A Freelancing Introvert Versus Phones

Does anyone like talking on the phone these days? It doesn’t seem like it.

I contributed more than my fair share to the phone bill as a teenager, thanks to summer camp friends who lived a few area codes over. I never stressed over making those calls, or having to exchange brief niceties with a parent or sibling, or leaving a message on the answering machine.

Image courtesy Lia
Image courtesy Lia

But something about the phone changed, and I don’t know what it was. Maybe the introduction of the cell phone–now people can be anywhere when you call them. That seems trivial and unrelated until you think about all of the new ambient noise that includes. Before, if you called someone’s landline, they would actually have to be home to take the call. Even the loudest family, I think, isn’t as loud or as sound distorting as traffic or crowds. Also, it might be my imagination, but the sound quality on a cell phone is a little (or a lot, depending on your reception) worse than a landline. Ambient noise + iffy quality + the never-ending problems with poor reception = a lot of “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

Maybe it was growing up. By college I connected with friends via the Internet instead of the phone. The phone was now either for chores or for tedium: booking appointments, telemarketers, calling into work sick, etc. Phone calls meant I was getting called in to cover on my day off or something equally unpleasant.

Whatever the reason(s), by adulthood I had a proper aversion to using the phone. Anxiety, even, would not be far off the mark. Even as an introvert, my friends and social connections are important to me; much as I love my hidey-hole, once in a while I need some company to share it with. I love hosting parties and lecturing people about my niche interest. (Do you want to know about caves? The subjunctive mood? Greek mythology? I’m your woman.) This enthusiasm surprises people sometimes, and they wrongly assume I’m an extrovert. Nope nope nope. Outside of a controlled scenario that includes boundaries and scripts, I’m a mess. Surprise interactions with new people are stressful, not exhilarating. And “surprise interactions with new people” pretty much defines telephone calls.

Now I’m a freelancer. People need to be able to get in touch with me, so I include my phone number in all of my advertisements. This means I have to be open to random phone calls at any point during the day. Not only that, but phone calls from strangers and unknown numbers–calls that, as a student, I could afford to screen. Especially since an unknown number usually meant some kind of marketing scheme or other. Not anymore. Now that unknown number might help me pay the bills or have dinner. (Or it might be the tax office, which is not nearly as profitable but nonetheless important.) Someone once said that you should do one thing every day that scares you. For me, it’s answering my phone. (Hah, if only I were getting daily calls from new customers!)

Image courtesy DodgertonSkillhause
Image courtesy DodgertonSkillhause

Of course, with the advent of cell phones came texting. A godsend. A text message isn’t instantaneous–it’s only as fast as you can text–which is sometimes an issue, but it has the advantage of permanence. If you give me directions over the phone, I’ll have to scramble to write them down or ask you to repeat them a few times to make sure I won’t get lost. If you text me, I can just open up the message and access that information anytime I want. I can take all the time I need to formulate my response without seeming rude or inattentive.

Fortunately, most other people seem to be in the same boat as me. Whether it’s because of the tension in my tone, or because of their own personal preferences, a new customer almost immediately switches to text messages after the initial phone call. Is it because more and more people have developed an aversion to phone calls? Is it because we’re all immigrants struggling with a shared foreign language? Have I lucked out and attracted a client base with a similar temperament to mine?

I don’t know, but keep on texting.

 

A Freelancing Introvert Versus Conversation Classes

People having conversations.
Image courtesy Sascha Kohlmann.

Conversation classes are a popular genre of language courses. People are often insecure when it comes to spontaneous language production (i.e., speaking) and the bravest among them sign up for conversation courses to improve this aspect of their language.

For me, conversation classes are stressful. I’ll be honest with you. As an introvert I have a rich inner life, full of thoughts and observations, but that does not always translate into engaging conversation. In fact, conversation classes are where I’ve felt the most awkward and the least competent.

I’ve developed a method to combat this, but it’s a method that requires some level of student input. If you book me for a conversation class, here’s what will happen.

1. Before our first meeting, I’ll ask you to take a brief online assessment to rate your level within the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and send me the results. “Online assessment” sounds scary, but the whole thing only takes around 20 minutes.

2. Our first meeting will be something like a casual interview. I’ll ask about your history with English, your general interests, and your language goals. Take some time before our first meeting to think about your thoughts on these topics (write them down if you want!). Other follow-up questions may naturally occur, but these are the three areas I want to cover first. Specific questions I will touch on include:

  • How do you want me to address error correction? (As it happens? At the end of every lesson? Once a month?)
  • Are you trying to improve your social English? Interviewing? Business presentations? Traveling? Pronunciation?
  • What kind of work, if any, do you want outside of class?
  • Are you currently studying English elsewhere? If so, at what level? What material? What do you like and dislike about the class?
  • What were your favorite and least favorite classes in school? Why?
  • What hobbies and interests do you have? How do you like to spend your free time?
  • How are you currently using English in your everyday life? (E.g. reading blogs, watching movies, meetings with coworkers, etc.)
  • What are your favorite and least favorite parts of studying?

3. As someone who is not always a sparkling conversationalist, I base my conversation classes (especially in one-on-one classes) on short readings (one page or less). I make every effort to tailor these readings to your interests: beauty, science, health, etc.

Hot tip: you can contribute, too! This is the secret to English conversation class success: bring in material of your own that you felt was interesting, or that you found difficult or confusing. (The Internet is a great resource for English-language material about literally anything.) Have questions prepared for your conversation class sessions, whether about grammar, vocabulary, or just how they spent their weekend. Things are much less awkward that way, especially if you’re studying one-on-one.

4. I will periodically bring grammar or vocabulary exercises based on gaps in knowledge I’ve observed in our conversations. The idea of quizzes, worksheets, and tests can intimidate people—some students opt for “conversation classes” because they find tests and assessments stressful—but periodic testing is one of the most efficient ways to retain and remember new material. This also gives my introvert side a chance to be still and reflect for a few minutes. Don’t worry: the focus of a conversation class with me is still always on speaking and conversing.

My goal in any conversation class is two-fold: to build up and maintain your confidence in speaking, and to provide you with tools that will enable you to speak more fluently and more precisely.

If this sounds like a conversation class that’s your speed, you can email me (in the right-hand column over there) and book a time. I hope to see you soon!

A Freelancing Introvert Versus Doors

I was an introvert before it was cool. It’s something I intuitively knew about myself almost from the beginning, though I didn’t find the word for it until a quiz I took in a glossy preteen magazine: “Are you an innie or an outie?”

open-sky
No one in sight? Finally, I can relax! (Image courtesy Ryan McGuire at Gratisography)

This means a lot of things for teaching in general and how I run my business specifically, but for now I want to touch on one of the smaller aspects of it: doors.

I bring all of my tutoring to you. That’s one of the conveniences of hiring a private tutor. And in my work I’ve been to a lot of apartment buildings, and all of those buildings have doors. Self-evident. Not all of these buildings have the same philosophy about front doors. Not so self-evident.

Sometimes the front doors are unlocked when I come to visit, and I can just let myself in. (My own apartment building, for example, locks the front door at something like 8:30 or 9:00 PM.) Other times the front doors need a key code to unlock them. In this case, people give me the code ahead of time and I can let myself in as if it were unlocked. These are my favorite front door philosophies: minimal fuss.

Other buildings have no means of allowing a non-resident instantaneous access. This is where I start to sweat things. Not because I always have to contact a customer to get in—after a few lessons, it feels as natural to text a customer as it does one of my friends. What sets my introvert nerves on edge is that there is always the possibility for a wildcard factor to disrupt the routine: someone else trying to let me into the building.

Awkward Turtle hates potential unplanned social interactions.
Awkward Turtle hates potential unplanned social interactions. (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons and Dakota L.)

In this kind of front door situation, the “let me in” text message functions as a sort of courtesy: “I’m here! Time to put your pants on and clean up a bit!” It quickly becomes expected (at least, it would feel that way for me, if the roles were reversed). Bypassing that courtesy and showing right up at the door feels a little…untoward. Unfair. But then ignoring someone holding the door open for me also feels rude, and simply telling them, “Nej, det är lugnt, tack.” opens up a whole possible conversation that I am not prepared to have. “Yes, it IS biting cold out, but the person I’m here to see will let me in soon and I’d rather she let me in on her own terms than I turn up randomly on her doorstep. Yes, she’s expecting me, but still.” So far, I’ve just said nothing and fiddled with my phone, like I’m waiting for someone to come meet me. It’s worked pretty well.

Every time I arrive at an apartment complex of this last variety I experience a small moment of panic: will I have those five or ten seconds to myself? Or will I have to navigate an imaginary conflict of manners over the door?