Like any other soft skill, mastering telephone language is of utmost importance in modern business life. Of course, in a lot of cases, telephone calls are avoided by substituting them with chats or any other online communication tool. However, in a wealth of cases learners will need to have telephone calls (organizing an event, making appointments and reservations, participating in a conference call and handling customer complaints). Calls are quite tough in terms of the functional language used, the speed or accent of the speaker (interlocutor), the inability to see him or her, and the level of formality. In case the learner is put on the right track, telephone calls may seem easier than that.

Here are several tips that can help students conquer the challenges of telephone language:

  • The use of multi-words.

If you learn some multi-words commonly used in telephone calls, the process of phoning may be eased abundantly.

Hold on/hang on- wait

Hang up— finish the call by breaking the connection

Put somebody through— connect to somebody (put you through the sales manager)

Put somebody aside— hold on for a while

  • Using polite questions with “may”,  “could”.

These polite questions are far more preferable in cases of requests, enquiring some information, starting the call, stating the purpose of the call, asking for repetition. Though it’s important to show politeness by using words like would, could, please, thank you etc., it’s also okay to use some of the features of informal/spoken English — short forms, phrasal verbs and words like okay and bye — in other words — everyday English.  So phrases like I’m off to a conference…, no problem, bye, and hang on a moment and I’ll put you through are perfectly acceptable, as long as the overall tone of the conversation is polite. Here are examples of some polite usage of telephone expressions

Could you put me through?

May I have Sales department?

Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. Could you repeat it, please?”.

Could I talk to Mr. Smith?

  • Formality.

It’s important to use the right level of formality – if you are too formal, people might find it difficult to feel comfortable when they talk to you. On the other hand, if you are too informal, people might think you are rude. Generally speaking, if you are talking to someone in a business context, you should use could, can, may or would when you make a request:’

Could I speak to Jason Roberts, please?’

‘Can I take a message for you?’

‘Would next Wednesday be okay?’.

  • The voice and the speed of the speaker may hinder communication on the phone. However, 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.

Just to get this clear.

Could you slow down?

Just one more thing I would like to check..

Could you spell that for me?

How to practice?

In the classroom teachers may help the learners practice telephone calls by various telephone call role-plays. Learners may sit back to back and role play telephone cases. They can imitate some connection problems, write down the functional language used by their peers. To hot up the learning process learners my call each other from different rooms and speak on the phone. They may call pizzerias, restaurants, taxi services, hotels, and order or book something. In this way, they feel have the chance of using the target language in real-life scenarios. They may then share their experience and thus break the stereotype that phoning in English is a tough and unconquerable deal.

Some useful resources for learning and practicing telephone expressions:

  1. Resource 1
  2. Resource 2
  3. Resource 3
  4. Coursebook

Learners may benefit a lot from the main points mentioned in the article while dealing with telephone language. For most of the cases, students need to listen to a lot of real telephone conversations, master a couple of fixed telephone expressions, ask the speakers to slow down or repeat what they are intended to say in order to avoid misunderstanding and communicate the message.

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