Thursday, May 31, 2007

Weekend wrap up (part 1)

I hate slow talk.

So Ken Carroll of chinesepod.com linked to my post where I said I hated slow input. We discussed it a little on chinesepod.com's discussion section.

I respect his opinion, and I know that most people think they need slow input.

I personally think slow input is a placebo.

Why? Because if you don't know a word's meaning, saying it slowly doesn't help you with the meaning. It also distorts the natural intonation of an utterance, so forget trying to use any paralinguistic strategies involving context.

When we say "input" we mean, technically speaking, the initial presentation of vocabulary and/or grammar to the learner. Those of us who claim to use the 'communicative method' use real communication to present input. Our pronunciation may be a little careful, and slower than, say, a teenager, but as a rule, we present input in context; i.e., in a real sentence, with a real message that is relevant to the student.

I believe slow language is totally inappropriate for input. Slow language is ok for clarification, for pronunciation practice, but input? No.

But JP, some people talk too fast for me to understand!

First of all, this situation is usually not input.

Second, speed is probably not the real problem. Usually, if you don't understand something, it's because they are talking too much, not too fast. That's assuming you're capable of understanding their words. If you don't know the words they're saying, no amount of slow is going to help you understand.

If someone is talking too much at you, interrupt them. Ask for clarification, try repeating what you did hear, whether you understood it or not. Take a wild guess at what you think the person is saying, and say it back to them as a question.

Saying "talk slower please" might get you good results when you don't understand someone in your own language. However, more often than not, if you ask a European to talk slower, chaaaaaaanceeeeees. Aaaaaarrrrrrreee. Thhhhhhheeeeeeeyyy. Wiiiiiiillllll. Taaaaaaaallllk. in a way that is slow, detached, distorted, and ultimately not helpful.

Anyway, whatever. Not important to most people.

Vancouver customer service

Far be it from be to draw sweeping conclusions based on a few experiences. I'll just tell you what my sister and I experienced.

  • She called to confirm our hotel room, the guy on the phone said, "yah, we have you're reservation." Period. There was an awkward pause, and then she realized she had to ask him to actually confirm the details (number/size of beds? length of stay?). Hello!
  • The waiters at Guu served us some delicious food, but seriously, three of them asked us for our drink orders, and one of the dishes we ordered never came. We asked twice, and finally told them to cancel it after we got tired of being there.
  • We stopped at a computer store; they didn't have the part we were looking for, and wouldn't tell us where we could find it. Laughed, actually, that we would ask him.
  • Went to another computer store; receptionist told us to follow a passing employee, who did not stop to acknowledge us. Hello?
  • Teenage cashiers too busy talking to each other to notice us waiting to buy our kitchen utensils. Manager scolds them in front of us. Smoooooth.
  • We were totally ignored in a number of stores on Robson Street.
  • Greek restaurant we went to for breakfast only had a few tables, but the one waitress was totally slammed, as she let the few customers sit as far apart as possible. When customers came in, she told them "hope you find a clean table."
To be fair, we got good customer service at La Bodega for tapas, and also at Ecco Shoes and Abruzzo. We tried to draw a generalization that it was white people giving us bad service, and asians giving us good service, but then some asians gave us bad service....

2 comments:

Chadwick said...

I know nothing about learning a language (I use some of the excuses you described earlier), but I have seen variable customer service!

Nora and I had a weird run in Baltimore in April. One restaurant was having a meltdown; the staff had no clue how to handle the crisis. They were terribly polite, one woman kept apologizing and saying 'it'll be here soon.' It took over an hour to get a cheese quesadill and fettuchini Alfredo.

The car rental company had very slow employees at the desk, and a long line of impatient travelers (which is a whole other category of rudeness. Travel can bring out the worst in people...)

The comic book shop people carried on personal banter while we were trying to pay. They weren't quite overtly rude, but it was very unprofessional, even for a comic book shop.

I have no conclusion to draw, just wanted to share.

bitchphd said...

Ah, these specific examples of customer service: I'ma chalk them up to Canada. At least, the "yes we have your reservation"--silence kind of thing and the "no we don't have that" "hahahaha, you think we'll tell you where to get it?" kind of thing. It drove me battyass when I was there. A very literal people, those Canadians.b