So You Wanna Work in a Call Center but Your English is Bad?

"How do I know if my English is enough for me to land a call center job?" "Are there call center companies who hire applicants with a not-so-fluent English and enlist them as trainees until their English improve?" As someone who doesn't know how the hiring process works, here's what you should know if you want to work in a call center but your English is bad.


How do I know if my English is enough for me to land a call center job?

As a call center agent, you will talk to native English speakers all over the world. How will you know if your English is enough?

First, you need to be able to understand a native English speaker's accent with no problem. Second, you should be able to communicate with no problem. In short, you need to understand English and be understood in English.


Therefore, you cannot expect to pass a call center interview if your English is less than these criteria.

If you want to test whether your English is enough, watch American and English movies with clear audio, without subtitles, and see if you understand what's going on. If you can, then you have a great chance of landing the job.


What if my English is somewhere in between—not so bad, but not so fluent either?

Because English is taught since day one at school and since English isn't our first language, most Filipino's English falls within average. Enough to talk to fellow Filipinos in English, but may not be when talking to native English speakers due to the accent.

When you work in a call center, you will not deal with only one type of English accent, but lots of of them. Americans alone, with its 50 states, speak a lot of varying accents. Add that to Australians, British and Canadians and you'll regret having passed your interview without a decent grasp of different English accents.

Ask yourself: Do I really want to work in the call center?

If the answer is undoubtedly yes, then ditch Facebook and Instagram and start improving your damn English now.

On the other hand, if you think the sweat isn't worth it, and you'd rather stay in your current job or pursue another, you just spared yourself some serious work and time. At this point, you need not read any further.

However, if you're quite determined to work in a call center, but you know your English needs some serious improvement, here's what you should know: Learning English is not a talent. It's a skill. We're not born with it; we learn it, we earn it. Therefore,  you have some serious work to do.

(If you want the fastest way possible to improve your English, read: How to Improve Your English Accent and Land a Call Center Job)

The habits you should develop to improve your English

1.) Movies, movies, movies.

When watching movies, make sure the audio is clear and the subtitle syncs with the audio.

There are 2 reasons why this is very effective:  First, you can read and hear the accent and pronunciation at the same time. Second, you get an idea of the American and other English speaking cultures. Knowing the culture of the people you'll be talking to over the phone will be important in building rapport with your customers.

2. Read but don't bore yourself to death.

"But reading is boring!", you might say.

I completely disagree. To understand why you dislike reading, here are the 6 common reasons why you find reading a boring task.

A. You don’t understand the “big” words.

When I was in high school, I badly wanted to improve my English. Living in the remote part of the province, with no internet, no bookstores and having read all the schoolbooks I could possibly read, my only chance of getting a daily English dose was to buy old newspapers and read the heck out of them.

It wasn’t fun and games. They’re boring as hell. They’re loaded with difficult words beyond the comprehension of a high school student like me.

With a dictionary in hand and an optimism of a fourteen-year-old, I read, looked up the meaning of the new word, then wrote it on my notebook. There was at least one difficult word in every three sentence. I’d repeat the same thing until I’d fall asleep (which didn’t take very long).

Since you’re in the city and you have the luxury of an internet and bookshops, don’t do the same thing as I did, but don’t abandon reading altogether.

What to do:

Read books that are within your vocabulary. When I say within, it means the book should still contain unfamiliar words but not too much that it disrupts your reading flow.

When you constantly need to look them up in the dictionary, switch to a much easier book. Bumping into difficult words is surely helpful, but too much of them makes reading a self-imposed punishment.

Besides, encountering too many difficult words makes the reading hard to understand. Unless you’re trying to sleep, I don’t recommend reading books that are beyond your vocabulary

This might hurt your ego a little bit but trust me, to some of you who have “carabao” English, (no offense) you’ll surely benefit from this. I’ve been there, I’ve done that. If it means reading children’s book, then so be it. What matters is, you’re enjoying it as much as you’re learning.

B. You think you have to learn “impressive and big” words, but you really don't.

When I was in high school, I purposefully write impressive and difficult words on English essays to impress my teachers. With a thesaurus, I’d substitute the simple words to their more difficult synonyms. Little did I know that it was so pretentious and unnecessary.

Difficult words are mostly for poems and stuffs like that. But daily conversations with native English speakers? Not really. And remember, you're aiming for the conversational English here, not the poetic one.

I personally believe that the English words we learned from our teachers at school are enough. If you have no trouble understanding most of the English words I use in this blog, then you’re 90% good.

These are pretty much the words that native English speakers use daily. Trust me, they’re not gonna supercalifragilisticexpialidocious on you.

C. You’re not reading the genre you truly enjoy.

Just because someone you admire reads science fiction doesn’t mean you should too. People have different interests and if you like comedy over science fiction, go for it!

Horror, fantasy, love story, fiction, science fiction, suspense, comedy, self-help, action, drama, weird stuffs, or sexy like Fifty Shades of Grey? Knock yourself out. What matters is you’re enjoying it. The more you like it, the more engaged you are, and the more engaged you are, the more you’ll pay attention and retain what you read.

D. You read without dictionary, or thesaurus, or google.

You’re still improving your English, make sure to have Google or dictionary or thesaurus by your side ready to help. With just the right amount of unfamiliar words enough not to disrupt your reading and a dictionary in hand, you’ll effectively learn new words without sacrificing your entertainment/ learning.

Where to buy cheap books?

This is how the front of Book Sale's store looks like. If you see this somewhere, get inside! You're not gonna regret it.

Another good news: you won't be buying the old newspaper prints like I did.

When I was still living in Davao City, I used to go to Book Sale where they sell old books as cheap as P5.00 and above. Usually, books below P50.00 caught my attention because I was in a ridiculously intense budget at that time. Besides, new or old, the value of most books don't really diminish. The pages may turn yellow but the value is still intact.

3.) Write your own journal.

Why make writing a habit?  Well, when you make writing English a habit, you are training your brain to remember English words over and over again until remembering them becomes instant and natural to you. Use it or lose it. You need to train your English like a muscle.

For example, you know that the word “luxury” exist. The problem is, you might not be able to recall it when you need it, because it’s harder for your brain to get ahold of it. Writing breaks that problem.

 What to write about:

Your dreams and ambitions

Writing about your dreams and ambitions increases the likelihood of it coming true. It’s because you’re constantly reminding yourself about it which inspires you to take actions and make it a reality.

Your plans

These are specific plans, to make your dreams a reality. You should write this along with your dreams and ambitions. I’ve been doing this for the past five years and I’m proud I’ve already accomplished some of them. Research also shows that people are more likely to follow through their plan when it is written.

New things you learn everyday

Yesterday, I learned how to edit a photo online for this blog. This is not be a big thing. I’m not even a professional photo editor but it’s definitely something to celebrate for and write about. Writing about things you learn everyday, even small ones, reminds you that you are constantly improving.

Moments, people, places and things you want to remember later in life

This might sound cheesy but the personal value of your journals as the time passes by increases. When I read the journals I made a few years back, it took me back to the moments I want to relive. It’s a good feeling. Why not do it while improving English too?

Things you are grateful for

This helps you become more positive and happier. The happier you are, the lesser you will likely stress about your unreasonable boss, your grumpy customers, and your gossipy neighbors. This could be as simple as being grateful for being able to wake up this morning, or getting to work on time despite the heavy traffic.

It doesn’t have to be long, just do it everyday.

If you don’t feel writing a full-page of journal, don’t. Just let the train of your thoughts guide you. If you can’t think of anything to write, you can actually write “I can’t think of anything to write…” That in itself is a thought. Everytime I do this, an idea surprisingly pops up in my head.

If it doesn’t work for you, just try writing at least three sentences then be done with it. Baby-step your way through the habit and in no time, you’ll be more committed to write more.

The goal here is to dust off your English, get reacquainted with them, then form a habit around it.

What to expect when improving your English

It doesn't happen overnight.

You'll have to wait for months or some, up to a year, to see a significant improvement (especially if your English is really bad). I'm not saying this to discourage you, but to give you a realistic expectation to work on.

There are 3 types of call center applicants: The first who thinks their English bears no chance of improving so they immediately back off.

The second, who believe their English will improve but misleads themselves by believing that it will be an easy and short process. When boredom hits them, they become impatient and they stop.

And the third, who know that the key to improving their English is actually simple: repetition. Yet they know it isn't easy.

The real challenge lies on how you can remain consistent with your daily practice. It doesn't matter how many hours you practice today, if tomorrow, you're gonna spend the whole day on Facebook.

You see, your daily habits speaks a lot about where you where you will be in the next years of your life. Will you get the job, or will you stay where you currently are? It's a matter of choice.

Be reasonable with your expectations.

Last week, I posted a job on Facebook. One of the applicants messaged me and asked, "Is this a sure pass?"

Note: When applying for jobs this is NOT the kind of question to ask. Instead, ask yourself, "Do I have the necessary skills for me to land this job? If no, what can I do to acquire these skills?"

I understand most applicants' motivation when looking for jobs is money. But in order to get the money, you gotta have to give something in return. That's how the world works.

Consistency is key.

If you study really hard today but forgets about it tomorrow, and study again next month, your progress will not be as good as when you practice everyday without gaps.

How long does it take to practice everyday? Two uninterrupted hours will do. After that, do whatever you want to. The key is to do it everyday, to train your brain to make it a habit. Develop the habit first and it will come naturally to you.

You may have to work for a different job to pay your bills while self-studying.

If your parents still supports you and you have no bills to pay, consider yourself lucky. Polish your English, land the job, and take your parents to a free dinner someday.

But if you have a family to raise and bills to pay, don't think about quitting your job just yet. While you work for a lower paying job, take your time to improve your English. Slowly but surely, you'll make progress and soon, you'll be out of there.

Can your English really improve if it's really, really bad?

Everyone you know who is now working in the BPO industry used to be in your shoes. Their English used to be carabao! So don't think, for one second, that your situation is hopeless. Again, for the third time, your current English capacity is irrelevant

What You Should Watch Out For When Improving your English

After reading the post What you should do to improve your English, here are things to watch out for that will likely lead to your failure.

1. Social media

Don't get me wrong. I looove social media. But sometimes, instead of us controlling the social media, the social media ends up controlling us. What the heck happened?

Social media is like money. It's a good servant but a bad master.

Ever wonder why you end up doing nothing during your day off? Not even your laundry? Because you've been stalking someone's profile the whole day. If not, I'm sure you've been busy experimenting which selfie angles look great on your timeline.

I am not telling you to abandon Facebook forever, however, a little self-awareness will help.

If you want to get better at English, you need to set aside an hour or two of your day learning English. Just learning English. Just learning English. No Facebook. No social media. Just you and English.

2. Common Sense

call center interview questions
I've posted hundreds of times on Facebook and hundreds of times, I've received comments from applicants asking, how, how, how, despite of the instructions in the post. You don't need to be Albert Einstein to possess common sense. You just need to read. The number of job posts you comment on doesn't matter if you don't understand any of them.

Are there call centers who accept applicants with not-so-fluent English?

This is another topic to discuss in the future but for now, the only call center company I know who accepts average English speakers is SixEleven Global Services in Davao. This was where I first landed my job and worked as a Chat Support for 9 months.

My English wasn't that good at that time and thankfully, they had a training program where applicants train until their English and call center skills are polished. Lower salary, but this doesn't mean you'll have to stay forever.

However, call center training is already hard on its own. It would be better and less pain for you if during the training, your English is already considerably good so you aren't left behind the training.

I had a co-trainee before who was the only fresh graduate in the whole batch. Everyone already had years of experience, except her. The company made the mistake of not teaching her the basics.

Although her English was good, it was hard for her to keep up with the call handling basics. She failed in the nesting stage. I knew she was smart with a really great initiative.

Sad to say, you can't expect all companies to do the right thing, especially if they have the a deadline to meet and with only one beginner employee to train. It was more of disadvantage than an advantage for them to wait for her.


If there's one thing you need to remember from this post, it is this: your habit will determine where you will be in the future. If you want to improve in any area of your life, wouldn't it make sense that you do something now, no matter how little, to contribute to that improvement?

On the other hand, if your current situation is where you want to be in the next 5 years, then by all means, change nothing, do nothing and dream nothing. Whatever makes you happy.

Hope this helps.

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