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How To Speak English On The Phone (A Step-By-Step Guide)

Do you ever struggle when making a phone call in English? Don’t worry, you are not alone! Many people feel nervous about taking and making phone calls in English. Even advanced English speakers can have trouble when speaking English on the phone. Let’s take a look at some great phrases to improve your confidence and telephone manner!

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What you will learn

 

1. How to answer the phone in English

Answering the phone is important as it sets the tone for the rest of the call. Don’t forget to speak loudly and clearly and slow down for the person on the other end (it’s not a race!).

  • “Good morning/afternoon/evening, Robert Parker speaking.”
  • “Hello, Bob speaking, how may I help (you)?”
  • “Hi, this is Robert from the Arts Department.”
  • “Hello, you’ve reached Robert Parker, how can I help (you)?”
  • “Robert speaking!”
  • “Hi there, Bob speaking.” (informal) 

 

2. How to make a call in English

Making a call in English can be a scary task sometimes. Whether you have to make an appointment with the doctor, contact someone at a different company or request information, here are some great opening lines to try:

  • Hi there, I’m calling to make an appointment with Doctor Smith.”
  • “Hello, this is Maria Garcia. I’d like to speak with Pat Hutchinson, please.”
  • “Good morning, could you put me through to the Sales Department, please?”
  • “Good afternoon, I’m returning a call from Mr. Eccles. Could you connect me?”
  • “Hey, this is Maria. You busy?” (informal)
  • “Hi, is Paul there? It’s Maria.” (informal)

 

3. What to do when you don’t understand the speaker

You’re on the phone but the speaker says something that you don’t understand, what do you do? First of all, don’t panic! Many people struggle when speaking to others on the phone. If you don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat. Remember that the other person needs to make themself understood and it is in their best interests to make sure you have understood 100%.

  • “Could you repeat that, please?”
  • “Sorry I didn’t catch that, could you say it again?”
  • “Would you mind spelling that for me, please?”
  • “Sorry I didn’t hear that. Please could you speak a little slower?”
  • “I’m afraid my English isn’t great. Could you say that again?”
  • “Did you say you’d like to arrange a meeting on Monday at 10am?”
  • “I can’t hear you very well, there seems to be some background noise.”
  • “I’m afraid the signal’s dropping out, I’m struggling to hear you.”
  • “What’s that?” (informal)
Try to repeat each important piece of information given by the other person to check you have understood correctly. This may also slow the speaker down. This method is particularly useful when taking note of a name or some important booking details. E.g. Doctor Smith, Monday 10am on the 23rd of March, got it, thanks.

 

4. How to sound polite on the phone

For us British folk, politeness can go a long way on the phone! In your requests, try to include modal verbs, especially polite ones, such as: may, could, should and would. Some languages can be very direct, but British speakers tend to use softer indirect expressions when asking for something. Dropping a please or thank you at the beginning or end of a sentence can also help make your phone call sound polite.

  • May I speak to Mrs Lewis, please?”
  • “Could you put me through to Doctor Smith, please?”
  • “Yes, I’ll hold. Thank you.”
  • “Thank you for the call, it’s very much appreciated”
  • “Should I expect a call back soon or later on tomorrow?”
  • “Sure, I’ll ask him to call you back as soon as possible.”

 

5. How to take a message

The caller wants to speak to someone, but they aren’t available! You could use one of the following telephone phrases:

  • “I’m afraid Miss Jones isn’t available at the moment. Would you like to leave a message?”
  • “Sorry he’s busy right now. Would you like him to return your call?”
  • “Simon’s in a meeting at the moment. Can he call you back when he’s free?”
  • “No problem. I’ll let him know you called.”
  • “I’ll make sure she gets your message as soon as she’s back.”


 

6. Leaving a message

You’ve tried calling but it’s going through to voicemail. You have no choice but to leave a message. It’s a good idea to write down what you want to say beforehand. Keep the message “short and sweet” and make it very clear. You can explain in more detail when they call you back.

  • “Hello, this is Fran. I was calling to speak to you regarding the sales report.”
  • “Hello Will, this is Pete. I’d like to chat with you about the Olympics bid.”
  • “This is Mary Robson calling. There’s something urgent I need to discuss with you.”
  • “Hi this is Steven Graham. Give me a call back, you can reach me on this number.”
  • “Hi, it’s Tim. Call me back when you get chance, thanks.”
  • “Hello, it’s Em. Give me a bell/buzz when you have a chance” (informal)
  • “Hiya, this is Phil. Drop me a line when you’re free, ta!” (informal)
Native speakers often use informal expressions when talking to friends (mates) on the phone. Some examples are: give me a bell/buzz/shout/ring (call me), hiya/hi there/hey (hello), see ya/bye/cheerio (goodbye), cheers/ta (thanks). These expressions can be different in the UK and USA, as well as regionally within these countries.

 

7. How to end a call in English

Congrats! You’ve made it through to the end of the call. How do you make sure you finish the call well and leave a good impression?

  • “Perfect, thank you so much for your help. Goodbye”
  • “Thanks for your time. I look forward to meeting in person. Bye!”
  • “It was a pleasure to talk with you. Have a great day! Bye.”
  • “You’ve been a great help. Thanks so much. Bye!”
  • “Cheers mate, see ya!” (informal)
  • “Lovely to chat. Take care.” (informal)

 

8. How to spell words on the phone (Military Alphabet)

If you have to spell a word on the telephone, it is worth learning the military alphabet. British people use this to clarify spellings over the phone. Practise spelling your name, for example my name is Jen so I would say: “J for Juliet, E for echo, N for November”. If you can’t remember the correct word, don’t worry and just make one up! J for Jasmine, E for Elephant, N for Neptune is perfectly fine for most calls.

CharacterCode WordPronunciation
AAlphaAL fah
BBravoBRAH voh
CCharlieCHAR lee
DDeltaDEL tah
EEchoEKK oh
FFoxtrotFOKS trot
GGolfGolf
HHotelHO tell
IIndiaIN dee ah
JJulietJEW lee ett
KKiloKEY loh
LLimaLEE mah
MMikeMike
NNovemberNOH vem ber
OOscarOSS ker
PPapaPAH pah
QQuebeckeh BECK
RRomeoROW me oh
SSierrasee AIR ah
TTangoTANG go
UUniformYOU nee form
VVictorVIK ter
WWhiskeyWISS key
XX-RayEKS ray
YYankeeYAN kee
ZZuluZOO loo
Email SymbolsPronunciation
.comDot Com
.esDot Eeh Ess
@At
.co.ukDot Co Dot You Kay
Activity:

Try to spell out the following using the Military Alphabet…

  1. What is your name in the Military alphabet?
  2. What is this name? Michael Keaton
  3. What is your email address?
  4. What is this email address? [email protected]

Answers:

  1. Michael – Mike, India, Charlie, Hotel, Alpha, Echo, Lima  Keaton – Kilo, Echo, Alpha, Tango, Oscar, November
  2. Mike, Echo, Lima, India, Sierra, Sierra, Alpha, Sierra AT Hotmail Dot Com

 

9. Example phone dialogues

Dialogue 1: Phoning the GP (doctor’s office)

Me: Hello, I’d like to book an appointment with Doctor Smith?
Receptionist: No problem, can I take your name, please?
Me: Carol Bennett
Receptionist: Is that V for Victor?
Me: No, that’s B for Bravo.
Receptionist: Ok great. Is Monday morning convenient for you?
Me: That would be perfect.
Receptionist: I’ve booked that in for you at eight-thirty.
Me: That’s great. Thank you, goodbye.  

Dialogue 2: Phoning your company’s Head Office

PA: Hello, Sunshine Headquarters, Marlene speaking. How may I help?
Me: Hello, this is Ben Parker from Accounting. May I speak to Mrs Lewis, please?
PA: Sure, I’ll put you right through.
Hello again Mr. Parker. I’m afraid she’s in a meeting at the moment. Could I take a message?
Me: Yes, please. Could you tell her I called and ask if she could phone me back this afternoon?
PA: Sure, can I take your number?
Me: Of course, it’s 07889932543.
PA: Thanks, I’ll pass the message on.
Me: Perfect. Thanks for your help, goodbye.

Dialogue 3: Phoning a friend for help moving house

Sarah: Hello?
Me: Hi, this is Jen, you busy?
Sarah: No, what’s up?
Me: I’m moving house on Saturday and I’m gonna need some help with all the boxes.
Sarah: Sure, I’d be happy to help. What time are you thinking?
Me: Let’s say 9am?
Sarah: What’s that?
Me: I said 9am.
Sarah: I thought so, I was just checking I heard right. That’s a bit early for a Saturday, but sure, if you pick me up.
Me: No probs. I’ll give you a bell. See you then!
Sarah: No worries, take care.
 

Telephone English: Exercises

  1. You answer the phone and you didn’t hear the speaker’s name…
    a. Could I ask you to send me an email to confirm this?
    b. I can’t hear you very well, there seems to be some background noise.
    c. I’m sorry I didn’t catch that, could you say it again?
  2. The speaker is speaking very quickly…
    a. Could you say that again more slowly?
    b. Would you mind spelling that for me?
    c. I’m sorry, I can’t hear you, there is some noise at your end.
  3. There is a baby crying in the background – you can’t hear the speaker!
    a. Could I leave a message for Mr Jones, please?
    b. lease could you speak more slowly?
    c. There appears to be some background noise, I’m struggling to hear you.
  4. You need to make an appointment with the Doctor, how do you start the call?
    a. “Good afternoon, I’m returning a call from Mr. Eccles, could you put me through?”
    b. “Could I just check that you have me in the diary for next Monday?”
    c. “Hi there, I’m calling to booking a check-up.”
  5. How do you spell Melanie with the Military alphabet?
    a. Mike, Echo, Lima, Alpha, Nancy, Indigo, Echo
    b. Mike, Echo, Lima, Alpha, November, India, Echo
    c. Mike, Echo, Lima, Alpha, November, Indigo, Echo
  6. What’s the correct vocal spelling of this email address [email protected]?
    a. Lima Brandy nineteen-sixty-nine at gee mail dot com
    b. Lego Bravo nineteen-seventy-nine at gee mail dot co dot you kay
    c. Lima Bravo nineteen-seventy-nine gee mail dot co dot you kay
  7. You need to call your bank manager to discuss your credit score.
    a. “Hey, this is Maria. You busy?”
    b. “Hi, is Mr Hutchinson there? It’s Maria.”
    c. “Hello, this is Maria Garcia. I’d like to speak with Mr Hutchinson, please.”
  8. You are calling to speak to your bank manager about an important query, but it goes through to the answer machine…
    a. “May I speak to Mrs. Lewis, please?”
    b. “This is Mary Robson calling. I have an urgent matter to discuss with you…”
    c. “I’m afraid my English isn’t great. Could you return my call?”
Answers:
  1. c.
  2. a.
  3. c.
  4. c.
  5. b.
  6. c.
  7. c.
  8. b.
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Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

Jennifer G.
— ESL Tutor.
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