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Author Topic: Asking people to speak slower (foreign accents and CS)  (Read 8294 times)

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Asking people to speak slower (foreign accents and CS)
« on: July 21, 2013, 03:00:29 PM »
Is it rude to ask a person with a heavy foreign accent to please speak slower?

I was on the phone with CS yesterday due to my cable being out and the person I was talking to was very polite but I had an extremely difficult time understanding her. Maybe not necessarily due to her accent, but the fact that she was talking so quickly (eta: along with the heavy accent) my ears were hearing a lot of bliberty-giberty-blah-blah.

I asked her to please speak slower because I was having difficulty understanding her. When she slowed down, I was able to understand what she was saying.

However, with her answer to my next question she sped up again to the point where I had to say "I'm sorry, I didn't understand you. Would you please speak slower."

This happened several times and I was about to ask her if I could please talk to someone that I would be able to understand, but we were close to the end of discussion, so I stuck it out.

In the end, CS did solve my problem.

CS was knowledgeable, friendly, and very apologetic, but if wasn't for her speed-talking and accent along with my continual asking her to slowly repeat her answers, I think the call could have been taken care of in less than 1/2 the time. So only mild frustration on my part.

Was I rude for continually asking CS to speak slower?

Would it have been better to ask CS if I could, please, talk to someone that was easier for me to understand?

« Last Edit: July 21, 2013, 03:12:10 PM by jpcher »


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Re: Asking people to speak slower (foreign accents and CS)
« Reply #1 on: July 21, 2013, 03:13:32 PM »
There is nothing wrong with asking someone to speak slower.  It doesn't matter whether they have a foreign accent or not.  Her job is to assist you and if you can't understand her, then she's not able to do her job appropriately.  I also don't think there would be a problem to ask to be switched to another rep if she was not able to help you fully.


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Re: Asking people to speak slower (foreign accents and CS)
« Reply #2 on: July 21, 2013, 03:15:52 PM »
I've been in the same situation and done exactly the same thing--continually asked the CS person to please repeat what they've just said at a slower rate.

No, it is not rude during a business transaction to ask the other person to speak so you can understand them. It might be rude of someone to not slow down a bit after they've been asked to do so 10 times.

If you absolutely can't understand the person, I don't think it is rude to ask to speak to someone else. It's a business transaction, and you can't do business if you can't tell what the other person is saying. In a social situation, it might be different, but if you can't understand the CS rep, you are wasting your time and their time if you don't ask for things to be changed.

And do follow up with an email to the company that employs the CS rep. They need to know that their reps are having difficulty doing part of their job.
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Re: Asking people to speak slower (foreign accents and CS)
« Reply #3 on: July 21, 2013, 03:44:40 PM »
Not at all rude.

I'm deaf. Not profoundly so, but I have greatly reduced hearing. Every phone we possess has an amplifier that allows me to crank up the volume.  But that's useless if the person I'm talking to speaks with a strong accent (of any kind) or speaks very quickly.  I have to ask them to slow down -- I do explain the issue to them, that I'm concentrating like fury just to *hear* them and need all the help I can get to parse the sounds into intelligible words. I'd get very frustrated if they continued to gabble at me. It's thoughtlessness on their part, that they can't remember a request to slow down and/or speak clearly for more than minute or two.

You may not have the same technical (!) difficulties I have, but all the same you've asked for something that is simple and easy for them to provide. There's nothing wrong with asking, and nothing wrong with reminding them if they forget to maintain the speed/volume you've asked for.
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Re: Asking people to speak slower (foreign accents and CS)
« Reply #4 on: July 21, 2013, 04:21:50 PM »
In the library we had a patron who was always a trial. We called her Professor 'fuh-TUCK-up-pee' because that's how she pronounced 'photocopy' and she needed hundreds on every visit. 

  Her English was fine and she had written several books  but she did have a strong Argentine accent.  She also spoke in a low tone and very rapidly.  On top of it all, she would be asking multiple questions while you were trying to answer her first question.   

Other staff members thought I was being overly picky until they had to deal with her on a day when I was not in the office.  Even staff members whose native language was Spanish had a hard time understanding her. 

In order to get anything done we had to put the lady on a rather short leash.

Only one question at a time.  Speak up and slow down, please.

There's nothing rude about asking someone to slow down or speak louder when you're trying to help them.       


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Re: Asking people to speak slower (foreign accents and CS)
« Reply #5 on: July 21, 2013, 05:21:47 PM »
Have you ever spoken a foreign language?  I have, and one trick I discovered is that fast talking covers up a lot of errors, so I had the tendency to speak fast.  Not saying its a pass to the CS, but I do understand where she was coming from and I don't think either one of you was rude.


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Re: Asking people to speak slower (foreign accents and CS)
« Reply #6 on: July 21, 2013, 06:38:43 PM »
Not at all.

I speak fast. I have an accent. I do not know how related the two of them are.

But asking me to speak more slowly is not reflecting poorly upon you in any way.
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Re: Asking people to speak slower (foreign accents and CS)
« Reply #7 on: July 21, 2013, 07:58:16 PM »
I sometimes have to ask native English speakers from another region, or another country, to slow down because the accent is so strong.  If you were yelling at her or making snide remarks about her accent, that would be rude.

Merely trying to make sure you understand is just necessary.


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Re: Asking people to speak slower (foreign accents and CS)
« Reply #8 on: July 21, 2013, 10:36:53 PM »
I do technical support, mostly for U.S. users, but occasionally for international callers, and this is a huge problem.  If I can't understand the caller, I cannot do my job, so I have no qualms about asking the caller to speak more slowly.  Unfortunately, some of them simply will not do it and start getting ugly about my repeated requests.  I always start speaking slowly and clearly myself in case they're having problems understanding me, but some callers cannot take a hint.  It's very frustrating.

One of my favorite calls was from a man in China.  We were having communication difficulties both ways, and he started spelling things out, using cities and countries as guidelines: "A" as in Amsterdam, "B' as in Burma, etc.  The guy knew his geography and got very creative.  We started playing off each other and were practically in giggles by the end of the call.  Thank you, nice guy.  That's "T" as in Tazania, "H" as in The Hague. "A" as in Alsace-Lorraine . . . .
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Re: Asking people to speak slower (foreign accents and CS)
« Reply #9 on: July 21, 2013, 10:46:06 PM »
This is a huge problem, I think.  It seems that technical support is often outsourced and neither of the parties can understand the other well enough to solve the issue.  I usually say, "I'm sorry.  I didn't understand what you said."  They sometimes rephrase it so it is easier.  I have politely asked to speak to another person, probably much to the relief of the person I have been talking to.  The way I see it is that when I purchase a product that includes support and I cannot get the support due to language difficulties, I have the right to speak to someone who can help me.
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Re: Asking people to speak slower (foreign accents and CS)
« Reply #10 on: July 22, 2013, 12:54:28 AM »
There's nothing intrinsically rude in asking someone to slow down, because of an unfamiliar accent, hearing problems, or whatever else.

I live in an English-speaking country which has a very different accent to any of the ones I grew up hearing. Worse, the majority of people speak pidgin (this is how it's described officially). They generally don't pronounce the last consonant of words that end in a consonant and the word order is far from standard. Articles and many prepositions are omitted entirely. And a number of common words are replaced with the equivalent words from one of the many neighbouring languages. "Can I eat now?" would be "makan can?", "are you sure?" is "izit?" (originally coming from "is it"), and "what do you want?" is "you wan wha?"

This alone would be difficult enough, but the extremely rapid rate of speaking means that I struggle to understand a lot of people. If I need to understand what a salesperson is saying in order to purchase something, I'll say: "I'm terribly sorry, I'm somewhat new to this country and can't quite understand the local accent yet. Could you please slow down?" So they'll repeat it again at the same rapid pace. Speaking fast is very firmly rooted in the culture  :( I once asked a lady eight times to please slow down. Each time she looked at me sympathetically but repeated what she'd said just as quickly as before. In the end I just said, "sorry, you're not speaking slowly enough for me to understand. I'm sorry, I'll have to find someone else who can help me understand them." She had no problem understanding me, but for all I know she was speaking gobbledygook.

For 70-80% of people here I'm fine. It's just those with the stronger accents that I struggle with. I'm getting better, though. But the fact that people seem to actually be incapable of speaking slowly is frustrating. English is their first language, so it's not an attempt to overcompensate by hiding errors. The lady above lost a very big sale (over $1000) because I couldn't make out a word she said, and she couldn't slow down or give yes/no answers. This isn't unusual, unfortunately. But fortunately, all the news and 'standard' television is in British English, so they can understand me just fine. At least it doesn't go both ways.


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Re: Asking people to speak slower (foreign accents and CS)
« Reply #11 on: July 22, 2013, 11:17:12 AM »
OP, I feel for you. I've had to ask CS reps several times to repeat what they've said because it just wasn't clear to me. When my tinitus is acting up, I have a dickens of a time on the phone.

On the other hand, you have to realize that these people generally work from a script to help customers. I've never worked a CS call center, but I've had several jobs where we had scripts we had to read to the customers to try to figure out what they needed. When you're comfortable with something, you can take it at your own pace. Which for most people is fast. Add to that, in some companies the CS reps are "graded" on how many calls they can take in a day, how fast they can get through calls, and not on how many satisfied customers they have.

Don't feel bad about asking them to slow down, no matter how many times it takes, but be careful about asking for someone that would be easier for you to understand. The CS rep doesn't necessarily know who would be easier for you to understand. Someone who speaks slower (which is what you were asking for) may have a thicker accent or speak very quietly. Also, if she wasn't a supervisor, she may not know very many people on the floor around her, so you could get kicked back into the general queue and end up with someone even worse. Not to say you absolutely shouldn't ask for another rep, but realize that it may not actually be any better in the end.


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Re: Asking people to speak slower (foreign accents and CS)
« Reply #12 on: July 22, 2013, 12:58:31 PM »
I do it all the time. So long as you ask politely, there's no problem.
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To whom you speak,
Of whom you speak,
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Re: Asking people to speak slower (foreign accents and CS)
« Reply #13 on: July 22, 2013, 06:56:28 PM »
Not rude to ask, especially since effective communication is a shared goal. The thing that would have made you rude would be the attitude or wording you used in asking, if you had let frustration or impatience get the best of you.

I had two coworkers fluent in English but with heavy accents. Sometimes I felt badly when I took a few tries to understand, but they were both very patient in repeating themselves or re-wording things. What was kind of funny was that it was harder to understand a bunch of short words and easier to understand long words. I remember one time saying "I'm sorry, I know you said 'non-heteroscedasticity' but I didn't catch the rest..."  ???