The call center industry has been a hot destination for job seekers and industry jumpers so far and it is not a surprise.  The compensation and benefits package is very attractive and you do not even have to be an experienced employee.  Even those who are just fresh graduates who do not have any experience yet can enjoy such irresistible offer.  In fact, even long-time working employees from different industries jump ship because there are vacancies that offer much higher than what they are currently getting and they are not even supervisory or managerial posts.

However, not everyone is successful with their applications as agents especially when the opening is for an international account that has English-speaking customers or clients.  This is because since they are going to converse with them; it is a requisite to have an excellent sway of the language in terms of grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary and neutral accent.  In other words, they have to be understandable; not to mention they should be able to express themselves with ease.  Unfortunately, although they can speak English, their grammar lapses; mispronunciations; and local-sounding accent get in the way of getting their preferred, if not dream, job.  It may be fine if they are going to talk to a fellow Filipino who would not have a rough time getting what they are saying, even with the broken English and all that, but that is not the case.

So, what can and should aspiring call center agents do to correct these areas of opportunities so the next time they try it again, they would be able to pass and with flying colors; at that?  What can they do to talk understandable English?  Is it even possible to sound like a foreigner even when one is already in his 20’s, 30’s, 40’s or even more?

Honestly, to sound like an American and to have an almost-impeccable grammar and pronunciation, one should go back to preparatory schooling.  I am not kidding.  One has to start all over in order to fix and strengthen the foundation of what it takes to have excellent conversational English.  This foundation consists of the following:

  1. Familiarity to the different American vowel and consonant sounds and being able to produce them as well;
  2. Speaking fluency particularly with knowing what the English word for any Tagalog word is without thinking in between or thinking as one speaks;
  3. Broad vocabulary in terms of expressing oneself using different words, idioms, and even slang and jargons;
  4. Grammar that has few errors or better yet error-free and will not be misconstrued regardless which nationality or race one is speaking with.

These are the components that one has to master to be able to speak English well and to be understood equally well too.  But the problem here though is it is such an embarrassment to go all the way back to nursery, kindergarten, or preparatory education at whatever point.  It is absurd.  Thus, would this mean it is a hopeless case for anyone who has been giving it a go in the call center industry for quite some time now but just could not quite make it?

Absolutely not.  Hell no.  Let me share with you personal strategies that I went through to be able to speak the way that I do with almost perfect grammar and pronunciation.  I was not born and raised in the States but a lot of people would mistake me as someone who either was or had lived and worked there for a long while.

There are four aspects of communication that one has to specialize in and rectify to begin with.  They are grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and accent.  Read on please.

GRAMMAR:

Tip #1: Brush up on it by going over Grammar books again.

No matter how outstanding your vocabulary or accent is, if you cannot even put words together correctly, it is useless.  Your customers may understand the words that you are using as they are, one by one, but the entire message you are sending across will not make any sense to them.  It will get lost in translation, that is.

It will not really take you years if you study grammar again or recall the eight parts of speech (Noun, Pronoun, Verb, Adverb, Adjective, Conjunction, Preposition, and Interjection).  Believe me.  Knowing them and perfectly understanding where they are put in your sentence and how they are used or said will work wonders for you.  Tagalog and English words are very much similar to each other insofar as one is a direct translation of the other if used separately or independently.  But still, you cannot just directly translate a word to English and forcibly insert it into your sentence without regard to the entire context and how you would need the recipient of your message to interpret what you mean.  It just does not work that way.  In the Filipino culture, we call that “English Carabao” or “Barok English” and you know it does not sound right.

Ergo, spend quality time in and be productive with studying Grammar books. An hour or two or even more every day, depending on your availability, will not hurt.  Also, make sure to apply what you learn right away by providing sentences.  It is even better and more helpful if you ask for a friend’s help (just make sure your friend speaks English well himself) by telling you if you are making sense at all or to give you feedback for any grammar slip or hard-to-understand sentences.

Count on me.  Do this every day and you will just be surprised to realize you are getting better grammar-wise.

VOCABULARY:

Tip #2: Start reading a good dictionary everyday from A to Z.

You see, even if you have excellent grammar, but if you do not know a lot of words in English, you would still sound choppy when you talk.  What I mean is you will have the tendency to pause long in between just so you could think of words you need to use.  This is what happens when you have terribly poor vocabulary.  You cannot speak continuously because you must think in between. Therefore, it makes you prone to fillers (like uh, uhm, like, ano, etc.) and there is no fluidity in your delivery.  Additionally, it makes you susceptible to using the wrong word for your ideas just so you could fill up your sentences with something.

Now, what I recommend is that you start loading yourself up with a lot of words you can choose from your arsenal by making the dictionary your bible, your eternal guide.  Just make sure you choose and read the quality and best-selling ones like Merriam-Webster though.  Settling for the pocket types or those rip-offs you can just buy anywhere may not be as helpful as the better ones.  Anyways, after this is taken care of, then go ahead and start with the words in letter A for one entire week and go on with the next set of words for the subsequent weeks until you finish all of them.  If you cannot consistently do this on a daily basis, that is fine.  For as long as you do not stop for a long period of time, you will not lag behind.  Additionally, you may not finish knowing about all of the words in the dictionary of your choice and just choose those that you believe are more commonly-used or those layman’s terms that are utilized in everyday conversations.

By doing this religiously, you will go a long way.  Resorting to this, no matter what you talk about with your customer or just anybody you want to talk to in English, you are confident you can express yourself without a hitch.

Tip #3: Read a wide variety of books with non-highfalutin words.

Another way of widening and deepening your vocabulary aside from committing to memory words off a dictionary would be checking out a lot of good reads.  This is a good alternative especially for those who love reading.  What is even great about this is you get to read anything you prefer for so long as the language is English and the words that are used are not too “nose-bleeding”, so to speak. You do not have to force yourself to read what you are not interested in just for the heck of enriching your vocabulary. It is because more than the pleasure of reading your fancied genre, you get to discover new words that you do not get to use often or at all and you get to add them to your growing list of words.  After all, the purpose of reading is to improve your vocabulary so any reference would do.

Just a piece of advice, though.  As you leaf through the pages of your source to read and understand what you are perusing, you should underline or (using a marker/highlighter) highlight every new word that you come across with.  Afterwards, check both its meaning and function in the dictionary.  Take note: both its meaning and function.  Knowing its meaning will not suffice.  It is equally important that you know how you can exclusively use the word in your sentence as well.  For example, if it is a verb, should it be used as a transitive verb or an intransitive one?  I hope you get what I mean here.  Finally, use them in sentences by asking an icebreaker question and answering it yourself, by simply coming up with a grammatical sentence, or by actively finding conversational opportunities or circumstances in which you can use your newly-found words.

Remember, the more frequently you use the words that you discover, the likelier that they will become a part of your system.  You will just realize that they automatically come out of your mouth when the interaction calls for it.

Tip #4: Watch English flicks and discover new words that you can use in everyday conversations.

This one is as cool as when you are reading and learning at the same time.  It is “edutainment”.  You get to entertain yourself with your favorite movies and simultaneously, you learn fresh words from the characters themselves. Just make sure you do not get carried away by the movie though and forget that your mission is actually to hunt for new words that you have not used ever and make them yet another ammo in your ever-upgrading arsenal.

From idioms to slang to expressions; just get them all.  List them down and just the same, find their meanings and functions in the dictionary and start using them in your everyday encounters.  Or, in case you cannot find anybody you can use them with, you can just use them in sentences and talk to yourself (just not in public though as people might think you are losing it J).  Just the same, you could also ask yourself icebreaker questions and test your newly-learned words.  It is fun this way. Believe me.

Tip #5: Research for different American idioms, expressions, and even slang words.

If you would like to enrich your vocabulary, I recommend you spend a few hours every day looking up the internet for the common American idioms, expressions and slang words.  Some of the really good websites for learning these terms would be www.urbandictionary.com, http://www.englishdaily626.com/idioms.php, http://www.manythings.org/slang/, and http://www.englishdaily626.com/slang.php and a lot more.

Next, after learning whatever words you believe you would need in future conversations or in the workplace, make sure to memorize them and use them as often as you can.  The law of repetition says that the more often or repeatedly you do something, the higher the chance that it gets permanent in your system.  Agree?

Tip #6: Tune in to radio stations that have straight English-speaking jocks.

First of all, make sure you choose the station you are going to listen to first.  It could not be just any radio station.  Tune in to the best ones who have DJs that have excellent English especially vocabulary.  Then, when you listen, catch and put down as many new words as you can.  Look up their meanings and functions in the dictionary (yes, again) and using the same strategy, start using them in your own sentences until you get used to saying them. Even when you converse with other English-speaking friends, you could actually use them for as long as the context of the conversation requires their usage.

For instance, if you would like to use the expression “by all means” which means “certainly”, you get into a conversation in which your friend is asking if you could accompany him to the mall to buy something.  If you would like to tag along, then you can respond with “certainly”. But, knowing that you could also use “by all means”, you might want to say it instead.  It is that simple.

PRONUNCIATION

Tip #7: Learn and familiarize yourself with the different American vowel and consonant sounds.

The reason why we, Filipinos, mispronounce English words or have a difficult time with pronouncing them is we cannot produce the American vowel and consonant sounds correctly or we do not know them at all to begin with.  Thus, if you wish to pronounce words correctly, you must learn and be able to produce such sounds.

AMERICAN VOWELS

Depending on your reference, there are actually thirteen (13) different American vowel sounds that you have to master. You have American a, Long a, Italian a, Long e, Short e, Long i, Short i, Long o, Short/Circumflex o, Long u, Short u, Schwa, and Slur.  Each of these sounds is very distinct from each other and you have to know how they sound to be able to produce them correctly in words that have them.  You see, this is how many Americans’ vowel sounds are compared to our only five (5) in Filipino. We only have A (ah), E (eh), I (eeh), O (oh) U (uh) while they have thirteen (13) all in all!

AMERICAN CONSONANTS

On the other hand, it is but equally important that you also be oriented about the unique consonants that Americans have that we don’t in our local phonetics.  For one, we may already have the sounds of “F”, “J’, “V”, “Ch”, and “Ts” in our own street words or slang but we still do not have the sounds of “Voiced th”, “Unvoiced th”, and “American/Soft r”.  Secondly, even if we already have “F” and “V”, we tend to interchange them with local sounds like “P” and B” (voice versus boys or fat versus pat) respectively when we say words that have them.  Also, for English words that require “Voiced or Unvoiced th”, we just produce the sounds “D” and “T” (the versus duh or taught versus thought).  We find it hard to impossible to put our tongue in between our teeth and push air out to produce them correctly.  Lastly, every time we say words that have “R” in them, Our “R” rolls (rrrrr) like how Latinos produce it instead of it sounding softly that way the Americans say it.

This no doubt explains why, even though we are speaking in English or using English words, we sound differently from the native speakers in the States.  We tend to just limit ourselves to our own vowels/consonants even if we are saying words in English.  Therefore, you get wrong pronunciation.

Ergo, I suggest you start researching about these sounds on video-streaming websites like Youtube or look them up on the internet for several E-learning sites that teach them.  You can also invest in manuals/references from the nearest bookstores as an additional means.  Or, if you have the budget, you can take up crash courses in Accent Neutralization or better yet enroll in trainings teaching the American accent or that specialize in Speech Therapy.  For sure, you will learn these sounds from these classes.  Now, once you know them and are able to produce them, apply them every time you speak in English to yourself or with anybody.

Tip #8: Learn how to read the pronunciation symbols in the dictionary.

You cannot learn the pronunciation of all the words in the dictionary and even those words that no dictionary can ever compile, if there is any.  Oxford Dictionaries, on their website (http://oxforddictionaries.com/words/how-many-words-are-there-in-the-english-language), says that there is about a quarter of a million of distinct English words out there.  This does not even include inflections, technical and regional words not covered by their dictionary, or words that are already being used by people but they have not published yet.  Go ahead and memorize them all and you will get crazy.

However, for as long as you know all pronunciation symbols and you know how they sound, you would still know how to pronounce words correctly, especially the commonly-used ones just exactly how Americans say them.

The best source for transcription symbols would be Merriam-Webster.  They offer the easiest-to-understand symbols for all of the sounds.  Below are the different American vowels/consonants and their corresponding symbols as per this dictionary (both online and hard-bound):

VOWELS:

American a (a)

Long a (ā)

Italian a (ä)

Long e (ē)

Short e (e)

Long i (ī)

Short i (i)

Circumflex/Short o (ó)

Long o (ō)

Long u (ü)

Short u (ú)

Schwa (ǝ)

Slur (ǝr)

CONSONANTS:

Voiced th (th)

Unvoiced th (th)

Knowing these sounds and what their respective symbols on Merriam-Webster are, you will not have a problem.  Every time you want to verify how a word you already know or a new word you would come across with is correctly pronounced, just grab your dictionary or go to (www.m-w.com), and read their transcription symbols.  Now, by the time you find out what their correct pronunciations are, stick to them and make sure you use them frequently in your interactions with other people.

HOW TO GET THAT AMERICAN ACCENT

 Tip #9: Watch movies and listen to DJs on FM stations

 Aside from improving your grammar and getting as much vocabulary as you can, the other benefit of watching American flicks or listening to really good DJs on the most famous FM stations there are is getting to observe and mimic how they speak, how they pronounce words, how they produce sounds, how they move and open their mouth, and just getting their overall accent.

You just need to be very flexible, adaptive, and absorptive.  When you observe how Americans talk, you would be able to figure out what the right blend of intonation, tempo, volume, pitch, and quality is.  Also, you can see for yourself how their mouths open and jaws move when they produce their vowels and consonants.

So, there is no harm in trying.  If you desperately need to sound American and so you could ace the application process in any call center you want to apply at, then start doing this now and eventually, you would harvest the fruits of your labor on top of being able to speak really great English.

Last but not least (Tip #10), practice; practice and practice.

PRACTICE ON YOUR OWN

If you are too shy about practicing with other people, then you can just practice all by yourself.  You can practice in front of the mirror so you could see if you look good when you speak in English or you can record yourself while speaking.  Doing the latter, you could critique your grammar; pronunciation; vocabulary; and accent afterwards.

Now, if you spot some human errors, coach yourself and do it again. Keep on recording and coaching yourself until your lapses get lesser and lesser until the point that you do not have any errors anymore.

PRACTICE WITH YOUR FRIENDS

 If you have very willing friends who have all the time in the world to help you, that is even much better.  Have them listen to you while you are speaking.  They can help by either correcting you as you speak or just give you feedback when you are done.  What is even so great about this option is you get to let yourself be helped by people who you know will not let you down and who would criticize you constructively.

Just one reminder though.  Make sure that the person who will assist you is someone who speaks English well himself/herself.  Otherwise, it defeats the purpose.  You get what I mean, do you?

SPEAK WITH AMERICANS

Most certainly, the best way to practice is to apply everything you learn by speaking with an American or a Filipino-American friend/acquaintance.  This person could be a friend’s friend, somebody you bump into the street and asks for directions, someone from work, or somebody you chat with online.  Not only that you get to apply your grammar, pronunciation, accent, and new vocabulary but you are also able to test whether you would be understood or not.

SUMMARY

 Well, that is about it.  These are the strategies that I have employed all these years myself.  I am not sure if they are going to work for you given our individual differences and varied learning styles but if they had worked for me, they MIGHT work for you too. It sure is worth the try.  After all, you get to find something you can do and work on to keep yourself busy and productive every day.  Also, isn’t it that your personal goal is to finally land a job in the call center?  Then, it is not too late yet.  Start now and be a better English speaker.  If you do this diligently and consistently, especially if you are a fast learner like I am, you will be who you need to become in less than a year or at worst, the fewest of years.  There is even a bonus.  If you take heed of my pieces of advice, you will not only claim the chance to correct or enhance your grammar; pronunciation; and vocabulary; you might also end up sounding like you were born and raised in the States yourself.

P.S:

Having a commendable command of the English in terms of speaking it is just one thing.  Of course, most call center application processes also come with call simulations; psychological assessments; IQ tests; and typing examinations.  Most of them even look into your attitude as well.  So, on top of being equipped in terms of speaking the language well, you have to prep yourself up for these other challenges too.

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If you are interested in inviting the expert, Myron Sta. Ana (the Next Big Thing in Corporate, Communications, Leadership, Personal Branding and Excellence, and Motivational/Inspirational Training and Consultancy) in your school or organization to talk about this topic and a lot more, just email him @ Myronosophies@hotmail.com or text/call him at 0927-351-9391 / 368-3214.  Right now, he is still connected with Hinduja Global Solutions as its Corporate Trainer so he is only available during the weekend, Saturday and Sunday.  However, if your affair can only be scheduled during weekdays, just advise him a month before (2-3 weeks in advance at least) so he can make arrangements and can prepare accordingly. :)

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