Sometimes It’s All In Your Head

6 January 2015, TV = 1035.9 hours

I needed to make a dental appointment for my semi-annual cleaning and checkup, so I call the hospital whose dental clinic I’ve been using; the phone is answered with an automated message that informs me that I can “press nine for English.”

I hate phone calls in Thai, even though I’ve been handling them fairly well for some time now. But between there being no visuals and the audio quality usually being mediocre to abysmal — especially on a cell phone — I kind of dread them.

I know that I probably should go for the Thai as a learning experience: rise to the challenge and take as much Thai as I can get…I’ve been learning the language for three and a half years, I should be actively combating my Thai-phone-call-phobia by taking advantage of every opportunity that comes up…. Eh, screw that!, I think to myself, as I hit the “9” key on my phone.

A couple seconds pass as I’m patched over to a real person — who greets me in Thai. I could wuss out and respond in English or ask for an English speaker, but I decide to just go with it and respond in Thai. I tell her I want to see a dentist (can’t remember the word for “appointment”) and then I’m connected to someone in the dental department — who, again, answers in Thai.

The connection’s not great — her voice is a little on the faint side, and far from crystal-clear — but it’s good enough. The conversation proceeds fairly smoothly with her asking, and me answering, a series of questions. At one point she asks me something and although I can’t understand or even catch any of the words she’s just used, I’m pretty sure that she’s asking if I’ve been to the hospital (or perhaps the dental clinic) before, so I tell her that I’ve seen a dentist there in the past.

I must have gotten it right because the next few questions concern my name, after which she’s able to look me up in the computer and, bam! just like that I’m told I can come in the following morning, just like I wanted. No need to wait several weeks for an appointment — how’s that for Thai efficiency?

I hang up the phone with a slight feeling of satisfaction.

Sometimes these things are all in your head.

4 thoughts on “Sometimes It’s All In Your Head

  1. Andrej

    I also dread making phone calls in any foreign language regardless of my level. In Thai, I can handle them fairly well if the signal is good, but if the audio quality is on the bad side, as it often is, it’s really painful. I hate asking the person on the other side to repeat every second sentence, it makes me feel incompetent, so I rely more on guessing what could have been said, but that sometimes doesn’t work. I’ve read and heard many times that making phone calls in a foreign language is considered to be one of the most difficult things to do for foreign speakers, so we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if it doesn’t go as smoothly as we wished it would.

    Thinking about the communicative situation of a phone call, I’m sure there must be strategies to make it easier. One that comes to mind is to get into a habit of confirming our understanding by repeating what we’ve heard, along the lines of “Did I hear you correctly that …?”, “The connection is pretty bad, can I repeat what you said? You asked me if …”, “Did you ask me whether …?” etc.

  2. adamf2011 Post author

    Early on I remember phone calls where I’d listen to the other person and then just be like, errr, ไม่เข้าใจ — over and over throughout the call. It was, as you’ve said, quite painful.

    One thing that I’m still not fully used to, despite three and a half years of Thai via ALG, is going with my instincts when I don’t understand the words that someone’s just said, but feel that I understand the meaning. I’d say most of the time when I feel I understand the meaning, I’m (at least approximately) right, even if I haven’t understood any of the words. In the phone-call-anecdote above, I trusted my instinct that she’d just asked me if I’d been to the clinic in the past — and I was right. But sometimes in that situation, I’ve either asked them to repeat themselves or paraphrased back to them what they just said. After all this time, I still have the urge to get confirmation. But usually it’s better to just reply assuming that I’m right — and if the conversation then totally derails, then I’ll know I was mistaken.

    In any event, it’s not easy and I don’t at all think that with today’s phone call I’m going to be over the phone call hump. To say the least, I’m still not enthused about talking on the phone in Thai; and I’m sure there are some epic phone call fails just waiting to happen — which’ll be great gist for future posts… 😉

  3. adamf2011 Post author

    Yeah, there’s a gap between “total mastery” of the language (if that’s even possible) and “good enough” for a particular situation. Merely “good enough” still entails some uncertainty (did they really just say what I think they just said? what was that bit at the end that I didn’t get, and how important was it? will I be able to reply successfully?), which can be stressful. On the other hand, getting through a situation and accomplishing what you need to at the “good enough” level is still an achievement and an indication of having reached a certain level of proficiency — so I’ll take it for now! 😀

    Anyway, thanks for dropping by and offering encouragement!


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