For starters, I acknowledge that Canadians who speak English as their first language may assume that no matter where they go in the world, they will meet others who speak English just as fluently, and in a dialect that can be easily understood. This may be considered a spoiled or unreasonable expectation; and it only contributes to my frustration when confronting some of today’s communication challenges.
I telephoned a company to register a commercial software package I purchased at a local store. The software installation wouldn’t complete until the software was registered. Normally this process can be completed with just an Internet connection. The installation required a phone call to obtain authorization.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
Five phone keypad presses into the interactive voice response (IVR) system had me deposited into the “waiting for the next agent” queue.
After 20 minutes of muzak, a voice asked, “canihelpyou?” From the discourse, I don’t think English was the person’s second language; it may have been his third or fourth.
My responses to his questions during the session were peppered with “can you repeat that”. My repetitive use of the phrase reminded me of the number of times teenagers use the word “like” in a sentence today. In the end, I’m not sure he understood my problem. I ended the conversation with me still having the problem.
My bilingual neighbour has a work around for such support calls. He always selects the French dialogue in the IVR. It seems companies are not going off-shore for French language skills. In his experience he will receive French language service from someone in Quebec or New Brunswick.
My wife also has a tactic. She selects French and then apologizes to the support person for selecting the wrong language. The person on the other end is usually willing to assist her in English.
My buddies in the IT department at work suggest, don’t press any buttons for the IVR. At some point the company is forced to pick up the call. It usually has to be an English speaker since the telephone transfer system hasn’t moved the call to the overseas technical support.
I have often thought of asking my IVR final destination host, whom I can’t understand, to put me back into the queue. Maybe the next person I get has advanced English speaking skills. You know you are Canadian when you feel embarrassed because you can’t understand the person trying to speak English.
I have also had people get mad at me for not understanding. There are only so many times you can say “can you repeat that” before the person takes notice. What’s ironic is, they believe they are speaking English. There is the occasional English word mixed in with some other dialect. I can hear frustration in their voice as I imagine they want to yell at me, “Don’t you understand English?!”
I have tried to improve my English translation skills by listening to the BBC. I also watch English Premier League soccer on the telly. Most of the time I understand the commentators. When the colour commentator rolls all the sharps of the consonants and drops all the vowels in the words, it can get pretty tough to decipher what he is saying.
When someone speaks a variation of English, I try and listen harder thinking it will help. I respect the fact they are trying to converse in my native tongue. I really want the communication pathways to work. I especially want it to work if they have solutions to my problems. Please work, I am listening as hard as I can. Oh no, my count of “can you repeat that” is increasing.
Maybe it’s me. I find it more and more difficult to pull a voice of someone speaking out of the background noise. I am told by a hearing specialist that losing voices in background noise happens as you get older. I acknowledge I am getting older. My hearing is not what it was 30 years ago. I don’t require a hearing aid, but maybe I need one when I call tech support?
What tests do companies use to determine if a person is understandable in English? Are candidates asked to read a selection of English literature? Maybe they are given the daily newspaper and asked to read a section out loud. If the interviewer understands them, they pass the test.
Can technology be used to solve this? I know there are programs out there that can be used to teach you to speak a language. I wonder if they can listen and tell you when you are not speaking it. I guess that would be a little tough for Canada. On the east coast, Newfoundlander’s speak English but who the heck can understand some of them.
I was raised using the English spoken by many Caucasian Canadians, ingrained with a racial bias. I’m sure the bias is not discrimination. I don’t know what nationality the person is on the phone. I’m just frustrated. I pay for a product and need some support. I don’t understand the English of the soul who is tasked to help me. We are both victims.
I want to be tolerant of our differences. I’m investing time and money. Please, what do I do to get the help if I can’t understand you?
God grant me the serenity to accept I don’t understand their English; the courage to not lash out in my frustration; and the wisdom to believe companies will actually listen to their ‘this call will be monitored for quality purposes‘ and realize that it may not be working so well.