At times, while learning Spanish I was desperate. I wanted to talk with someone so bad I didn’t know what to do. Talking to my tutor twice a week was not enough. Nor was the use of apps such as Hello Talk! or attending Meet-ups. once a month. I also found it hard trying to stir up conversations with native Spanish speakers, in public, when I knew they knew I spoke English due to my accent. They usually responded in English.

Then it hit me! One day my cell phone rang. I looked at it and it was a 1-800 number. A telemarketer. That’s it! I decided I was going to speak Spanish. I answered the phone.

Me: Aló.

Telemarketer: Hello.

Me: Aló. Dígame.

Telemarketer (rapidly):  Hola. Estoy llamando desde XXXwidgets y quería hablar con usted sobre nuestro nuevo programa para. . .

Me: Click!         (I hung up.)

She switched so fast to Spanish that I became nervous and couldn’t think. Also, she spoke faster than I could process. However, I had already opened a can of worms. I would do it again. I promised myself that, the next time, I would do better.

Disclaimer: What follows is a little unethical, but I was desperate.

I tried to think how I could use anticipatory communication to improve my performance. Then, it hit me. I would tell the telemarketer that I couldn’t speak English and that  Spanish was my second language. By doing that I would be able to keep them from trying to force me to use English and force them to speak Spanish, hang up or put on someone who could speak Spanish. Since Spanish would be my second language then they would have to talk slowly because it was not my mother tongue.

The plan was perfect, but what language would I use as my primary language?

To keep them from countering my language with a polyglot telemarketer I had to pick a language that I knew a little bit of, but is not so common for Westerners. I couldn’t use French, Italian, etc.

I chose Swahili.

I knew just enough to throw a person off for a minute or so if necessary. I was ready for the next call.

It came a few days later. I was at home watching TV and the cell phone chimed. It was an unknown number from a state in which I knew no one. It was a telemarketer!

I answered the phone in Spanish. It took him a second to realize that I was speaking another language. He started stumbling and I said, “No hablo inglés.” He asked me to wait and put me on hold. I waited. I started to breathe heavier and told myself to calm down. Another man spoke into the phone.

Telemarketer (TM)

TM: Hola.

Me: Lo siento, pero mi lengua materna es el Swahili, pero puedo hablar español. Por favor habla despacio.

TM: Señor, no hay problema. Yo puedo hacer eso.

From that point we had a nice conversation. He tried to sell me a maintenance plan for my car. In the end, I declined. He was a nice guy as he complimented me on my Spanish and told me I was an intelligent guy for speaking another language. We ended the call and I felt a great sense of accomplishment.

I felt a little weird about saying I didn’t speak English, so I haven’t tried that again. However, I still speak Spanish to TMs when they call. Most of time they just hang up. Yet sometimes, there is that rare moment when they answer back in Spanish and. . .

It’s Showtime!

You can read Bakari’s books MUSCLE: EL InicioSpanish Conversations, Real Spanish  and Spanish Small Talk on Amazon.

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