A couple of days ago I spotted a Chinese chugger as I was walking back to work, a golden opportunity for conversation that cannot be missed. For more information on what a chugger is (or may be) either follow the link I gave or watch this video. I will use the word chugger for the rest of this post, I am aware that this vocation is not all good or all bad, even though my choice of the term chugger may seem somewhat derogatory.
Generally I don't have a lot of time for chuggers, if I want to donate to a charity I will do so on more than just a brief invitation and introduction (with sales pressure techniques etc.) I have both observed chuggers and sometimes engaged then in conversation (to get a feel for their techniques) I would be fascinated to see some of their training, as they have to break down barriers fast, introduce a concept to a stranger and get them to sign over regular payments all in a short period of time, their techniques and approach have a lot to do with language use and learning.
This particular chugger was pretty obviously Chinese, so I started off right-away by confirming that (in Chinese) and then took the opportunity for a little conversation practice.
My chugger seemed a little surprised but then discussed my Chinese learning background for a bit, she assumed I was a teacher or lecturer (of what I do not know) based on the fact that the only person who had talked Chinese with her to-date was a lecturer (of what I didn't ask) and to be fair we were quite close to Bristol university. She also asked if I was English (I hadn't spoken any), this happens quite often now, sadly I suspect because other Europeans are considered to be better at languages than us Brits. I was pleased that she seemed quite happy to continue in Chinese, so I was treated to an introduction to Amnesty International in Chinese. I could follow along quite well and could break it up a little by adding comments that led to discussion about myself. Chuggers are supposed to engage you in conversation and explore you opinions etc. the idea being to make you receptive to the sale. During the whole process there were only a few places where she switched to English briefly. On one occasion she was explaining how Amnesty International influences various world organizations (she either didn't trust my Chinese or had learned the script in English and wasn't entirely confident of translating it to Chinese on the fly) on two other occasions she used phrases that had obviously been taught to her as important parts of the sales script and were designed to engage my emotions (the "magic" is much less likely to work on me if not in my mother tongue).
The time was rapidly approaching the sale, I needed a get-out, fairly easy on the one or two occasions I have talked with English chuggers but my Chinese is not good enough for anything complex (and I didn't want to be rude). I explained that I am a computer programmer and although good with computers I was rubbish at managing everyday life so my wife manages everything in that department (although not entirely true this is plausible ;)). I got a comeback that the direct debit wouldn't start straight away etc. so I could check with my wife but I stuck to my guns and that was that.
Chuggers are trained to communicate, the guys (for example) will act more like one of your mates if you are a guy, they may flirt subtly with you if you are a girl and if an older women they will either flirt or present themselves as a nice young man (whichever looks like it will work the best). Some of their techniques for breaking down communication barriers can be reused to break down communication barriers when practicing a language. This Chinese girl is unlikely to be hampered by her English (I don't know how good her English is), she is short and pretty so is looking up at most Western guys in a cute way, also well versed (or a natural) in the simple subtle flirtation that will break down barriers with a lot of guys; leaning in slightly and a quick touch on the forearm with her hand when explaining something or sharing some snippet of knowledge all done so quick you barely notice (but your subconscious will). Studying sales and dating techniques etc. in your own language will certainly give you pointers for communication.
I will follow this up by acquiring some extra vocab. and better strategies for exploiting my next language chugger. If in a foreign country studying language then I would definitely find many more of these opportunities. Some people have to communicate with you it is their job, why not exploit that opportunity, of course you would have to be prepared to avoid the date or sale or con. or whatever if that wasn't your goal. I will also track down some Amnesty International information in Chinese online, it will reinforce or remind me of some of the things she said (may put something into active language that was only passive before or move something up from unknown to passive).