Bon Jovi, The Beatles, American hip-hop and even a bit of Netflix.
These are the ways young call center agents are learning English – and they don’t even need to practice with native speakers.
Many of the most articulate English speakers in Latin America had the luxury of a private school education – in English – or the chance to study abroad in the U.K. or The States.
But Nearshore Americas spoke to a number of call center workers, often from humble backgrounds, who learnt just by having a sheer willing – and some help from their favorite musicians.
“I learnt mostly by myself,” says Daniel Torres, 23, a call center agent working for Konecta in Medellín, Colombia, with an impressive British accent.
“A lot of music and movies, I love video games, that helped me out a lot. I like a lot of Beatles, T. Rex too – they’re great.”
He adds: “I don’t have the chance to practice with foreigners that much. Sometimes if I can find them, I do. But I mostly record myself reading out aloud and recording it.”
28-year-old John Jairo Montoya Gaviria, also working for Konecta in Medellín, also said video games and music helped him.
“I started learning when I was 11-years-old, I started listening to a lot of music in English, watching movies and video games,” the musician says.
“I love hip-hop music, and I play in a band, so for me a lot of music from the States was what helped me learn.”
Both agents tell Nearshore Americas that they have never left their country and have not invested money in classes.
“Most of the time the people I speak to are surprised that I’m not in the U.S. but in Colombia,” says David.
Florentino Tapia, who heads up the International Operations Management at Konecta, hired both David and Daniel. He tells Nearshore Americas that they are the exact type of agents he looks for – rather than English-speaking candidates who were educated in the States.
“We have a lot of people who are bilingual and who are interested in working in an environment where English is needed,” he says.
“They [the agents] have to be very good at speaking English, have good communication skills, be well educated, or at least that’s how they should sound on the phone whenever they are interacting with customers.
“It happens a lot that those who have studied at an expensive school don’t always have the fluency that these guys have.”
“They are normally the best people to employ because they the ones who want to learn, who give me 120%.”
Carina Wills, 35, is a Business Development Research Manager in Tegucigalpa, Honduras for Knoah Solutions finds listening to different types of music helps her understand different accents in English.
“Bed of Roses by Bon Jovi really helped me,” she says.
“I learned that different people pronounce things differently. There are so many ways of speaking English and that’s something you can definitely learn by listening to songs.
“Listening to music really helped me with tenses too.”
Jess Rivera, 22, who works for Believo in Monterrey, Mexico, also found lyrics would help her with pronounciation.
“I mainly used music videos to learn English. I’m a big fan of hip-hop so Drake, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole were all really helpful,” she says.
“When I was learning English I would read the lyrics first in Spanish and then in English.”
Other call center workers Nearshore Americas spoke to learned English via watching series on Netflix, with subtitles in English.
Another popular method was using online videos and tutorials, which can now largely be accessed for free thanks to the likes of YouTube.
But music was by far the most popular method of learning, and again, thanks to YouTube, young Colombians, Mexicans or Panamanians are able to watch their favorite artists perform, add subtitles and sing along.
“Repeating as much as possibly is key,” adds Carina.