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Call Center Applicants How-to's: Improving your English speech

The Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry in the Philippines is very accepting when it comes to hiring call center personnel. Compared to other fields, most call centers are open to employing anyone regardless of age, sex, and educational attainment as long as you have the basic skill required for the work: speaking English. Make no mistake, it’s not the only skill needed but without it, you might as well consider another job.

Another option is, not to give up and actually make an effort to improve your spoken English. We asked a Training Specialist from a BPO admissions training company, April Ibay, to help identify the most common problems of call center applicants. What’s more, Ibay offers self-help tips to address these issues, backed up by her several years of experience in English as a Second Language (ESL) as a module developer for an ESL company, online teacher to Japanese students and English instructor in Thailand.

So whether you are a newbie hoping to make it in the BPO world or a call center veteran in need of a tune-up, help yourself below!

English-speaking problems

When it comes to language, Ibay explains that the most prevalent issues with call center applicants mostly involve lapses in pronunciation and diction, which can be hard to unlearn, especially for speakers with a regional accent. Another problem area is grammar, especially subject-verb agreement and verb tenses.

On top of these, applicants who have failed their interviews before, and those who are applying to call centers for the first time, also struggle with confidence issues and are intimidated by the interview process. (Read: Call Center Applicants How-to's: Improving your Attitude)

For this article, our primary focus is the speech problems of call center applicants.

Consonants

According to Ibay, Filipinos are prone to interchanging the following sounds:

  • P/F  - examples given, ‘Philippines’ gets pronounced as 'Pilipins'; 'Photographer' becomes 'Potograper', 'of' becomes 'op'
  • Th (voiced)/D - e.g,- 'Mother' becomes 'Moder'; 'Together' becomes 'Togeder'
  •  Th (soft/unvoiced)/ T   - e.g., 'something' becomes 'someting';'bath' becomes 'bat'; 'three' becomes 'tree'
  • B/V  - e.g.- 'believe' becomes 'belib'; 'very' becomes 'beri'

Vowels

Our native language, Tagalog, only has five vowels: the /a e i o u/ we learned in Filipino class. In English, however, these vowels are pronounced in various ways, which the unused Pinoy tongue often have trouble with:

  •  short u/ short a sounds - e.g.- 'cut' becomes 'cat', 'hut' becomes 'hat'
  •  short i/ long e sounds - e.g., 'bin' becomes 'been'.
  • short e ('eh') becomes short i ('ih') - e.g., 'industry' becomes 'endustree' (especially common for those with regional accents)
  • short o/ long o - e.g.- 'model' becomes 'mow-del'
  • short e (‘eh’) becomes long a (‘ey’) – ‘special’ becomes 'ispeyshal'
  • schwa - the vowel sound in many lightly pronounced unaccented syllables in words of more than one syllable. It is sometimes signified by the pronunciation "uh" or symbolized by an upside-down rotated e. A schwa sound can be represented by any vowel".) e.g., the last syllable in the word 'sugar' gets enunciated; so instead of saying 'shu-guhr'; it becomes 'shu-gAr' ; 'available' becomes 'aveylabol'

Sound Linking

A common example used to illustrate this issue, as Ibay points out, is "May I have a cup of coffee, please?" In most cases, call center applicants would enunciate each word, resulting in a statement that sounds rather choppy instead of linking the sounds together for a more natural flow to the sentence. If spelled out phonetically, the sentence should sound like: 'Mayyai havuh cupov coffee please?’

Intonation

The usual error here, Ibay says, is when declarative statements are said like a question. (i.e,- have a rising intonation towards the end of the statement)

For example: "I worked as a service crew in Jollibee." sounds like "I worked as a service crew in Jollibee?"

Self-help tips:

Call center trainees usually undergo two weeks of speech and other soft skills trainings. That time, however, is not enough to unlearn what Ibay calls “fossilized” errors – those that you have developed over your lifetime. Language is a habit, she explains, so try as much as you can to study and practice outside of formal training. She suggests doing the following:

Befriend your dictionary.

Apart from giving the definition, the handy-dandy wordbook also has a pronunciation guide. Online dictionaries even have an audio clip that would let you listen to how the word is pronounced.

 If you don't have an online/electronic dictionary, familiarize yourself with the International Phonemic Alphabet (IPA).

A simpler version can be found in here. Learning the IPA will help you make sense of the pronunciation guide that you usually find beside the word.

Record yourself.

Most smartphones have a voice recording function. Listen to and/or record a native speaker, then try to imitate how he/she says something. After recording your own voice, listen to both statements again (the native speaker's and the one that you've recorded) and evaluate how well you've done. Try doing this with short phrases and sentences first, and then progress to whole paragraphs and short passages. Do this for at least 10 minutes every day and make note of the improvements you make. You can also use the voice recorder on Kalibrr.

Check out these websites that can help regarding pronunciation and intonation.

Sharpen your listening skills.

Expose yourself to English shows, listen to English music. Learning doesn't have to be a chore. You can choose stuff that interests you and try building up from there.

Following the above tips to improve your English can increase your chances of landing that call center job you’ve been vying for. But remember, this is only the first problem area of call center applicants. For more self-help advice, check out these tips to improve your grammar and build your confidence.

If you have more questions, let us know in the comments below.