Dominika – How having a second language can be a benefit in becoming a call handler.
Length of service: 1½ years
Why did you want to join Contact Management?
I wanted a job that was varied but also made a difference to people’s lives. I previously worked in retail so I thought I had the transferable skills like being able to communicate with people and was drawn to TVP because I have been a Special and a Volunteer with TVP previously.
How did you feel joining Contact Management with English being your second language?
I was concerned at first because I was worried that when people are in stressful situations they can rush through their words or mumble and this can make understanding what they need to convey to us even more challenging. But I felt like I was confident and even if I had to ask people to repeat what was said, that happens to my other colleagues who do have English as their first language, so I didn’t let that worry become a barrier to me applying for the job.
How does having a second language help?
Quite a few times I will help my colleagues if they are taking a call from a native Polish speaker – we do use an interpreters line but that can take a bit of time to feed through and may frustrate that caller whereas I can take that call and translate immediately what needs to be conveyed to our despatch & radio operators because urgency is important.
Having an understanding of different cultures is important too: sometimes people will have different expectations from our 999 service as something that is deemed a police service in one country isn’t the same in the UK, so I can help explain those differences and ensure we are communicating with the correct partnering agency.
What do you feel the main benefits of having a second language as a call handler are?
Generally having a second language makes that individual very open to learning and sometimes I pay a little more attention to the details than I might do if English wasn’t my second language. For example I may get people to spell out their addresses to ensure we are going to the correct house or last names! Thames Valley covers such a vast area it’s important that we get of the information and don’t assume that we know where someone is directing us to because we can’t quite understand them properly.
Is there anything you’ve struggled with & how have you overcome that?
Sometimes when I’m under pressure my thoughts can get jumbled especially when trying to think in a different language. I’ve overcome that by having experience mostly! Building my confidence and harnessing my ability to think clearly under pressure.
What would be your best advice for people wanting to join Contact Management who has English from a second language?
From a practical point of view – listen to as a much talk radio as you can where people can phone in. Quite often the call quality isn’t great and you can start to give yourself some experience of trying to obtain information from someone in a different language when the quality isn’t quite right; that can be difficult and probably one of the closest things you can do to get experience of what we listen to.
Don’t be discouraged if you experience a caller asking to speak to a native English speaker – this can happen because people are stressed – you have the same training and are as able as any of your colleagues to help the public and take 999/101 calls. Mostly just don’t be afraid to ask – everyone asks questions, not just those who use English as their second language.