Thursday, October 21, 2010

What's that you say?

Understanding people who speak English as a second language can be challenging. Especially if their native tongue is something that is spoken fast, like Arabic. Or Chinese or Farsi or something. It is especially difficult to understand them on the phone. The other thing that compounds it is that there are about five male names that it seems like 80% of the male population shares. Omar. Abdullah. Hesham. Ahmed. Alli. There are spelling variations and some minor pronounciation variations. Like Akhmed, which is ahmed with a throat clearing gesture in the middle. I get a phone call from one of these guys and it is really, really difficult. Not only do I not know who it is but I can't figure out what they are saying and what the call is pertaining to. It takes a bit of conversation to put it together. They call on my cell phone number because the cell phone is the number that most people use since the land line is often answered by someone who is even harder to understand than the person you are calling. So we use cell phones, no voice mail and caller ID I haven't figured out.

When taking down a phone number or email address over the phone I often have to have them spell it using phoenetic spelling, such as "T as in Tango" in order to make sure I have it right. I have to do the same thing when leaving my email address since they seem to have trouble understanding me as well.

I was trying to get an Indian's contact email over the phone. He started spelling:

"S as in star"
"O as in Ostrich"
"B as in ballot"
"B as in ballot"
"I as in ice"
"L as in lamb"
"at somethingorother dot com"

So I sent the email to him. It came back undeliverable. I got to looking at something that had his name on it. Soppil. Apparently B as in Ballot means P as in Pallet? Why would he pick pallet for the P word? Especially if he can't pronounce P and Ballot is a word too?

It's always something. Be habby!


jlkl said...


KelleyM said...

I can so relate... I work with a lot of folks from India, both here in person and over the phone. The phone calls are always interesting, as they're frequently calling from their homes (their nighttime, our daytime), so we hear lots of children in the background. I, too, am learning the names: Ismail is quite common, and we had 2 of them on our team for a while - one in India and one in Singapore. Oy! I think about how hard it must be for them to understand us, rattling away at lightning speed.

sing it with me... "we are the world!"

Shana said...

hahahah i hate when that happens!