When you’re working in a call center, whether in a voice or non-voice account, part of your training will likely be to improve your English communication skills. This is mostly applicable to accounts with clients overseas. One of the reasons the BPO offshore outsourcing industry has grown so much in the Philippines is that foreign clients acknowledge that Filipinos are good English speakers.
Although English is not our native language, it has become our second language and as you know, it has been used as a medium of instruction in most schools and universities. When applying for a call center job, the ability to speak proper English is a plus because it will be easier for you to communicate with your foreign clients or customers over the phone.
If you feel like you are struggling with your English skills, don’t fret. Any skill can be learned, but you have to acknowledge that you need to learn and it’s not gonna happen overnight. As you go through this article, you have to remember that communication is a two-way street.
You’re not just talking to yourself. You are imparting or sending information to a receiver, and in return, that receiver will respond to your message. Also, communication is not just verbal. This also involves non-verbal communication such as your body language or mannerisms. It’s not only done face-to-face.
In fact, in your case, communication happens over the phone which makes things a little more challenging. In some accounts, communication involves sending emails and responding to them, or assisting customers via chat support. It’s a very broad term!
In this article, I’m going to share some practical ways to improve your English communication skills. These were what I’ve always shared with my trainees, and some of what I’ve practiced to improve my communication skills.
1. Think English, write English, speak English.
It’s a common practice for Filipinos to translate the native languages into English. Have you ever watched movies that have English subtitles? When the movie is a Bisaya movie for example, and you’re reading the English subtitles, sometimes the message gets lost in translation. Although the translation is literally correct, there are just statements or expressions that don’t sound right when translated to English.
In movies though, the translations and subtitles are necessary. But in a call center setting, I’d always recommend to start thinking in English before speaking in English. When you’re thinking in your native language and then translate it to English afterwards, it may not sound right anymore when you verbally communicate it.
If you’re like me who always finds writing an effective therapy, then start writing in English. This way, your mind will get used to thinking in English. Just to be clear, this is not to discount our native languages. I respect each language greatly, but since we are talking about the call center setting that largely depends on English communication, then it’s just appropriate that English is discussed.
2. Read English books.
Okay, if you start to think, write, and speak English – then why not start reading English books too. If you’re not into books, you can start reading English magazines, or whatever type of reading materials you like. You don’t even have to buy new ones. Just have fun reading whatever’s available in your house or in the office.
I love reading so much, and I think it’s one of the real reasons that I’ve become more confident with my written and spoken English communication skills. When you read a lot, your brain becomes accustomed to the English language. Another great thing is that you enhance and improve your English vocabulary and choice of words.
While reading, I also take time to quickly Google a difficult word for its meaning or pronunciation. If it’s just leisure reading, sometimes we just take the meaning from its context, right? But if you’re on your way to improve your communication skills, have a handy dictionary beside you.
Do you notice when sometimes you run out of words to say? Sometimes it’s because you don’t have enough English words in your arsenal. Now go stock up so that you’re fully equipped when it’s time for battle!
3. Watch English movies (or TV shows).
What a fun way to improve English, ayt?! Yup, go on a movie marathon and watch English movies. With English movies, you get to visually observe conversations done in English. When you do that often, it becomes rooted in you. English becomes second nature and you will realize that you are already using the phrases and sentences you’ve observed from the movies.
Remember that when speaking with customers over the phone, you never use Old English like “Thy will be done, Sir. Where art thou so I can deliver your order?” You will be conversational while still using appropriate customer-centric words and statements. Watching English movies will help you converse in a more natural manner.
You also get to learn idiomatic expressions that only Americans (or British) use. You learn to understand slang terms or colloquial language too. This is more casual and conversational and will likely be used by your customers such as “Whatchagonna do?” or “Ayt, imma call ya later honey.” But this is not to suggest that you also use these colloquial terms. You have to abide by what’s taught to you during training or ask if you are allowed to use such terms.
4. Look for an accountability or practice partner.
The best way to learn is through application. If you can, find an accountability or practice partner. Your partner should be willing to work with you to improve your communication skills. You can practice conversing in English for an hour everyday. You can also do mock calls with your partner. Mock calls are a great way to apply what you have learned from training.
This is also one good way for you to practice listening. As I’ve mentioned earlier, communication is a two-way street. You don’t just talk. You should also listen. By having a practice partner, you learn to ask relevant questions to show that you’re listening. You also learn to paraphrase statements to better understand the person you’re speaking with.
You can also return the favor to your partner if he or she wants to practice or improve too. It’s a win-win situation!
Back in my training classes, everyone is required to speak English in the classroom so that trainees can practice. I think most call centers do that. I’d personally asked my trainees to speak English even when they’re just talking with their seatmates. That way they’d be more comfortable with the language.
5. Record yourself while speaking.
I used to do this a lot during my training days. I’d record my opening spiel. I’d create possible customer scenarios and I’d try to give possible resolutions – all while talking to myself and hearing myself speak too. Back then, I lived alone and I was more comfortable practicing on my own.
Recording your voice will let you adjust what you think isn’t right with the way you speak or communicate. You can even observe if your breathing is okay, if your tone of voice is appropriate, or if you talk too fast, and all other aspects of your voice. You can have your friend or a family member listen to the recording so they can also give feedback.
This is also one way to be aware of yourself. You won’t know what to improve unless you’ve heard it or have someone point it out to you.
6. Practice English tongue twisters!
If you aren’t keen on reading books out loud, then reading or reciting tongue twisters is a good speech exercise! Don’t know where to find tongue twisters? One Google search is all you need and you’ll get hundreds or even thousands of them. Go practice! 😀
7. Be open to feedback.
Again, communication is a broad term. It encompasses so many important aspects in our daily life, and the tips I’ve shared here are only a small part of what you have to learn, but I assure you, they do create results if you put them into action. As they say, start with the basics and work your way from there.
With your daily practice, you will find that some people will correct you or will provide unsolicited constructive feedback, accept them with a grateful heart as they come. You will learn a lot even from those you least expect to learn from. If you don’t like the way someone provides feedback, then speak to him or her about it.
A lot of my pronunciation and grammar mistakes have been corrected because of the constructive feedback given to me, and I’m always thankful for them. As they say, nobody’s perfect! So what’s important is you’re willing to correct yourself and learn from the process. Go on, practice, and be patient with yourself.