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How to improve your Internet conversations

André Guyon
(Language Update, Volume 8, Number 3, 2011, page 28)

It’s summertime as I write this instalment of Tech Files. That’s why I’ve decided to discuss technologies that you might find very useful while on vacation, but also on a regular basis.

You know those situations where the people on the other end of the line sound like they’re communicating with you through a tin can? And they don’t seem to understand half of what you’re saying? If this has happened to you, then you’ve been the victim of technology misuse.

First of all, you should know that some technologies are unidirectional (one-way), while others are bidirectional (two-way). When you talk to someone over the phone, you can both talk at the same time, meaning that the communication is bidirectional. However, if the person you’re talking to has the bright idea to use the speakerphone function, then the communication becomes unidirectional, meaning that when that person talks, you get cut off. Otherwise, there would be a very annoying permanent echo effect.

The same problem occurs when a person uses a camera microphone while chatting, which is why headsets for chatting are highly recommended. There are also other technologies, such as VoIP phones, that connect to a computer (sometimes a router) and are bidirectional.

Plus, there is of course computer-to-computer chatting. However, for the last few years, some software has also made it possible to call telephone numbers from a computer for a modest fee, or even free of charge.

For example, you can use a Gmail account to call anywhere in Canada or the United States for free. The most well-known software is Skype, which Microsoft just bought.

This type of service and software is used not only on computers, but also on smartphones and smart music players. People with smartphones can therefore connect to a Wi-Fi network and use this type of software, saving both the long-distance charges and minutes on their plan because the communication is being sent over the Internet, not the telephone network.

Often, in addition to this free service, providers offer plans that include other services, such as a voicemail box and call forwarding to a landline (though not a cell phone). That’s very convenient for people who are travelling.

Finally, complementary services are offered by third parties. For example, I have a Montréal telephone number that my friends can use to call my Skype account. When I’m at home, in the Outaouais, I can redirect my Skype calls to my home phone. I can also have a local phone number in a major Canadian city for calling my friends and family members living there.

Other options: I can call several numbers at the same time on my computer or record conversations for quality control purposes.*

There are also meeting sites where you can see who you’re talking to, use a whiteboard and share documents with the group. Now that’s the kind of technology that language professionals could definitely use!

In some cases, the chatting can also be recorded, which makes it easier to draft the meeting summary later. These tools are not currently being used very much by language professionals, but they could be very useful if they were.

I really like the following site, which I have used with friends for volunteer work: Open Meetings Web site (http://www.openmeetings.de). It’s no substitute for meeting in person, but it’s handy and extremely easy to use. First, you choose a room that can hold the planned number of users. Then, just invite the users, and that’s it! The rooms can be private or open to anyone.

Even though business meetings are not really a major part of the language professional’s work, these tools can make things a lot easier when meetings are required.

In my opinion, these work tools are far superior to basic instant messaging software, which only lets you chat. I therefore encourage you to try them out and let me know what you think!

Remark

Back to remark 1* Very useful, but when I advise callers from certain companies of this, they often hang up “accidentally.”