Whether you’re working abroad or for an international company, you’re probably going to be in contact with people from other countries. And you’ll need to master one very important skill: making and receiving phone calls in English. But the reality is that, for many people, talking on the phone in English is scary. You might worry about not having the right words, not understanding the other person, or not being able to express yourself.
We’re here to tell you that getting past these fears is possible—you just need the right approach! It’s all about being prepared. In this video and article, we’re going to look at some of the most useful English phone call vocabulary, and give you some great tips to make your next call a complete success!
Before diving in, we recommend checking out our free guide to English pronunciation. Once you’ve really mastered English pronunciation, you’ll be more capable and more confident when it comes to speaking in English—on and off the phone.
To get you started, Abbe will explain why so many people are apprehensive about speaking on the phone, and give you some great advice for having a successful phone conversation. Then, we’ll go through some more tips for making and receiving phone calls, and look at some super useful vocabulary and expressions to use on your next phone call.
You can watch her video on YouTube or right here. Feel free to turn on the subtitles in English or one of the 5 other languages available, and slow down the playback speed if you need to (click the gear icon to do so).
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The confidence to speak on the phone in English will come naturally when you’re better prepared. To this end, we’ve put together a list of pro tips to keep in mind for your next phone conversation. Afterward, we’ll look at some useful phrases and expressions to use on the phone in case you get stuck.
There’s no point in stressing—and no need to! The best way to make sure you understand the other person and make yourself understood is to remain calm and relaxed. This will improve your concentration and help you to maintain your composure. And as a result, the person on the other end of the line will also feel more relaxed, and will speak more clearly and slowly. If you speak with a stressed-out voice, your interlocutor will pick up on it and it may make them equally tense. This really is the best and most important thing to do for having a conversation in English. So: relax. Take a few calming breaths before making your call if you’re feeling extra anxious.
There’s no need to impress anybody with how quickly you can speak English. A good phone call in English will be one where you speak clearly and slowly. Remember to use simple vocabulary that’s easy to understand. Don’t be afraid to exaggerate your pronunciation, and to take longer or more complicated words one syllable at a time. Not only will this help the other person understand you better (hey, maybe English isn’t their first language either!), but they’ll probably pick up on the fact that English isn’t your first language and will speak more clearly.
As the saying goes, you catch more bees with honey! This is another way of saying that being polite is one of the best ways to make sure your conversation goes well. Not only will staying neutral and polite help you to remain calm and speak slowly and clearly, but your conversation partner will be more patient and more willing to help you if you are nice to them. It’s the same in every language—politeness goes a long way on the phone.
There are some easy words and phrases to use throughout your conversation to convey this: “May I…”, “Could you please…”, “Would you mind…” English lacks the grammatical cues that indicate politeness in many other languages, like the tu/vous distinction in French, so these little additions are very useful.
Writing down an outline for your call before you make it, plus any vocabulary or expressions you think will be useful, can be a real lifesaver. You don’t want to have to think too hard about what you need to say and when. Of course, you can’t predict exactly what’s going to be said, but writing out a script is a great way to prepare yourself for your conversation, and practice using the phrases you learn below.
Some useful things to jot down include: (1) how to introduce yourself; (2) polite phrasing; (3) questions you intend to ask (pro tip: leave space underneath so you can write the answers!); and (4) vocabulary specific to this call. Anything you think you might need, write it out — you’ve got nothing to lose, and it may just help you out if you get stuck or forget something.
There’s more than one good reason to take notes during your conversation. First, it will help calm your nerves to have a pen and paper ready, so that you can write down any important information as you hear it. This way, you won’t have to focus on trying to remember everything in the moment, which is one less thing for your brain to manage. Second, you’ll have an easier time, if necessary, referring back to something the person said. You’ll have their own words right in front of you, so you won’t even have to think about it. Finally, you may find that you’re concentrating so hard on speaking, that the information you receive goes in one ear and out the other! You’ll have no trouble remembering important information and can save yourself from having to call the person back later on.
This is something you really shouldn’t be afraid to do! In fact, think about how many times you’ve had to ask somebody to repeat something on the phone in your native language! Phone connections aren’t always great, and it’s more difficult to understand somebody on the phone than when they’re in front of you. Partly because you can’t see their mouth, facial expressions and other body language. So don’t hesitate to ask your conversation partner to repeat themselves if you missed something. They’ll probably repeat it more slowly and clearly. The most important thing is to understand the information being given to you, not to pass for a native English speaker.
There are certain phrases and expressions that are used more often on the phone than during in-person conversations, and others that are just useful to know in general. It’s best to learn and know these expressions in English beforehand and to be as familiar with them as possible. Have a look at our list of the most important English vocabulary to know before making your next phone calls in English.
Phone conversations in English, like in most languages, all start in pretty much the same way: you politely introduce yourself and explain the reason for your call (e.g. to speak with somebody specific, to get information on a product or service, to leave a message for someone). So we’ve come up with a list of the simplest and most effective phrases and expressions for making sure your phone call is a success.
First things first: you’ll need to introduce yourself.
Hello, this is [your first and last name] from [the name of your company, if you’re making a business call].
Next, you’ll need to explain to the person who’s answered the phone the reason for your call. This may include:
May I please speak to [the person’s name or title]?
Is [the person’s name or title] available, please?
If you don’t know the person’s name, you can use their title, such as: “the doctor” or “the manager.”
I would like to talk to [the person’s name or title], please.
Could I have the extension for [the person’s name or title], please?
Large companies will often be able to direct your call to the correct person, or give you that person’s extension so you can dial it yourself.
If the person you’re hoping to speak to is available, here are some of the common responses you’ll hear:
— Can you hold the line? / Can you hold a moment?
— Please hold. / Hold, please.
— I’ll put you through.
— I’ll transfer your call.
If the person you’re trying to reach is unavailable, you can ask to leave a message.
Could you please tell him/her that I called?
My number is [your phone number].
If you don’t know exactly who you need to speak to, you can start by letting them know what information you’re after:
I would like some information on [the product or service you’re calling about].
I was hoping to learn more about [the product or service].
Are you able to tell me about [the product or service]?
The person will either give you the information you need, or let you know how you can find it out. For example, “Please call back between noon and 2 pm,” “Please hold on one moment while I get somebody who can help you“, etc.
This is a popular one, especially when traveling. You’ll need to call to make a reservation for a hotel room, a restaurant, a spa, a museum tour, etc. It all starts the same way:
I’d like to make a reservation…
… for a hotel room
… for lunch/dinner
… to visit the museum
… to see the doctor
… for a haircut
If you’re speaking English in a professional setting, it’s very likely you’ll have to receive phone calls and be able to answer them or take a message.
Of course, you’re probably already familiar with the common vocabulary for your job, but feel free to make yourself a cheat-sheet of commonly asked questions! This can be a lifesaver if you’re feeling busy or stressed at work. Back when I worked in hospitality, a group of us made up a document that we kept open on the computer with common information that people would call about (most of our staff did not speak English as a first language). This is a useful tool and also a great way to memorize important information. After a while, you’ll find that you consult your list less and less often.
Still, when that phone rings, you may feel your heart start to beat a little harder! This is normal. After all, you don’t know the exact reason for the call, so it’s a little harder to prepare, and the person who’s calling probably doesn’t know you’re not a native speaker. But just remember Tip #1: Relax. You have all the tools you need.
Good morning / good afternoon / good evening, [your first name] speaking…
May I ask who’s calling? – To find out who’s calling and why.
One moment, please… – If you need a moment to find the person or consult someone.
I’m going to transfer you to his/her office. – If the person is in and available to take the call.
I’m afraid (s)he isn’t available right now. – If the person is not in.
If the person they’re looking for isn’t available:
Would you like to leave a message?
Can I take a message?
Last but not least, here are some expressions that will help you when you’re having trouble understanding the person you’re speaking with:
Sorry, I am having a little trouble hearing.
Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.
Could you slow down, please?
Could you repeat that, please?
Here are a few last tips to help you manage your phone calls in English.
- How to spell out a word or name. You have two options here. First, you can learn the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. This is a standardized “phonetic” alphabet used in English and many other languages. The advantage is that it’s likely your conversation partner is familiar with it, at least in part. For example: Simon. That’s Sierra, India, Mike, Oscar, November. Alternatively, you can use popular city/state names or first names. For example: Simon. That’s Sacramento, Indiana, Montana, Oregon, Nebraska.
- To give your phone number in English, just go number by number. We never use two-digit or three-digit numbers. So: 8-4-2-3-3-9-0 (and not 84-23-390). We also say “oh” instead of “zero”: eight-oh-oh-two-nine-one-oh.
- To give an email address, we say “dot” for . and “at” for @. For example: Simon at Gmail dot com.
Once you’ve learned a few of these polite phrases, you’ll have no trouble making and receiving phone calls in English. Remember to stay relaxed, be polite, and make notes both before and during the call. The person on the other end of the line will understand that English isn’t your first language, and should have no problem slowing down or repeating themselves.
Finally, we’ve developed a complete training course to help you improve your spoken English and pronunciation so that you can speak with confidence—on and off the phone! To learn more about the program, visit MosaSpeak English (with confidence!).
It’s a comprehensive 10-module course designed to help you improve every aspect of your spoken English – fluency, confidence, pronunciation, and more – step by step, and enjoy doing it.