Phone Tips You Can’t Ignore When Learning to Speak English

With over 6.8 billion mobile phones worldwide, 1.2 billion telephone lines and 70% of the world’s population using a telephone on a daily basis, speaking on the phone is quite a common occurrence. For non-native English speakers, speaking English on the phone is a great way to improve listening comprehension and also to have you thinking in English so you can respond quickly and accurately. Along the way it may prove to be quite frustrating and challenging, but if you take one step at a time your telephone skills will definitely improve. You’ll gain confidence. You’ll gain English skills. You’ll be hard to “shut up”.  I’ll bet on that.

How to Practice Telephone Skills

  1. (insert name)’s not in right now.  Please leave a message after the Beep!: Practice leaving a suitable message. First brainstorm some situations in which you might need to leave a message.  Then write down what you need to say. Then practice reading out loud as if you were leaving a message. You can play this into a recording device (MP3 player, digital recorder, laptop with microphone or even your cell phone) and listen back to hear how you sound. Keep practicing until your response is at an acceptable speed, tone, etc.
  2. Mimic the call: Listen to some taped messages (of English speakers) and try to repeat them. This will give you practice listening to native speakers and you can follow the rhythm and intonation of their voices. Vary the volume of the taped message so you can continue to “mimic” the call.
  3. Could you please repeat that?: Practice talking on the phone with a friend.  Add background noise or have the friend speak softly. Have the friend ask you to repeat or clarify what you are saying as they can’t hear. You repeat the information. Brainstorm a list of routine things that you might be asked to repeat:  your name and spelling, a street address or phone, bank information, reason of calling, etc.
  4. I need to transfer you. - Do you need to speak to customer service?: This is a great way to practice the reason for calling.  Place a “pretend” phone call and after stating your intent, “pretend” that you are transferred or that you request to speak to customer service. Then repeat your reason of calling. You can also practice this with a friend. After you place the call, your friend can respond by saying, “I need to transfer you to customer service” and then you repeat why you called.
  5. What’s next?: Practice a variety of situations:  making/changing appointments, asking for someone on the phone, discussing a problem with billing, and responding to routine situations (“The dentist is off until next Tuesday”, “Mr. Smith is at a meeting right now.  Would you like to leave a message?” and “The doctor has an emergency now at the hospital.  Would you be able to reschedule?

Other Types of Calls

  • Conference Calls: There may be a time when you need to be on a conference call. Before the call, review the agenda if you were given one. If you are leading the conference call, make sure you send everyone invited to the call an agenda as well as the call-in number and codes. Try to arrange a pop-up reminder 15 minutes before the actual call. Either read off a list of who is on the line or have everyone introduce themselves. You can practice introducing yourself prior to the call. Prepare a short introduction. Don’t monopolize the conversion nor hold back your input. Be careful not to interrupt others who are speaking.
  • Solicitation Calls: No doubt you have received a few of these calls yourself to donate to some charity, to accept some prize offering, to participate in a survey, or to receive a discount for any number of business offerings. You can choose to listen to the message or you can politely interrupt and say that you are not interested. An answer, “Excuse me please, but I am not interested” will suffice. Then hang up. There is no need to speak anymore.
  • Emergency Numbers: Depending on where you live, the emergency numbers for fire, police and hospital emergencies differ. Check out what the local numbers are for you area so you are prepared if needed. You can practice an emergency call for any number of incidents.
  • Calling Internationally: I have found this website on how to call abroad very helpful. Again it is helpful to alert yourself to the proper procedure ahead of time if you are either living, studying or working in another country away from friends, relatives and family members who you just might need to contact sometime.  Go to: for more helpful information.
  • Phone Interviews: About the interview - Phone interviews are often used to screen candidates to narrow down the pool of applicants before inviting them to an in-person interview. Using phone interviews helps cut the cost down for interviewing out-of-town candidates both for the employer and potential employee. It is important to be prepared for a phone interview just in case you get that important call. You should prepare for a phone interview much like you would prepare for any other regular job interview. It might be helpful for you to have a copy of your application letter, a current resume and a notepad for writing handy. Make sure you have a quiet place to talk. Remove distractions:  children and pets. Turn off the television, the computer and stereo. Make sure you phone is charged if you are going to receive the call on your cell phone. Turn call-waiting off so your call is not interrupted. If the time is arranged ahead of time, make sure you are available to accept the call.  Do not interrupt the interviewer. Be polite. Listen to the entire question, and then pause before you speak. Take your time. It’s perfectly acceptable to take a moment or two to collect your thoughts.
  • Before the interview - You might want to practice a mock interview with a friend. They can prepare suitable questions for you to answer and you can tape your comments much like it would be for you to speak on the phone. This opportunity will help you practice typical questions as well as to zero-in on areas you need to improve. Do you say “um” and “uh” and “okay” between your sentences? Is your accent difficult to understand? Do you speak loud enough? Practice speaking at a good rate with clear enunciation. Try to give short, clear answers.
  • During the actual phone interview - Don’t eat, drink, smoke or chew gum. You might find it helpful to have a glass of water nearby in case your mouth gets dry.  Use the person’s title.  Remember the goal of the interview. You want to be selected as a candidate for a face-to-face interview. Thank the interviewer for his/her time. Listen carefully as the next step is explained. You might be invited to a future interview. You might be receiving a call back for an interview. Again, make certain you are there to receive the next call or to complete the next step of the interview process. Follow up with a thank you note and mention in the note your interest in the job position.
  • After the phone interview Ask yourself how you did? Is there any area you could have improved? If so, try to practice this before the next opportunity of a phone interview.

Typical Phone Interview Questions

About your background

Name of company/job title/job description and dates of former employment

The starting and final levels of compensation

Any challenges faced on the job and how these were handled

Why you are seeking different employment

What expectations might you have

About the new job and the company

What interests you about this position

Why do you want this job

What experience and attributes do you have that will benefit the company

What challenges are you looking for

Are you willing to travel

Is there anything else you want to know about the company that was not mentioned

About you

What are you looking for in your next job or your next employer

What is important to you

What is your greatest strength and your greatest weakness

Describe a typical week in your life

What pace do you work at

How do you handle stress and pressure

What are your career goals

Tell me about where you went to school and what you have done since then

What type of work environment do you like best

How do you evaluate success

Questions for the interviewer

In addition to the questions asked of you during a phone interview, it is important to have

a list of questions ready to ask the interviewer. If you have an English-speaking friend or

teacher, you can run that list by them. If not, you can practice your list ahead of time.Generally it is not a good idea to talk about benefits, sick days, etc. Wait for them to

present this information to you. Also, it is not advisable to talk too casually. This is an

interview for a prospective job so it is a formal situation. Slang should be avoided. If you are unsure of a word or phrase, don’t use it.

Telephone Vocabulary

Making contact: Hello - Good morning - Good afternoon

This is ___ speaking - I’m calling from ___ regarding ___

Could I please speak to ___? - I would like to speak to ___ -I’m trying to reach ___

Taking a call: Hello, this is ___ speaking - Can I help you? - Who’s calling

please? - Who’s speaking? - Where are you calling from? –Are you sure you have the right number?

Asking the caller to wait: Could you please hold the line? - Could you hold on please? -      

Just a minute please

Connecting: Thank you for holding - The line is free now. I’ll put you through - I’ll connect you now

Not being able to talk: I’m afraid the line is busy. Could you call back later?

-I’m sorry. ___ is at a meeting - ___ is out of the office

That person is not here at the moment. Is there someone else you wish to speak with? -  What would you like to do?

Difficulty hearing: Could you please speak up? - The connection is not very good at this time. Could you call back? - I’m afraid I can’t hear you - I’m sorry, but I didn’t quite catch what you were saying. Can you repeat what you just said?

Messages: Could you take a message? - Can I leave a message? - Would you like to leave a message?  - Could you give ___ a message from me? - Could you tell ___ that I called? - Could you please give me your name?  - Could you spell that please? Could you tell me the number and what time is good to call back please?

I still remember the first time I successfully ordered a pizza over the phone as a traveler in Germany. The satisfaction I received from knowing the pizzeria got my order correct for a gemüse-pizza to be picked up at siebzehn uhr dreißig was almost as good as eating the pizza itself. You can bet on that.

Please write to me using the comments section below and share a story about using your phone or give me a call (+1-631-731-1620). I’ll be waiting. You can bet on that, too.

Young woman with iced coffee

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