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Communication (Photo credit: P Shanks)

Learning how to communicate well on the telephone is one of the top priorities for many students who need to use English at work. Learning the common phrases that are used on the telephone helps students know what to expect. However, what students often need most is practice, practice, and more practice. While helpful, practicing a role-play in the classroom is not always the best way to improve telephoning skills. Telephoning requires special skills as there are a number of difficulties that arise when telephoning that are specific to telephoning. The first and foremost difficulty is not being able to see the person you are communicating with. This lack of visual communication often makes students, who can communicate quite successfully in other situations, nervous and thereby hinders their communicative abilities. Add to this the typical hectic pace of business communication, and you have a particularly difficult situation.

This feature includes a number of ingredients to improve telephoning skills. Included you will find specific telephoning phrases, telephoning techniques to improve confidence when telephoning and telephoning practice exercises for use with your colleagues or in the classroom

Telephoning in English includes learning a number of special phrases, as well as focusing on listening skills. Some of the most important phrases include how to answer the phone:

Hello, this is Ken
Brighton 0987654

In American English, we answer the phone stating “This is …” In British English, it’s common to answer the phone by stating the telephone number. The phrase “This is …” is used only on the telephone to substitute the phrase “My name is …” which is not used to answer the telephone.

Begin by learning important telephone English with the dialogue below. Here is an example dialogue:

Operator: Hello, Frank and Brothers, How can I help you?
Peter: This is Peter Jackson. Can I have extension 3421?
Operator: Certainly, hold on a minute, I’ll put you through…

Frank: Bob Peterson‘s office, Frank speaking.
Peter: This is Peter Jackson calling, is Bob in?

Frank: I’m afraid he’s out at the moment. Can I take a message?
Peter: Yes, Could you ask him to call me at . I need to talk to him about the Nuovo line, it’s urgent.

Frank: Could you repeat the number please?
Peter: Yes, that’s , and this is Peter Jackson.

Frank: Thank you Mr Jackson, I’ll make sure Bob gets this asap.
Peter: Thanks, bye.

Frank: Bye.

As you can see, the language is rather informal and there are some important differences to everyday English. Look at the chart below for key language and phrases used in telephone English:

Introducing yourself

This is Ken.
Ken speaking

Asking who is on the telephone

Excuse me, who is this?
Can I ask who is calling, please?

Asking for Someone

Can I have extension 321? (extensions are internal numbers at a company)
Could I speak to…? (Can I – more informal / May I – more formal)
Is Jack in? (informal idiom meaning: Is Jack in the office?

Connecting Someone

I’ll put you through (put through – phrasal verb meaning ‘connect’)
Can you hold the line? Can you hold on a moment?
How to reply when someone is not available
I’m afraid … is not available at the moment
The line is busy… (when the extension requested is being used)
Mr Jackson isn’t in… Mr Jackson is out at the moment…

Taking a Message

Could (Can, May) I take a message?
Could (Can, May) I tell him who is calling?
Would you like to leave a message?