Friday, October 30, 2009

How To Tackle A Phone Call In Your Second Language

Below is an article I was wrote in September and was hoping to get published, but I don't see that happening, so there's no sense in wasting something that was written. On a 14 hour night bus from Buenos Aires to Mendoza, I suddenly got the urge to write about this topic at 3 am, and I wrote it in about 20 minutes or so. This article deals with exactly what the title sounds like: How To Tackle A Phone Call In Your Second Language. Take a look through, and maybe some of this information will help you some day when learning a new language...

Anytime you are learning a language in a foreign country for an extended period of time, you’re probably going to wind up getting a temporary cell phone. And if you really dive deeply into the experience, you’ll actually get some local friends in addition to the other foreign students in your program. Of course, this means that you will have to master the art of speaking your second language in a harder medium, which isn’t easy in the beginning. There are some things you can do to help in the process and make sure you survive a phone call.

Phone call 144/365 (Year 2) by GeorgieR.If you’re like I was when I was first learning Spanish, the idea of a phone call in your second language is downright scary. It’s not so daunting trying to speak when you can actually see the person, because you have the benefit of your facial expressions to speak for you and show whether or not you get it. But when you’re on the phone the other person can’t really tell if you do, and as many people often mistakenly do, they simply say “Yes” to everything.

Seeing someone’s mouth move is a big part of conversation, and it really helps you see the word being formed. It’s something that’s missed in phone conversation, but it doesn’t end the world then and there.

First, always speak slowly. If you try to show off how skilled you are in the new language and speak quickly with pop terms you recently learned, your friend or boss or whoever will match your speed, assuming you truly understand everything, maybe even throwing in other pop phrases you don’t yet know. Speak slowly and clearly, giving them the signal that you’re trying really hard to get all of the information correctly.

Second, get to a quiet place. It’s hard enough sometimes to fully hear a phone call in your native tongue, and it’s imaginably worse in your second. If you’re on a busy street or at a bar, wherever, just get somewhere quiet enough to at the very least tell the caller that you’re unable to hear and when you can call back. Just tell them to hold on a minute until the noise dies down--they won’t hang up on you. As always, plug the other ear and strain as you must to hear. If it’s still not working, slowly tell them that you can’t hear and ask them to call back or send you a text message. In many countries, especially those who use phone cards, it’s often cheaper and easier to send texts rather than make calls.

If you’re really uncomfortable making the calls at first, work into it with text messages. It’s often better because you have time to think about what to write as well as look up the words you don’t understand, given that they are actually in the dictionary. But when you do have to make a call, always repeat the information back to the caller to make sure what you have told them is what they told you. “OK, so 7 pm, in front of the administration building, wearing a green jacket.” Just always check the facts.

Lastly, you may get very flustered and embarrassed on the phone, often trying to shy away from it. But just remember, it’s not easy to speak a second language, especially on the phone. Yet if you stick with it long enough and really make an effort, then in due time you’ll notice that you are able to have conversations, if not with ease than at least clearly enough to truly capture the call. Take a breath before hitting the numbers, think about what you want to say, and prepare for what you might hear. Have a dictionary next to you, or lacking that, your notebook from class. The more you practice the better you will become, and you’ll be well on your way to working up a huge phone bill every month.

Above: Photo by GeorgieR


Jason said...

Great point about always speaking slowly!

Jon said...

Thanks Jason,

I checked your site and it looks really interesting. How long have you been up to all of the traveling and writing? I'm hoping to make it to Bolivia one day, and your photos look amazing. Did you design your site yourself? I like the style.