronunciation, this will be an on going problem and sounds like it already affects many aspects of her personal (professional?) life -- maybe even contributing to her loneliness. I'm not sure how she learned English, but it sounds like informally and so never picked it up very well. Could you suggest a community college class -- maybe offer to pay? The upside is that she'll also meet people and maybe make friends who have similar circumstances. The only other long term solution would be for you to learn her language.
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Giggity

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Re: Phone, MIL, and language barriers
« Reply #8 on: October 03, 2012, 03:24:23 PM »
Well, English is not MIL's first language and she speaks with an intensely thick accent. Furthermore, she speaks "broken" English so even without the accent, she could be difficult to understand.

However, MIL's is very poor at reading/writing English, so that's pretty much not an option. On top of all this, MIL is very sensitive about her language barrier.

I think it's your husband's issue to handle, since she's his mother, and I think he might should suggest that if she's so uber-sensitive, she could take steps to correct what she's so sensitive about, instead of going around being sensitive about it.
Words mean things.

Minmom3

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Re: Phone, MIL, and language barriers
« Reply #9 on: October 03, 2012, 03:52:25 PM »
I think that's the best idea.  It's doing something about her problem, addressing it directly, instead of dodging it and allowing it to continue on as a problem.  It would probably be uncomfortable to bring up and for her to take such a class, but the benefits would enormously outweigh the difficulties!
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BuffaloFang

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Re: Phone, MIL, and language barriers
« Reply #10 on: October 03, 2012, 05:53:13 PM »
Is it possible for you to learn her language?  I know it would be a lot of effort, but learning another language would be helpful in life anyway. And then you and your MIL could address the language barriers on equal footing, which might make her a little less sensitive

Tai

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Re: Phone, MIL, and language barriers
« Reply #11 on: October 03, 2012, 11:01:44 PM »
Is there any chance you can do a 3-way call with your DH? Then he can field the questions or cleverly restate them for you.

"I dunno, Mom, I don't think Kitchkat wants to floss the cat tonight. Hun, what do you think?"

This.  I have a couple of family members that speak English as their second language.  I've grown up listening to my grandmother since I was born, and as for the other, I am the broken *language* speaker in his language.  DH (and my mom for that matter) have a hard time with understanding what Grandma is saying at times, and so I play secret translator for both of them. 

As far as "making up phrases", OP, I'm betting she's translating directly by word instead of meaning.  Some colloquialisms just don't translate directly- for example, in Spanish the phrase that means "take a picture" translates into English as "throw a picture".  Earlier NCIS episodes do a good job of showing how things are lost in translation or phrases that are just slightly mistaken sound funny. 


nolechica

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Re: Phone, MIL, and language barriers
« Reply #12 on: October 04, 2012, 03:09:43 AM »
I'd suggest she call on weekends only, that way you at least have a buffer. Not sure what language, but meetups if she's lonely are good.

rashea

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Re: Phone, MIL, and language barriers
« Reply #13 on: October 04, 2012, 12:19:16 PM »
Another option is to suggest she might be more comfortable in her own language, and you could have richer conversations. Then see if you can't find a translator service. There are also services for people with such intense accents that others have a hard time understanding them.
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Giggity

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Re: Phone, MIL, and language barriers
« Reply #14 on: October 04, 2012, 12:48:21 PM »
Hiring a translator service for an occasional weeknight phone call seems like a bit much.
Words mean things.