49. English On the Telephone

In the United States, nobody using an automated telephone menu or any other media should ever be actively required to do something, including pressing a button, to select English as their preferred language in which to conduct the transaction or otherwise communicate. It should always be the people who choose a language other than English who should be required to actually do something, like Press 2 for Spanish, 3 for French, etc. In other words, the default language should always be English. Only if someone actively requests a different language should such a request be honored.

English should automatically be the default language because it should be the default language and because most users of the average service would prefer English anyway. More than that, it should always be the responsibility of the immigrants (or anybody who does not prefer to use English) to request a special accommodation. Ideally, even mentioning the availability of languages other than English should be done in English. It’s not that hard for foreign language speakers to learn to understand an instruction to “Press 2 for Spanish”.

Welcoming messages over the telephone or any other medium should never be heard in any other language until a selection is made for those other languages. Then, once the user has made a selection for a particular language, the telephone system should never again ask for a language preference throughout the duration of the call. Business telephone systems should have the ability to tag every call with information about the caller’s language preference, and keep this information thorough any transfers to other parts of the system.


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