English In The Real World

English telephone phrases and tips to help you master using the phone in English

Making phone calls in English can seem tough but it’s actually easier than you think. If you’re traveling abroad or working in a foreign company, you’ll need to be able to use English on the phone so take a few minutes to conquer the challenge of using the telephone in English with these simple English telephone phrases and techniques.

Introduce yourself

English telephone conversations almost always start in the same way – by introducing yourself. Say “Hello, this is (name)” to let people know who you are. If you answer the phone and the caller doesn’t give his name, you can say “May I ask who’s calling, please?”. Practise saying these simple phrases to help yourself feel confident at the start of any telephone conversation.

Use polite questions with ‘may’ and ‘could’

When you want to speak to a specific person, ask to speak to him or her with a polite question starting with ‘may’ or ‘could’. For example “May I speak to Rachel Smith, please?” sounds a lot better than “I want to speak to Rachel Smith”. Use polite questions when you are talking about the reason for your call, too. For example, if you are calling a hotel, you can say “Could I talk to someone about booking a room, please?”.

Holding and transferring

When people ask you to ‘hold’ during a call, they just mean ‘wait’. When they are ready to the connect you to the person you want to speak to, they will use the word ‘transfer’ or ‘put you through’ to talk about connecting your call to that person. For example “Please hold… Ok, I’ll put you through to Rachel Smith”.

Leaving a message

There are two ways to leave a message when someone is not available to speak: you can record a voicemail message or have someone write down a message. The technique is the same for both. Make sure to clearly state your name, the reason for your call and a number that you would like the person to call if you want them to call you back.Asking the speaker to slow down or repeat something

Even native speakers have to ask people to repeat thing sometimes – especially on the phone. If there is a bad line or the sound is not clear, it’s natural to ask the person on the other end to repeat what he or she has said. Don’t be afraid to ask people to slow down by saying, “Sorry, I’m having a little trouble hearing. Could you slow down a little?” or “Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. Could you repeat it, please?”.

Write it down

When you’re nervous, it’s easy to forget what you wanted to say. Avoid this problem by making a note of the key points you wanted to cover in the telephone conversation. If there are any tricky words that you often forget, make a note of them so that you can feel confident about using them during the phonecall. Next to any questions in your notes, leave a space for an answer so you can make a note of it while you are speaking and don’t forget it later.

Remember, most telephone calls use fairly simple language because for more complex topics people generally prefer to have a meeting or put the information in an email. Start confidently, remember your common telephone phrases, have your notes ready and ask people to slow down / repeat if needed and you’ll never need to be afraid of using the phone in English again.

Wil is a writer, teacher, learning technologist and keen language learner. He’s taught English in classrooms and online for nearly 10 years, trained teachers in using classroom and web technology, and written e-learning materials for several major websites. He speaks four languages and is currently looking for another one to start learning.


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