Note: Culture and globalization is part of a travel blog that I wrote during an extended business trip to India. I spent two months in New Delhi as my employer implemented a new business unit in two of its call centers. In addition to my professional work, I took time to study Hindi, an effort that fostered greater co-operation and trust among my Indian business associates. It also helped me better understand the culture. We believe that language opens a gateway to understanding culture. These pages focus on my observations and experiences in India. While I was there, I practiced Walkabout Language Learning. See the list of "More India Stories" on this page to explore how culture and language intertwine.
Have you ever experienced culture through globalization? Have you ever called your credit card company and got a phone agent in the Philippines? Have you called for technical support and been helped by a representative in India? Have you tried to make plane reservations and spoken to a reservation specialist in South Africa? If you have, you have experienced the new world of off-shore customer support.
I worked for a number of years in the customer care industry. The company I worked for focuses on taking care of other companies’ customers. The company provides services in three major areas: technical support, customer service, and employee care.
For example, in the technical support arena, they provide technical support for major software and hardware manufacturers like Microsoft, Dell, and Cisco Systems.
In the customer service arena they provide outsourced customer service for major companies, for example, utility companies, credit card companies, and food manufacturers. For example, if you call your credit card company at XYZ Bank , you may speak with a phone agent that works for our company. They answer the phone as representatives of XYZ Bank, but our company provides the employees and the call center infrastructure for XYZ Bank. It allows XYZ Bank to focus on their core business--banking--while our company provides services in our core business--call centers. This service is supposed to be invisible to the customer. Instead of answering the phone by saying, "Thanks for calling Acme Call Centers working on behalf of XYZ Bank," they say, "Thanks for calling XYZ Bank."
In the employee care arena, they provide human resources for other companies. Much of this work is provided through inbound and outbound call centers.
With the technology boom, telecommunications have improved enough that some of this work is done off-shore. With a large English speaking population, India is an area where our company set up several call centers.
In 2003, my company sent me to help launch a new account in Gurgaon, India, a suburb of New Delhi. Although I was there on business, I also wanted to learn one of the languages of India. India doesn't have a national language, the Indian constitution recognizes twenty two languages and there are more than a thousand other languages spoken in India. Hindi is the most widely spoken language in India. I wanted to practice Walkabout Language Learning while I was there, but I knew that I had limited time--I spent two months in India. To get a jump on my language practice before I went, I bought Teach Yourself Hindi. I found it to be a nice introduction to the language. It includes a book with short dialogs and grammar exercises, along with audio CD's that provide the pronunciation and practice for the exercises in the book. I took along a portable battery powered CD player, and listened to my Hindi CD daily. Thus, I began my journey to learning about culture and globalization.
I started my studies by memorizing the first dialog: "Pratap, from London, meets his Delhi host" (Step three: Practice of Walkabout Language Learning). Then each time I met someone new, I practiced this memorized passage (Step four: Communicate). I always got a favorable reaction from people I met and it opened doors for me while I was there.
This blog includes a highlights from my journal and my own personal reflections. I'm no expert on Indian, and share my personal observations. Many of them highlight the surprising, and sometimes humorous cultural differences between our countries. I am convinced that learning a language opens the doors to understanding another culture.
Dil Parkinson taught me Arabic when I studied it at BYU. He summarizes how learning a language can change a person's view of the world. "I just don't think you can really connect with other people unless you speak their language and can understand them a little bit. It's mind expanding. If you don't know another language, you end up thinking that all sorts of things are universal that aren't." (Humanities Magazine, Brigham Young University College of Humanities, Fall 2015, p. 10.)
Shortly after I returned from India, Dil published an article about the difficulties of learning a language--his expertise is Arabic, but his comments relate to any language. He explained several reasons why it is hard for an adult to learn a new language. First, learning a language takes a lot of practice (Step four: Communicate). He says: "It does seem clear, however, that the methods that work the best are a combination of a little direct teaching of the facts and a lot of creating situations that allow students to practice using the language inside and outside of class. These latter methods are relatively indirect, and they don’t have an immediate payoff. Students often feel frustrated and feel they are not making progress. The students who eventually do make the break to a kind of fluency, however, are the ones who throw themselves into these activities and simply try to communicate with abandon, working around and through their frustration until a breakthrough finally comes."
He also points out that once a person reaches a certain level of fluency, it is common for him or her to give up on learning more. "One of the clearest results of language teaching research is that when a student becomes satisfied with what he knows, when he feels he 'knows the language,' he almost immediately ceases to make progress." I know this is a challenge because I have reached that stage from time to time in my own language development. I hope that as you work on your language study, you'll continue to refer back to the "Rate Yourself" language guidelines to push yourself through the Intermediate stage (I suspect this is where most of us stop; once we can meet our daily needs, the urgency to learn more just to survive stops), to Advanced, and then push some more until you reach Distinguished. Even Dil, my esteemed professor after more than forty years of professional teaching and study of Arabic admits: "I find myself using incorrect forms in the heat of a conversation, breaking rules that I’ve known for years ... Why do native speakers never make mistakes like the ones I make? What is the difference between their knowledge and mine?"
Read the whole article: “We Have Received, and We Need No More.”
Next: Welcome to Delhi →
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