Monday, October 10, 2005

Language Confusion 

The phone rang on Monday, and I hit the speaker button to answer it. "Horton," I said. There was a long silence, but someone seemed to be on, so I said, "Horton" again. A heavily accented voice spoke slowly from what sounded like a long distance. It sounded as if the party were fighting echo on the line causing him to speak even more carefully. The individual proceeded to inform me he was calling to finalize my plans for attending a PR conference in a large Middle Eastern country, and he was calling from that country to get my information. I was stunned. I had written this individual months ago to let him know that I could not attend. Apparently, his grasp of English was marginal, and he had not understood my refusal. I said again in as simple a language as I could that I was not attending. He finally said he understood and hung up. It was an expensive phone call for him; I was sorry he had to make it.

Ten minutes later the phone rang again, and the man was again on the other end of the line. He now said the conference wanted to make a "film" of me to show. "How are you going to make the film?" I asked. He didn't understand. "How are you going to take pictures?" I queried. He said in his thick accent that they had downloaded my photo from my web site. This clearly wasn't going to be a "film." I wasn't sure what it was going to be. It occurred to me they might put up my picture and have audio of me with someone translating. I asked him if this was what they planned to do. He couldn't understand me. We started then into a protracted sequence of him talking off-phone in his language to a disembodied voice in the background then translating roughly to me. The translations made little sense and were disconnected. I didn't know what to do except to tell him again that I wasn't coming.

He then asked if I would comment on the proceedings, and I said I would. I'm not sure, however, whether I am to comment before or after the conference. He then asked me if I could come in 2006 to the conference. I told him that it is "unlikely." He couldn't understand "unlikely." I then said "probably not." He couldn't grasp that. I finally said, "No." He then said that he wasn't talking about 2005 but about 2006. Surely I was coming in 2006. I didn't know what to respond. I didn't want to close the door a year early, but I also could not hedge language in a way that the fellow could understand it. I said we should talk again. He grasped that. I will now have to live through another phone call at some point next year.

I have long considered myself a better-than-average communicator, but this incident proved I have a way to go.


Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?