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Maybe “Keep Calm and Speak English” is a good slogan after all…

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Last week, I wrote about a ‘job’ that required being recorded saying various things in English, as a native English speaker. They called back a few days ago, asking if we could ‘take part’ again.

There were no Xboxes this time, but iPhones instead, and the things we were required to say were different to those of last time too. Off the top of my head, today’s recordings included:
– snippets of news articles, headlines and political analyses, like: One in 7 parents said their child spent longer playing with the gift wrapping than the toy itself.

– random dates and times, phone numbers, some random figures, some random addresses (in the UK), and some suspect-looking 16 digit numbers (obviously credit card numbers!?)

– strange email addresses and website URLs (“h t t p colon forward slash forward slash w w w dot…”  These took some time…)

– random sentences, for example: I see every cupcake baked, every sequin sewn. We are strong when our opponents are weak. Having visited India, I have seen first hand the tremendous progress being made. A wonderful collection of photos showing Tower Bridge under construction has come to light.

– random words, random letters to spell out and various search topics, like Virgin flights, current Arsenal captain, University of Chile, Korea Electricity Power, Sonny With A Chance.

– follow various instructions, like: Tell the hotel that you will arrive very late but that you will definitely want to take the reserved room, Tell your speech-savvy mobile phone to organise a conference call with [name], Give the navigation system the coordinates of your favourite restaurant (name, address, city), Call a bookstore to enquire about the availability, price and edition of a book.

– answer various questions: Please tell me how to spell your name, What apps do you use most often on your mobile?, Where were you born?, Describe your favourite mobile.

Not that any of the above were the least bit worth knowing, but after today’s recordings I really wondered what they were doing, especially because of the addresses and credit card numbers. I googled the company website though, and it’s all legit – building a database, ‘collecting speech data’.

Before all this, however, while we were sitting in the little waiting room, waiting to be called in to ‘work’, we were approached by a guy who worked there, who explained to us (by this, I mean spoke for about 10 seconds) that he was making a surprise video for his girlfriend (why?), and he wanted recordings of lots of people wishing her (again, why??). Apparently, they’d been together eight years, and he said “we might be getting married next year”. It was one of those situations where you can’t really/aren’t supposed to say no, so we asked him what language, English or Chinese? He said any language at all will do. Obviously this seemed a little odd, as if it wasn’t strange enough already, if your significant other presented you with a video of random people you don’t know at all saying things you don’t understand (although you’re told they’re all wishing you well), how would you react? So, jokingly, at least I hope so, Beth said “Well, how about Japanese then? (pointed at herself) or German? (pointed at me) Or Arabic! (still pointing at me)”.

We laughed it off but he seemed pretty keen on this, so we agreed that because we both did German A-Level, we could come up with something in German. We asked him to give us a minute to think of what we’d say because thinking in a totally different language after such a long time without any practice proved really difficult. Instead of leaving the little room for a few minutes, he just stood there and watched us, and we couldn’t handle that kind of pressure… so we told him we’d just do it in English. He told us his girlfriend’s name, and that at the end of our message we should address her by name and say, in Chinese, “I wish you well” and “I love you”.
Ooookay then.
With that awkwardness over, he thanked us and left the room.
Phew, done.


He returned a few minutes later….and asked Beth to do it in Japanese after all, because apparently the more international, the better.

Then he turned to me.

The Boyfriend: Can you do it in Arabic? ^_^”

Me: Uhh, no, sorry, I really don’t speak anything but English.

The Boyfriend: Oh.. German then? (^-^)

Me: *sideways evil glance at Beth for landing us in this* Sorry… I don’t think so.

He looked back at Beth, who told him to come back in 5minutes because she needed to think about how to say it all in Japanese.
It turned out we couldn’t even come up with any German together, so I thought I was off the hook and relaxed while Beth fretted about the guy’s return. (Actually, I lie, my mind was thinking of who I could quickly message on WhatsApp and find a way to redeem myself for my clearly disappointing inability to be able to come up with some congratulatory message in a language other than English 😦 )

So, the guy returns, iPhone ready in hand, films Beth’s Japanese, smiles happily and then moves to focus his camera on me, looking at me expectantly.

Me: Um, what?

The Boyfriend: Mhm ^_^

Me: I…I…uhh….I can’t…

The Boyfriend: No Arabic? No German? ~_~

Beth: What about Guja… what is that..? Guju…Gujrati…? Gujarati? O.o

Me: *shoots murderous glance at Beth*

The Boyfriend: Yes! Ok, ready, steady, go! *^_^*

I have no idea and no recollection of what I said next, possibly a translation of Beth’s Japanese. It’s not as if it’ll be understood by anyone who ever sees it anyway. ::>_<::

He bowed to us in thanks as he left the room.

Ah, well.


About Ibtehaal

I graduated with a degree in Chinese and Economics, which involved spending a year studying Chinese in Beijing. This turned out to be the hardest but most rewarding thing I think I have ever done. I've now returned to China for another year, to study in Shanghai and figure out my next steps.

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