Sunday, December 14, 2014

Taking Phone Messages in a Spanish Community Service Learning Course

by Ann Abbott

I already know that some (most?) of my colleagues think that community service learning and languages for specific purposes are not intellectual enough. Not theoretical enough. They've even used the term "Mickey Mouse" to describe the work.

If they only knew that I have my students practice taking phone messages over and over!

Why? Because it's difficult. It requires high levels of listening comprehension. They need complete accuracy. From all the information that is thrown at them, they have to understand it, re-arrange it, evaluate it, prioritize it and then re-write it for the message reader.

That's hard! 

And it's necessary for their work in the community. Absolutely necessary.

So despite what my colleagues would say if they knew (maybe they do know...), I spend time on this each semester. You can't help in the community if you get phone numbers wrong, misspell names, give incomplete information or leave unclear instructions.

I have really smart students. I have students who are very good at being students. But you'll see from the samples below how challenging this exercise is for them. 

The original message: "BUSCANDO a alguien que pinte cuadros al oleo, acuarela o lapiz dentro de la comunidad Guatemalteca. Hay un evento en un museo de campus y quisieramos su participacion. Tambien si alguien toca algun tipo de musica Maya seria bueno que se comunicaran conmigo por inbox al [telephone number] (Mauricio last name) Gracias"

Incomplete information

Despite the fact that we talk about and do activities about how important it is to have complete information on a message, this message is missing the date, time, and the checks in the boxes beside the actions.

In a busy, cramped office, what happens if this message gets dropped? If someone finds it, how will they know if the information is still timely?

And what does the last sentence mean: "Alguien que toca"? 

Incorrect information

The first sentence in the message area is incorrect; it makes it sound as if he is looking for someone who will paint Guatemalans.

Incomplete information

Again we have the incomplete top and middle portions of the message. The telephone number is at the bottom of the pad instead of the place toward the middle where it should go.

Incorrect Information

The name (Mauricio Salinas) is spelled incorrectly.

The first part of the message section is too confusing.

It is great, though, that they wrote down "tocan música maya." That is correct. But the sense of the message is lost. He is looking for people in the community who can play Mayan music.

Finally, the telephone number is incorrect. This person wrote 7933 instead of 6933--a very common mistake!

Incomplete information

The top part of this message is incomplete, but the information in the message section is much better. It is more complete and more understandable.

Incorrect information

There is no incorrect information here! The student first wrote a "7" instead of a "6" in the last four digits of the telephone number but then corrected it. 

This was one of the very best messages. This student has studied abroad for a semester and has previous experience working in professional environments taking messages.

Incomplete information

All the possible parts of message form are complete! (I didn't tell them who the message was for, so they didn't have a name to put in the top space.)

Incorrect information

The phone number is totally off and doesn't have the correct number of digits.

The information in the message pad is difficult to understand. Here is the test: will the person who receives the message understand what they are supposed to do next and will they be able to do it with the information you provided? 

That might sound simple, but it is extremely difficult as we see by the difficulties that these very smart students had.

Incomplete information

This message is missing the date and the check marks in the middle section.

I think it might also be a little difficult for the reader to understand the handwriting of the name.

Incorrect information

The message is not for Mauricio Salinas. It is from him.

The phone number is incorrect.

The information in the message section doesn't really accurately represent the information from the original message.

This is a very good message, up until the very last line: "está interesado en música may debe llamarle." It needs to be re-written in more formal style, and the word "maya" needs to be written completely. What kind of interest? Who needs to call him? 

Again, this student's message shows the process of listening, making mistakes, trying to correct them.

It's not my intention to show that students write bad telephone messages. Not at all! I want to show how difficult this task is, even for advanced and experienced learners of Spanish. 

Yet it is one of the most common things they will have to do in any professional context, no matter what professional path they pursue after college.

When we do CSL and think about the kinds of language and knowledge that they need to succeed outside of the classroom, this is one thing that obviously needs more work and practice.

I can assure you that all these students are excellent essay writers. They've been practicing that for years in their roles as students! 

They need the same time and practice for something as apparently "Mickey Mouse" as this. But if we never put language students into professional contexts and ask them to use their language skills to accomplish "real-world" tasks, we'll never know what their gaps are.

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