General Etiquette > All In A Day's Work

This was fine, right? Tell me it was fine...

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Hi all,

At work a colleague that I am sort of mentoring asked me to observe her work and help with pointers. Important details are that English is her second language and our job is very verbal. Anyway, today I observed her and later on we sat down to talk things through. Although in general she is excellent at her job there was one thing that I felt she needed to work on, and I had a feeling that that was why she had asked for help in the first place.

Anyway, I tried to be noncommittal and try to draw her out to see if this was the aspect that she wanted help with (it was) and then it came out that basically in the scripted parts of our job she is fine and happy but feels insecure when needing to improvise, due to the language thing. My suggestion was that she think of what she wants to achieve, write some 'lines' to deal with situations that are likely to arise and practice them in English until she feels confident using them.

Now (of course  ::)) I am over-thinking this and worried that my advice was patronising or discouraging or even a little racist. I would appreciate either a) reassurance or b) suggestions on how I could do it better next time. Also if anyone has experience with working outside their comfort zone, language wise, suggestions on what helped you would be great.

I think you were just fine. I don't think there's anything racist whatsoever about that advice.

Let me just tell you this: English is my native language. I am very fluent in it, and I have professional communications training. Even still, when I was working in a public-facing role, I still found it necessary to develop some "talking points" in reference to questions I often faced. It was simply more efficient. As a reporter, I used to write up a brief list of questions before covering stories sometimes, just because it helped get things going for me.

Nothing wrong about your advice, and certainly nothing patronizing that I can see. I can see even giving the same advice to a native language speaker who sometimes struggles with communicating with the public, being less experienced in the role.

I'm sure your co-worker appreciates your advice and will take it to heart - and that it will help her achieve success. I'm sure she's well aware of any communication issues she has as a non-native English speaker. In time, though, she will be more experienced with dealing with the public and will be just fine. You'll see.

I also think you were fine. I am a native speaker of English; almost everyone else at my job speaks English as a second language (with different languages as their first). Dancing around the fact that someone else is having problems communicating because of a language issue just becomes silly after a while. I think it's better to acknowledge it in a straightforward manner, and suggest concrete solutions.

And I agree with mrkitty, your solution could easily be used with a native English speaker who just didn't think very well on their feet, etc.. In fact, here we often suggest people plan responses in advance and even practice saying them aloud, so that when the time comes they can say very firmly, "NO, I will not watch your pet dragon again this weekend," or something like that.

Even if English is your first language - sometimes questions come up at work that you need to check the correct work terminology for.  Calling something a nonsense term at home can work - calling it the same nonsense term at work may get a laugh & the correct term once - but the fourth or fifth time, it won't be a laugh, it'll be a comment about "learn the correct terminology" from a coworker or boss.

Insurance, car repair, computers, dentists, and other work fields all have one thing in common - there are terms that they use in a particular way that other work fields either don't have those terms or use similar words to mean something completely different. An example might be the word "filter" - a "filter" for a computer programmer would probably written into some software, a "filter" for a photographer is a physical item for the camera OR possibly a software choice when editing raw photos, and a "filter" at a car repair place may be for oil, fuel, air to the engine or for the heating & A/C to the cabin. 

Other places may use words that just don't turn up in your average conversation unless you're discussing that subject ("Subrogation" is an insurance term that I don't recall using except to an insurance agent or at least when talking about an insurance claim).

"Claimant" has a slightly different, but related meaning in insurance as it does in law.  But the other party in a claim is not called the "defendant" as they might be in a legal matter - they are usually called the "insured" by the company that they have bought their insurance from. 

Use the wrong term (or one that is almost right in the wrong office) and you'll still have a miscommunication.

For someone who is working in a second language - the specific vocabulary used for that job may be almost like having to learn a third language!  I know that in various careers, I've had to learn enough new terms to get the idea that I was no longer speaking the "English" that I knew growing up!

Even here on Ehell we tell people to come up with phrases (e.g., "That will not be possible." ) in advance so they are prepared.  The brain does better if it has rehearsed a situation previously (which is why we have fire drills).  So you did fine.


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