Learn how to communicate well on the telephone in English.
The telephone is one of the most wonderful inventions in the history of mankind. It is a piece of equipment that is used to talk to someone who is in another place. It was Alexander Graham Bell who patented the first telephone in 1876 and thus gradually changed the world by making communication between people easier. Numerous modifications in the structure and design of the telephone followed, and in 1973, the inventor Martin Cooper introduced us to the first cellphone. The English comedian Ernie Wise made Britain’s inaugural mobile phone call on New Year’s Day in 1985, and now, less than three decades later, it seems that almost every person in the country has one.
This article will show you how telephone calls are made in the English language. In the examples below, A is the person answering the phone, and B is the person who is making the phone call.
Answering the Phone
There’s more than one way of answering the phone when someone calls you. Most people answer the phone at home by saying ‘Hello‘:
- A: Hello. B: Hello, it’s me.
Some British speakers like to answer the phone by giving you their telephone number:
- A: 56570 B: Hello. Is that Maya?
A note: Remember that you say each digit of the telephone number. For instance, you would say 56570 as five six five seven oh. Please also note that British speakers say 0 as oh. American speakers usually say 0 as zero. When a number is repeated, British speakers will use the word double. For example, they say 5445 as five double four five.
If you don’t recognize the caller’s voice, you can ask who it is. If you are at home, you can say ‘Sorry, who is it?‘ or ‘Who is this?‘ Some people will say ‘Who’s that?‘ but this can sound a bit rude. For example:
- A: Hello. B: Hello. A: Sorry, who is it? / Who is this? B: It’s me, Cindy.
If you recognize the caller’s voice when they say ‘Hello‘, you can say ‘Hello‘ followed by their name:
- A: Hello. B: Hello, Sara. A: Hello, Alex, how are you?
If you think that you know who the caller is – when they haven’t introduced themselves over the phone immediately – you can say, for example, ‘Is that…?‘ or ‘That’s…, isn’t it?‘:
- A: Hello. B: Hello. Can I speak to Charlie? A: I’m afraid he’s gone out. Is that Max? / That’s Max, isn’t it? B: Yes.
People at work will answer the phone by giving you the name of the organization or department they are working for. For example:
- A:Texas Medical Center. B: Hello. I’d like to make an appointment to see one of the doctors tomorrow.
You can also answer the phone at work by giving the caller your own name:
- A: Hello. Amelie Anderson speaking. B: Hello. It’s Tom Jones speaking. Can I talk to my manager, please?
If you are interested in the identity of the caller, you can say ‘Who’s calling?‘ or ‘Who’s speaking?’ For example:
- A: Ferguson & Johnson. B: Hello. Could I speak to Mr. Johnson, please? A: Who’s calling? B: The name is Pearce. A: Hold on a minute, please.
If the caller has got the wrong number, you can say ‘I think you’ve got the wrong number‘ or ‘Sorry, wrong number‘.
When you’re phoning friends and family, you can just say ‘Hello‘ when they answer the phone, if you think they will recognize your voice. You can also add their name:
- A: Hello. B: Hello, Sara. A: Hello, Don, how are you? B: Well, not so good.
Please note that after saying ‘Hello‘ friends and family usually ask each other how they are.
If you want to make it clear who you are when you phone someone, you can say ‘It’s…‘ or ‘This is…‘. For instance:
- A: Hello. B: Hello. It’s Don. / A: Hello. B: Hello, Sara. This is Don.
When you’re asking for general information, you don’t need to give your name:
- A: Citizen’s Advice Bureau. B: Hello. I’d like some advice about…
If you’re not sure who has answered the phone you can say ‘Who am I speaking to?‘:
- A: Hello. B: Hello. Who am I speaking to?
You can also check that you have the right person or number by saying ‘Is that…?‘, or by just saying the number like a question:
- A: Hello. B: Hello. Is that Mr. Kelly? A: Yes, it is.
- A: Hello. B: Hello? 345 9876? A: Yes.
A note: Speakers of American English usually say ‘Is this…?‘ .
Asking to Speak to Someone
If the person who answers the phone is not the person you want to speak to, you can say ‘Can I speak to … , please?‘ or ‘Is … there?‘. For example:
- A: Hello. B: Hello. Can I speak to Anna? / Is Anna there? A: Im sorry, she’s not at home at the moment. B: Can I leave a message? A: Yes, of course.
If you’re making a business call, you can say ‘Could I speak to …, please?‘
- A: Ferguson & Johnson. B: Hello. Could I speak to Mr. Ferguson? A: I’m afraid he’s not in at the moment. Would you like to leave a message? B: No, it’s alright. I’ll ring later.
If the person you are speaking to is in fact the person you want, they sometimes say ‘Speaking‘. For example:
- A: Personnel. B: Hello. Could I speak to Mr. Jackson, please? A: Speaking.
Ending a Phone Call
When you end a phone call, you say ‘Goodbye‘ or, informally ‘Bye‘. People sometimes also say ‘Speak to you soon‘ or ‘Thanks for ringing‘. For example:
- A: I’m afraid we can’t talk right now. B: That’s alright, I’ll phone back after dinner. A: OK. Speak to you soon. Thanks for ringing. Goodbye. B: Goodbye. / Bye.
Learning telephone etiquette in English takes some practice. Before you start making and/or taking telephone calls in English, you should first learn the most common expressions of telephone English. Make sure you use informal language in informal situations and formal language in formal situations. You can always ask another ESL student to practice talking on the phone with you. Also feel free to check out the following extract from the well-known British television series You Rang, M’Lord?, where you will find an excellent example of telephone English.