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Ring, ring ...

Think of the scariest thing you have to do in another language. Something that makes your palms sweat and forces you to pace the floor as your mind races in preparation for the task you are about to undertake. You will think of any excuse to avoid this task: tell yourself it’s not important, you don’t have to do it, pretend it’s too early / too late / not a good time, wash already clean floors and do the dishes, even the ironing! Well, maybe not the ironing.

For me this task is making phone calls. Typing the words sends shivers down my spine. I hate making phone calls in a language I’m not yet comfortable with. I would rather walk 10 km in the rain to an office and speak to someone in person than call them from the comfort of my own home. Some might call it an irrational fear, oh but it is rational. When talking on the phone it’s just your voice and your language skills laid bare. There are no papers or pictures to help you make a point, no facial or hand gestures to fall back on*.

There is also little preparation you can do to ensure an effective phone call – it’s the luck of the draw. Sure, you can prepare what you’re going to say, but you can’t prepare for the answer you’ll get in return, or how fast that person will speak, or new and mysterious words they’ll choose to use. You can ask the speaker to repeat what they said, of course, but this only adds to my stress. And then there are the pauses. Oh the dreaded pauses of failed comprehension, on your part or theirs. I once had someone hang up on me, not in a rude way but in a, “that’s all I can help you with, ok bye bye” way as my question hung in the air after she’d left the conversation. Oh the SHAME!

So how to cope with this fear? Do it anyway. Not all phone conversations in a second language will be awful. The ones that work out can give a huge boost to your confidence, and anyway, each attempt is practice. These days I try not to put off making calls for too long. The longer I wait, the more stressful the phone call seems. I prepare a few key words, practise my intro and then leave the rest up to fate

*This is only partially true. I do use facial expressions and hand gestures, but they’re of little use when I’m standing in a room alone. Plus, flapping my hands and pulling faces are of little use in general.

Photo by Luis Quintero on Unsplash

From the article
undertake   do
an irrational fear   a fear that isn’t logical / a fear that doesn’t make sense
laid bare   reveal / show
to fall back on something   when you can use something if your first option fails
the luck of the draw   when you can’t do anything about a situation because it is the result of chance
on your part or theirs   because of you or because of them
hang up on me   someone ended the phone call when I was still talking
hang in the air   when a solution isn’t found / given
cope with   manage
to put off (+ ing)   delay / postpone
leave the rest up to fate   let things happen without trying to change or prevent them

When telling a story (maybe you’re telling a friend or classmate about something that happened to you) instead of saying that you were scared, frightened or stressed, you can use some descriptive language. Take a look at the first and second paragraphs and notice the underlined phrases that are used to describe a scary situation.


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