One of my colleagues was talking recently about an English language course designed for call center workers in India. The course calls for ‘accent neutralization’. I always roll my eyes when I hear of classes like this–sound more American!–where you get the ‘heck of a ballgame last night’-type of approach to small talk and a lot of ‘how y’all doin?’ choral drills.
In the corporate-trainee context, I can’t help but think it smacks slightly of racism: ‘our American customers will think that we are sticking them with low-quality service if the support person on the phone doesn’t sound like he’s from Wisconsin’.
I’m sure this has been parodied a lot–give the Indian call-in center guy (a.k.a. a ‘cyber-coolie‘) a job at yikes o’clock in the morning, slap an American moniker on him (‘this is Harry, how may I help you today?’), insult him with a low-wage, and force him to deal with grouchy overseas callers, who in addition to being sold a lousy product now have to suffer the indignity of dealing with an Indian.
Those Americans can never catch a break.
I have an idea for a class: let’s teach NAE users Indian accents in order to gain the trust of Indian shoppers.
I’ll work the first shift, but I want an Indian name!
Seriously though, pronunciation and fluency are major aspects of speaking evaluation rubrics (see ‘Delivery’ in the TOEFL Speaking rubric, for example).
Customer service people, just like TOEFL test-takers, have their own reasons for smoothing out their English and there are definitely ways to improve the clarity of your speech without shedding your identity.
In the Tactics Section of TOEFL Clear Strategies & Tactics, I get into exactly how you can become a better, more fluent speaker. Check out the whole course here and be sure to view a few video lectures marked Free before you buy.
If you are interested in learning even more about TOEFL Training, check out my course Clear Strategies & Tactics.
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