Thursday, August 7, 2008

Voicemail, and English as a second language.

Out-sourcing. Not my favorite topic. But I'm not sure that's even what I'm talking about so it may be a moot point.

There was a voicemail on my phone at work today. I listened to it - or maybe I should say I tried to listen to it. A few sentences into the message I pulled the phone away from my ear and looked at it - like it was going to tell me something about what I was listening to.

It was funny. I couldn't help but laugh. I transferred the call to my co-worker asking if she could possibly translate. She listened to it several times, even replaying the first few sentences over and over because those were the least intelligible. We both laughed because it did not even sound anywhere close to a real language - much less English! She came up with "somebody died - and it had something to do with Polish sausage!" Beyond that - I was out of luck.

I never did figure out what the man was saying. I made out enough words - maybe 4 - but they were an important 4 - that the call was work related and probably in regard to some support I had requested. No idea what support, no idea what the problem was, who the message was from or why he was calling me. I deal with issues all day long. No clue which issue this was about.

He left a number to call him back but I just couldn't bring myself to do it because I knew I wouldn't be able to understand him. I also knew that if I did talk to him and heard anything remotely like Polish sausage and dying - I would have popped a vessel in my eye trying to hold back the laughter on the phone.

Which brings me back to out-sourcing. My company does it. Some. I am sure this was someone calling me from overseas to address an issue I had requested assistance with. Whether or not I agree with the concept of hiring people overseas for less money than an American worker would make in order to bump up the bottom line, I do have strong feelings I'm willing to express about one aspect of it.

Can we make sure the people we hire over in those other countries can at least speak English in a manner that is understandable by the average American?


I live in the United States. It is where the company is based, it is where our clients are and where our employee's paychecks are coming from. I understand English is their second language and I do not blame them for not being able to speak it well. Hell - it's my FIRST language and I certainly don't!

But the people doing the hiring need to tighten up the qualifications for those jobs so at least we (meaning me) can understand them well enough to have a conversation with them!

All I could do was laugh and shrug my shoulders, knowing that tomorrow I will have to put some effort into which issue needs addressing. Tonight - all I could do was laugh about the deadly Polish sausage and it's ability to kill.

Because that's the closest thing to a translation that I had.


  1. When that happens to me, I just politely ask to speak to someone else... well..after I giggle over killer attack sausage.

  2. That was funny! It's not just ingrained accents but also the way people speak.

    My work story involved taking a credit card order from a certain US sergeant who barked the numbers out as if he was on inspection - 4!
    5! 0! 9! etc, complete with Yes Ma'am!!!. It took all my self-control not to laugh or say "At ease, Sergeant"!

  3. Mahala - you've run into killer sausage too?? Small world!

    Pearl - I can't always help myself - I probably WOULD have said "at ease, Sergeant!"

  4. When I call customer service for my mobile phone I am connected to someone in India who usually can speak English very well but the accent is so strong I just can't get what they are saying!

  5. A great site for ESL students is is a dual-purpose site for building an English vocabulary and raising money for under privileged children in the most impoverished places around the world.

    Check it out at