General Etiquette > All In A Day's Work

Language Barrier on the Phone

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Raintree:

--- Quote from: Nebulous on January 09, 2013, 12:48:02 AM ---She got angry (up until this she wasn't exactly pleasant, but she was polite) and yelled at me, I speak English. I don't know what language you speak, but I speak English! And then she hung up on me.

--- End quote ---

"Yes, but not well enough that native speakers can understand you."

OK, maybe not, but that is what I'd be thinking. Not their fault, I am sure (I can't even imagine trying to converse in a second language) but I've also been yelled at for not understanding some thick foreign accent. I have sometimes asked people to spell the word they are trying to say. It works, except sometimes they can't pronounce the letter either. "B-A-N..." I write/repeat, "B-A-N...." and they say, "No, B!! Not B, B!!! B-A-N...." Turns out they are trying to say P. (I'm not picking on the ethnic group that can't say "P" because I am sure there are plenty of sounds I can't pronounce in other languages, but it does make communication difficult!!)

RegionMom:
"P as in pterodactyl"

 >:D

Nebulous:
I can only imagine how long and frustrating it would be to have to spell everything out. And with so many letters rhyming, that is a chore in itself. I count nine with the "ee" sound: B, C, D, E, G, P, T, V and Z*. Then there's F and S or M and N.  Even with no accents, I often spell out websites or my email address using something like the LAPD Phonetic Alphabet because it can be difficult to hear the difference over the phone.

But it is something I will definitely utilize in the future. As long as I don't use anything like this I should be okay: The International Confusing Phonetic Alphabet.

*I know other other English-speaking countries pronounce it "zed" but it's just "zee as in zebra" in the US.

Arrynne:

--- Quote from: Nebulous on January 09, 2013, 12:48:02 AM ---After about 15 minutes I still did not understand what she needed. I kept saying I wasn't understanding the terms she was using and she just repeated the same information. In other words, the definition of insanity repeating the same thing expecting different results.  Sensing growing frustration on both our parts, I suggested that perhaps an interpreter may be able to assist because I was having trouble understanding. She got angry (up until this she wasn't exactly pleasant, but she was polite) and yelled at me, I speak English. I don't know what language you speak, but I speak English! And then she hung up on me.

I still feel bad that I couldn't help her. Perhaps suggesting an interpreter was the wrong move, but I wasn't sure how else to help. At the time I was the only one in the office available to take the call. I suppose I could have taken a message but I don't know what I would have written down.

Any suggestions on what I should/could have done differently?

--- End quote ---

I've found when I have trouble understanding the person on the other end of the line, asking them to spell the important words helps a lot.  Certain sounds (b/v, d/p/t, etc)  are  hard to distinguish over the phone, and an unfamiliar accent exacerbates the issue. 

I had a former coworker, Juan, from Central America with a fairly thick accent.  Once, he needed to communicate with a vendor in the UK.  Between his accent and the vendor's very thick brogue, he wasn't getting anywhere.  He ended up calling Language Line interpreter services to get help translating English to English. 

Lynn2000:

--- Quote from: Raintree on January 16, 2013, 02:12:08 AM ---
--- Quote from: Nebulous on January 09, 2013, 12:48:02 AM ---She got angry (up until this she wasn't exactly pleasant, but she was polite) and yelled at me, I speak English. I don't know what language you speak, but I speak English! And then she hung up on me.

--- End quote ---

"Yes, but not well enough that native speakers can understand you."

OK, maybe not, but that is what I'd be thinking. Not their fault, I am sure (I can't even imagine trying to converse in a second language) but I've also been yelled at for not understanding some thick foreign accent. I have sometimes asked people to spell the word they are trying to say. It works, except sometimes they can't pronounce the letter either. "B-A-N..." I write/repeat, "B-A-N...." and they say, "No, B!! Not B, B!!! B-A-N...." Turns out they are trying to say P. (I'm not picking on the ethnic group that can't say "P" because I am sure there are plenty of sounds I can't pronounce in other languages, but it does make communication difficult!!)

--- End quote ---

Very true! A former co-worker spoke both Spanish and English, and once I overheard her on the phone discussing something with someone who also, apparently, spoke both Spanish and English. At one point my co-worker was spelling something and said, "...and V as in 'cow'..." (In Spanish the word for cow is 'vaca'.)

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