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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

November 28, 2006

Written by C.N.

IBM to Improve Indian Call Center English

One of the most visible forms of the outsourcing is how many customer or technical service calls directed to U.S. companies are now handled by workers in India. This also happens to be one of the examples of outsourcing that produces the most aggravation and frustration on the part of many Americans, due to — at least on the surface — how many Indian call center workers speak English with heavy Indian accents. IBM now has a plan to improve that situation:

IBM Corp.’s India Research Lab says it has a way to help operators fix the harsh consonants, local idioms and occasionally different grammar of Indian English, often a source of frustration of those who call in search of tech support and other information. . . . The program evaluates grammar, pronunciation, comprehension and other spoken-language skills, and provides detailed scores for each category.

It uses specially adapted speech-recognition software to score the pronunciation of passages and the stressing of syllables for individual words. The technology also consists of voice-enabled grammar evaluation tests, which identify areas for improvement by highlighting shortcomings and providing examples of correct pronunciation and grammar. . . .

[Previously,] companies tried to ease Western fears of jobs moving offshore by training workers to use American and British accents. Many of them often used fake Western names. However, with resentment in the West waning, most companies are now discouraging their employees from faking accents or names. Instead, they are being asked to speak clearly and avoid accents.

I personally find it a little sad that in order for Indian workers to feel that their work is being appreciated that they have to disguise their true identity as much as possible. It’s certainly true that many Indian call center workers are hard to understand but I have always felt that the depper, more fundamental reason why many Americans resent talking to Indian call center workers has less to do with their accents and more to do with American fears towards their jobs being outsourced.

That is, I think that Americans are more resentful that their jobs may be the next one to be outsourced and because of this implicit threat to their economic security, they are more quick to lash out at the group they perceive as being the “cause” of that threat — Indian workers. Meanwhile, such Americans unfortunately can’t recognize that the real reason why their jobs might be outsourced is not due to Indian workers, but instead due to the fact that they live in a capitalist society.

In other words, one of the basic principles of capitalism is to maximize profit by minimizing labor costs. Further, for various historical and institutional reasons, citizens in most other countries around the world do not enjoy the same standard of living that Americans take for granted. Therefore, it is inevitable that given capitalism’s unquenchable thirst for profit that labor will be given to workers who can be paid less.

Ultimately, outsourcing — or more specifically, American resentment towards outsourcing — has little to do with India. Instead, it has everything to do with capitalism. If Americans want to rebel against outsourcing, they need to attack the source — the American capitalist system, instead of fixating on the most obvious symptom of the issue.

As the young kids say these days, don’t hate the player, hate the game.


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Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "IBM to Improve Indian Call Center English" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/11/ibm-to-improve-indian-call-center-english/> ().

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