Although the lack of visual cues makes phone-calls more difficult than face-to-face communication, students must understand that the real difficulty doesn’t occur because they haven’t mastered ‘telephone English’, it occurs because they have not yet mastered English. In other words, your teacher can give you advice and help you with common phrases concerning the introduction and end of the conversation, but whether you can communicate effectively during the main part of the conversation will always be a result of your overall ability to communicate in English.

CONCLUSION: if you want to make progress speaking on the phone, commit yourself to making progress on the course! Increase your vocabulary, learn grammar and practice speaking.


1 Memorise the standard phrases of telephone English such as the introduction: if you start well, the probability is higher that you will continue well.

2. Before the conversation…

  • Write down any technical or specific words you know you will need.
  • Write down the questions you need to ask.

3. English native speakers often have poor foreign language skills. They do not know what it’s like to communicate in a second language and therefore talk as rapidly as if they were talking to another native. Remind them early on in the conversation to speak slowly.

4. If the content of the conversation is particularly important – an important decision or deal – ask them to send you an e-mail confirming what they’ve decided or what’s been said. Finish the call with, “Okay, thank-you, and could you just send me an e-mail and confirm what you’ve just said in writing.”

5. If everything goes terribly wrong…

    • Make an excuse and tell them that you’ll call back in a minute. During the pause compose yourself, look up any key words you may be missing, think about what the person was trying to say and then call back.
    • Make an excuse… “Sorry to interrupt, but I have to go to a meeting now… could you send me your questions by e-mail?”

Discuss your telephone skills with the class and your teacher.

  1. How would you rate your telephone skills at the moment from 1 to 10?
  2. Do you have an amusing story about a misunderstanding on the telephone?
  3. Try and identify the specific areas in which you’re weak. Are there specific parts of the conversation that always seem to go wrong?
  4. Are you missing any technical vocabulary related to your job? If so, where can this vocabulary be found?
  5. Do you agree that the best way to improve telephone English is to improve your general English?


Read through this brief dialogue and identify errors, then discuss ways in which Juan could have improved what he had to say. Don’t think only of grammar… think of etiquette also.

Receptionist: Hello, good morning… Yodafone.

Juan: Yes, hello… good morning. I want to speak with Sales department. I’m Juan Navarro.

Receptionist: Okay, and who would you like to speak to in the sales department?

Juan: …Err…What have you said?

Receptionist: With whom would you like to speak to in the sales department?

Juan: …Oh, I’m not care… somebody.

Vocabulary for making telephone calls in English

Introducing yourself

Hello, this is Juan Jimenez.

Asking for Someone

Can I have extension 234 please?

Can I speak to Jeff from the marketing department please?

Is Mrs Short there?

Leaving a message at reception

Hi, I’d like to leave a message for Jeff please.

Answering machine

Hi, this is Juan Jimenez from Sun systems. I was just calling to see…

Hi, this is Juan Jimenez from Sun systems. Can you call me back as soon as possible please?

Call waiting

Sorry, I’ve got another call coming through, could you hold on a moment please?

Establishing purpose.

Hi Jeff, I’m just returning your call.

Hello Jeff, I’m just calling about your order.

Hi Jeff, I’m just calling to ask you if…

Promising to call back

Okay, I’ll call you next week.


Okay, thanks for your time… bye.

First contact

Hello, Juan speaking.

Asking who is on the telephone

Who’s speaking please?

Who’s calling, please?


Sorry, can you repeat that please?


Sorry, could you speak a little more slowly please?

A good start

Hi, this is Juan, how can I help you.

Connecting Someone

I’ll put you through (put through – ‘connect’)

Can you hold the line?

Can you hold on a moment?

How to reply when someone is not available

I’m afraid Juan’s not available at the moment

The line is busy… (When the extension requested is being used)

Juan isn’t in the office at the moment…


Can I take a message?


Can you spell that please?

Roleplay 1

Role play 1… Yodafone Student 1

Role play 1… Student 2

Name: Juan Dingerado
Name: Maria Pegasoossus
Company: Yodafone
Position: Marketing manager
Company: Vader consulting
Position: Sales

Purpose 1: His original order was the gold e-marketing plan. Vader connected yodafone to the silver one.

Response 1a: disagrees. Computer shows Juan asked for silver.

Response 1b: Denies that the computer says that. Furthermore One month free service as compensation for the error.

Response 2a: Continues to insist on choice of silver.

Response 2b: If no compensation, no more business with Vader.

Purpose 3a: Suddenly very sorry. She had been looking at the wrong file. Compensation no problem.

Roleplay 2
Name: Juan Dingerado
Company: Yodafone
Name: Helmut Kole
Company: Shlaker
Position: Marketing manager
Position: receptionist

Purpose 1: to speak to Karl Heinz in the sales department.
Response 1b: Doesn’t understand. Asks for repeat.

Response 1a: apologises. Karl not in office. In china for 6 months. Can put Juan in contact with substitute: Wendy.

Response 2b: No. Requests Repeat and slower.

Response 2a: Offers to find a colleague who speaks Spanish.

Response 3b: Understands, but doesn’t want to speak to substitute wants a message sent to Karl.
Purpose 3a: repeats.

Response 4b: Thanks him

Response 4b: Confirms this is possible.


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