Thursday, March 13, 2008

Speaking Louder Than We Have To

While studying abroad, I noticed something interesting: something that Americans did especially well - when trying to find someone with whom to communicate, they speak LOUDER and SLLLOOOOWWWER than normal. In fact, they speak so loudly they could wake the dead, and so slowly, I could repaint my living room before they finish their sentence.

The other day, and then again yesterday while at Taco Bell (Mike and I meet there for lunch on occassion), something happened to remind me of those experiences. There was a Mexican man, sitting off to the side, and an American woman sat down beside him, a manager at the restaurant, where, after listening to the conversation, I determined he will be working there.

Very slowly, she sat beside him, and using hand motions (which, by the way, made no sense at all), explained that she doesn't speak Spanish, but she is the manager (sounded like maaannnaajjjjjjeeeeehr) and is delighted (deeeeellliiiighTed) that he is joining her team. You could hear her across the room. And it was only through careful listening that Mike and I were able to determine what, exactly, she was trying to say.

I'm sure he appreciated the gesture. It was kind of her, and she was clearly trying. The thing is, it was probably also embarrassing, and he hadn't a chance of understanding.

When working with someone who doesn't speak the language it IS important to speak slower and enunciate. However, if you speak too slow or enunciate too much, it is impossible to understand.

Once, when my former roommate, Euridice and I were headed somewhere (who knows where - a play, a film, a museum, a restaurant, whatever) when a clearly-American (easy to pick out - jeans and a t-shirt, tennis shoes, fat and loud) tourist approached us and asked, "Doooooooo Youuuuuuu Speeeaaakkkk Eeeeeeengliiiiiissh."

We jumped because she was so loud, and I immediately turned... I don't respond to obnoxious Americans. Euridice, who speaks perfect English - even if she's Portuguese - answered, "Yes. Can I help you?"

The woman turned to her, and scrunched up her face, then said, "You have an accent!" And walked away.

In the defense of others, she was the only person I met who was that bad. But they all asked "Do you speak English" like it was painful. Slow and crawling. It's easier to understand it when it's too fast than too slow. And you look less stupid.

1 comment:

Melody said...

I never asked anyone if they spoke English when I was in Paris. I either attempted French, to which they rolled their eyes and answered in English, or assumed that they spoke English, where upon I was assured that their perfect, accentless English was very poor and completely inadequate for conversing with Americans.