Not Gonna Reach my Telephone


I still have several … “gaps” in my Dutch, usually more so spoken than written.

There are definitely words or expressions that I don’t always know or remember right away in print, but usually I can reread a few times and figure it out from the context of the rest of the article or paragraph. I can, in fact, get through sizable amounts of adult novels in Dutch when I want to or when I have nothing else available to read, but I’m usually too lazy to do so. I love reading, it makes meΒ  happy and I do not like having to struggle or use a dictionary to do it. I totally acknowledge that this stubbornness is not helping my written Dutch language progression.

When it comes to speaking, I can certainly do that. I know I make grammar errors still, but I find that the more I worry about my sentence structure, the harder time I have actually having a conversation. I usually hear my mistakes and try to remember to correct it for the next time. I have a pretty decent vocabulary when it comes to everyday conversation, although if you’d want me to discuss the current state of politics in Egypt or the principles of physics I’d probably draw several blanks in the terminology department. But I can make small talk and give directions and I use a fairly decent amount of colloquialisms and expressions (so as not to sound like Data). My accent is minimal.

But I totally suck at talking on the phone.

Not only do I have a hard time understanding most people on the phone, but people seem to have a hard time understanding me as well.
As a result I usually completely lock up when I get a phone call from someone I don’t know.
I manage yes and no answers and sometimes I’ll repeat information to make sure I understand it correctly, but that’s it.

Today a person from our insurance called my cell phone and the conversation went something like this:

Me: Hello, with Calliope
Her: Hello, this is the social service office of your health insurance.
Me: Hello.
Her: Um, yes, Mrs. Calliope? Do you speak Dutch?
Me: Yes.
Her: Well, I’m just calling to let you know that we’ll be giving you a call in March to make an appointment to provide you with information regarding your pregnancy.
Me: Okay.
Her: … uh, well, okay, we’ll talk to you then.
Me: Thanks. Bye.

I really must have sounded stupid, or clueless, or mentally deficient in some way, but not only was I having a hard time hearing her over the phone, I was also not sure what I was supposed to add to the conversation. I was grocery shopping and had literally just left the insurance office ten minutes or so earlier. They’d already told me everything she was telling me. She just called to confirm that she had been informed of my visit. I had no questions and I’m really just no good at filler in conversations in Dutch; especially over the phone with a stranger.

Anyway, I hung up feeling like I’d somehow failed in Dutch phone conversation 101. Not that I’m really sure how to improve that particular aspect of talking to people, but it seems like people usually have something better than single word answers, even for calls like this.

Oh well. Hopefully when the representative comes to talk with us face to face I’ll be able to make a better impression.

Or just let Piet do most of the talking.


4 responses »

  1. Don’t despair…you have to remember the weakness of a telephone signal. Telephones, and especially cell phones, do NOT represent the sound frequencies of all the sounds of a language, therefore, we ALL have to fill in the blanks of what is acoustically missing and we normally do that through our knowledge of the language. When it is not your native language, you have that added dimension. So, it is NOT YOU…I know I won’t be able to understand a word anyone says to me on a phone, even if I do get a fundamental vocab. and basic grammar before I get there….

  2. In my experience, telephone conversations are the final frontier in terms of mastering a foreing language. It definitely adds an extra layer of difficulty to any conversation because you’re not looking at the person you’re speaking to (so no body language to read), and like your mum said, there’s always the problem with weak signals and noisy environments. You’re not doing anything wrong, unfortunately like almost everything else dealing with languages, practice makes perfect, and you have already achieved a really high degree of proficiency! πŸ™‚

  3. πŸ™‚

    I tend to get this type of phone calls from India constantly (supplier)
    “Hello with Goofball”
    “Hello with goofball”
    “… oh ”
    “Hello is this Goofball please?”
    “…oh….yes this is qsdkljqsklm from Bangalore calling”
    (yeah I can hear that very clearly)
    “yes, hello, what are you calling for”
    “hello hello, how are you doing”
    “I’m fine, for which incident are you calling?”
    “..oh, yes…you’ve logged an incident”
    “yes indeed, I have logged a great deal of them, for which number are you phoning me”
    “….oh, ok ok…I’m calling for ….”

    argh after 5 minutes of awkwardness I can come to the point.

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