I am sure anyone who lives in a country where a different language to their mother tongue is spoken will understand straight away how absolutely terrifying speaking on the phone can be. In real life, face to face conversations you have so many things to help you through the fog of foreignness:
On the telephone all these things disappear and you are left with just the voice of the person at the other end. No facial expressions, nothing. Actually, not nothing, because there are other things to make telephone conversations even harder. You know:
- You can see some-one's body language and facial expressions;
- You can gesticulate to make yourself understood;
- You may be able to have a dictionary to hand and pour over it with the person who you are talking with;
- You can draw things on a piece of paper.
Humpf - well how would THEY cope if the language tables were turned I wonder??
- Background noise either at your end or at theirs;
- Softly spoken people who seem unable to raise their voice (and please will some-one tell me why, when I get a quiet person on the end of the phone, do I end up bending forwards until my head is nearly resting on the desk?!);
- People who speak fast, in long sentences without giving you time to assimilate what they are saying;
- People who just repeat what they said the first time when you say you did not understand, usually even faster, often louder and invariably with a hint of exasperation in their voice.
|Image from the Sunday Times|
As you might have guessed today I had to make a phone call and it turned out to be to a lady who spoke quietly, fast, in long sentences with background noise at her end and more than a hint of exasperation in her tone. She worked for a Government organisation to do with running small businesses. Surely some-one working in an organisation such as this would only be employed if they had a decent telephone manner and could communicate slowly and clearly with the many English speaking people who I am sure must phone her throughout the week?
I did get there in the end, more thanks to me repeating everything back to her as opposed to anything she said succinctly or clearly.
In complete comparison I then had to phone the dentist and the receptionist there is lovely. She is clearly spoken, does not waffle on and is so easy to understand ... even to the point that when she arranged the time for the appointment (14h45) she double checked by saying a quarter of an hour before 3. She laughed when I said how much trouble I had both with numbers and the 24 hour clock and said kindly that I was not alone! If only she had worked at the business office rather than Madam Slightly Exasperated!
Do you have any stories to tell when speaking on the phone in a foreign language ... or even any strategies for managing difficult conversations?