Q: I do a lot of work for a company that markets its products worldwide. I regularly telephone sales reps and customers in Latin America and Europe, but I don’t speak any of their languages. I’ve been told, when calling these offices, simply to speak in English after the other party answers the phone in his own language. The firm’s overseas employees are all required to know English. I feel awkward doing this, since I’m essentially imposing my language on them. Also, beginning the conversation with an apology for not speaking their language seems odd and inappropriate. What’s the best way to handle this?
A: You may be over-anxious about the situation. I say this based on the fact that your company’s policy includes a requirement that overseas employees be able to speak English. That said, you might feel better if you learned how to greet the people you’re calling in their native language before asking them to switch to English. It would be a nice gesture of respect toward them, and would make you feel less awkward as well.