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Telephoning in English

Here are some useful tips and phrases for telephoning in English.

Spelling on the phone

If you need to spell your name, or take the name of your caller, the biggest problem is often saying vowel sounds:

'a' is pronounced as in 'may'
'e' is pronounced as in 'email' or 'he'
'i' is pronounced as in 'I' or 'eye'
'o' is pronounced as in 'no'
'u' is pronounced as 'you'

Saying consonants
'g' is pronounced like the 'j' in 'jeans'
'j' is pronounced as in 'DJ' or 'Jane'
'w' is pronounced 'double you'
'x' is pronounced 'ex'
'y' is pronounced 'why'
'z' is pronounced 'zed' (rhymes with 'bed' in British English), or 'zee' (rhymes with 'sea' in American English).

Tip: Keep a note of how you say these letters by your telephone.

Saying telephone numbers

Here's a phone number: 0171 222 3344

And here's how to say it:
"Oh-one-seven-one, triple two, double three, double four."

OR

"Zero-one-seven-one, triple two, double three, double four."

Pausing
When you say a seven digit number, separate the number into two blocks of three and four, pausing after each block.

Each digit is spoken separately, unless it's a double or triple. If the second part of the number was '5555', you'll probably find it easier to say 'double five – double five'.

Saying email addresses on the phone

@ is pronounced 'at'. For instance, clare@gmail.com is "clare, at, gmail, dot, com".

/ is "forward slash".

is called a "hyphen" or a "dash".

_ is an "underscore".

Example telephone conversations

Here are examples of typical telephoning language:

Getting through

You: "Can I speak to (Mr Smith), please?" or "Is (Mr Smith) there, please?"

Receptionist: "May I ask who's calling?" or "Could I have your name, please?"

You: "Yes, this is Tom McIvor speaking."

Many people don't identify themselves when they make or receive a phone call. Even at home, they normally pick up the phone and say "Hello". But they won't be offended if you ask for their name.

Leaving or taking a message

Receptionist:

"I'm afraid Mr Smith is…
… out of the office today."
… off sick today."
… in a meeting."
… on holiday."
or "I'm afraid his line is engaged."

"…Would you like to leave a message?"

You: "Could you ask him to call me back?" or "Could you ask him to return my call?"

Receptionist: "Does he have your number?" or "What's your number, please?"

The receptionist uses "I'm afraid" or "I'm sorry" if he or she can't connect you.

If the receptionist doesn't offer to take a message, you can ask to leave one.

You: "Could I leave a message, please?"

Receptionist: "Yes, certainly." or "Yes, of course."

Social talk on the phone

If you know the person, or have spoken before, it's normal to chat for a few seconds before saying why you are calling.

You: "Hello, this is (Tom McIvor) speaking." or "Hello, this is (Tom McIvor)."

You might also want to add your company name: "This is (Tom McIvor) from (McIvor Worldwide)."

The other person: "Hello, how are you?"

You: "Fine, thanks. And you?"

The other person: "Very well, thanks."
or "Not bad."
or "Can't complain."
or "A bit busy" etc.

You: "Oh good."
or "Oh right."
or "Glad to hear that."

If someone asks you how you are, respond (positively!) and return the question. This social talk can be extended. You could ask about a project you know the person is working on, or a mutual friend, or the person's family.

You: "Hello, this is (Tom McIvor). How are you?"

Other person: "Fine, and yourself?"

You: "Fine, thanks. How's the restructuring going?"

Other person: "Well, we're pretty busy, as you can imagine."

You: "Yes, I can! Anyway, I'm calling about…"

To introduce the subject of your call, you can use words such as 'anyway', or 'well', or 'right'.

Remember, if you haven't spoken to the person before, or don't know them, then social talk is inappropriate – get straight to the reason for your call.

Telephoning in English – calling someone you don't know

Perhaps a colleague has asked you to call someone. You don't know the person, so you should introduce yourself and mention your colleague's name.

You: "Hello, this is (Sarah Brown) calling, from (McIvor Worldwide)."

Other person: "Hello, what can I do for you?"
or "Hello, how can I help you?"

You: "I'm calling on behalf of (Tom McIvor)…"
or "(Tom McIvor) suggested that I call you."
or "(Tom McIvor) asked me to call you."

Telephoning in English problems

Here are some things you can say if you have problems during the phone call:

When you can't hear someone

"I'm sorry, could you speak up, please?"

"I'm sorry, I can't hear you very well."

"I'm sorry, the line's bad – could you repeat what you just said?"

When you don't understand what someone says

"I'm sorry, could you repeat that please?"

"Sorry, I didn't quite catch that." (Or, for example, "I didn't catch your surname" when you want someone to repeat their name for you.)

"I'm sorry, I didn't get that. Could you say it again, please?"

"I'm afraid I don't follow you. Could you repeat it, please?"

"I'm sorry, I'm not sure I understand. Would you mind explaining it again, please?"

When you want to correct what the other person has said

"Actually, it's 16, not 60." (Stress the two words where there is confusion – in this example the 16 and the 60.)

"I'm sorry, but I think there's been a misunderstanding. The payment's due next week, not next month."

"I'm sorry, but that's not quite right.." (When you refer back to what someone has just said. You then go on to say what IS right.)

Checking that you understand something

"So if I understand you correctly…"

"When you say… do you mean…?"

Telephone English tips

* try to speak clearly and don't be afraid to speak more slowly than normal.

* think about what you want to say before calling.

* don't be afraid to ask your caller to repeat themselves if you don't understand.

For more help with telephoning, check out Telephone Phrases and the lessons in Week 2 of our free English course.

Check out our video!

Try our telephoning in English quiz!

Level: Pre-intermediate and above

1. On the phone you say the email address clare@gmail.com as:
2. Your telephone number 680-3333 should not be said (click the wrong option!)
3. When you call ABC company to speak to John, you say to the receptionist:
4. When you pick up the phone at work, you can say (if your name is Tim Lee):
5. When you answer your phone and the other person asks for you by name (ie, ''Can I speak to Jane, please'' and you are Jane), you say:
6. If you answer your colleague's phone (because your colleague is not in the office) you can say:
7. If the person you want isn't there, you can say:
8. When you get through to the right person, you can introduce yourself:
9. If you don't understand someone on the phone, you can say:
10. The person gives you their surname, but they said it too fast, You say:



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22 comments

hamimid
thanks,It seem my english level become better than last month.Regards
Angel
very helpful
hashim
Very useful! Thank you Mrs. Clare for your great efforts in making English language easier to learn through this website. Keep up the good work!
K/MARIAM
greatly,thaks english-at-home-com. oline information realse to every one of the members to up date english knowlgde at the whole. best regars,
Barbara
The course is very interested. You go into details that makes a great deal in our daily conversations. I really appreciate this course. Thank you for such a good work
Thom
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Th?y
thanks for topic. it's very useful !
Jorval
Very useful stuff. Thanks
arman
thanks for such a good job ,i need more details,,,,,
maryam
thank you
mirda
Thanks a lot..I need thîs material for my class
JaNan
Thank you so much...
Stephen
Thank you for such a good work. am so glad with it, need more......
Sheryl L. Manzanilla
Thanks for this wonderful topic...It's a big help for me at my work...
Dinesh
Seems they r now familiar to me.Thanks for that
Thomas
Thanks, It's very useful!
Siwa
I love it and It's very useful!
Alexandre
thank you
Edna
thank you very much
Megha
It's very useful! thank you very much.?
azumi
Thank you so much. A big help.
Firouz
Dear Clare,Thank you so much for your lessons that exactly point out to daily life.

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