Talking on the Telephone.

Speaking on the phone in another language is one of the most intimidating things for language learners to do. In this lesson you will learn the vocabulary (including the phonetic alphabet) and grammar that you need to talk on the telephone in English. The lesson includes conversation questions, listening comprehension and role plays to really consolidate the material.

It’s Good to Talk.

Discuss these questions about talking on the telephone in English.

  1. How do you feel about conducting business conversations in English over the phone? What challenges have you encountered, and how have you overcome them?
  2. When you make or receive business calls in English, what strategies do you use to ensure clear and effective communication?
  3. Can you describe a recent phone call you had in English for professional purposes? What was the purpose of the call, and how did it go?
  4. In your opinion, what are the key differences between face-to-face communication and telephone communication in English? How do you adapt to these differences?
  5. Have you ever had to leave a voicemail in English? How do you structure your voicemail messages to convey your message effectively?
  6. When you don’t understand something during a phone call in English, what phrases or strategies do you use to seek clarification without causing confusion?
  7. How do you manage your nerves or anxiety when making important business calls in English, and do you have any tips for staying confident during these conversations?
  8. Describe a situation where cultural differences affected a phone conversation in English. How did you handle it, and what did you learn from the experience?
  9. What vocabulary or phrases do you find particularly useful for phone conversations in English, and how do you practice and expand your telephone communication skills?
  10. How do you balance the need for formality in business phone calls with the goal of building positive relationships with English-speaking colleagues and clients?
VocabularyDescription/DefinitionPart of Speech
CallbackTo return a phone callNoun/Verb
Call directoryA list of phone numbers and contactsNoun
Call logA record of incoming and outgoing callsNoun
Call waitingA feature that alerts of incoming calls while on another callNoun/Adjective
CallbackTo return a phone callNoun/Verb
Cell phone/Mobile phoneA portable phone that operates on a cellular networkNoun/Adjective
Conference callA telephone call involving multiple participantsNoun
DialTo enter a phone number on the keypad to make a callVerb/Noun
ExtensionAn additional phone line within an office or organisationNoun
GreetingA polite welcome or salutationNoun/Verb
Hang upTo end a phone call by replacing the receiverVerb/Noun
LandlineA traditional, non-mobile telephone lineNoun/Adjective
Missed callA call that was not answered or noticedNoun/Verb
MuteTo turn off the microphone to prevent sound transmissionVerb/Adjective
Phone numberA numerical address for making phone callsNoun
ReceiverThe part of the phone used to listen to the callerNoun
RedialTo call the last dialled number againVerb/Noun
RingtoneA sound indicating an incoming callNoun
Speed dialA feature allowing quick dialling of frequently called numbersNoun/Verb
SpeakerphoneA phone feature that allows hands-free conversationNoun/Adjective
Telephone boothAn enclosed structure with a phone for public useNoun
TelephoneA device for transmitting voice conversations over a distanceNoun/Adjective
VoicemailA system for recording and storing phone messagesNoun/Verb

Useful expressions for phone calls

Greeting and Introduction:


  1. Hi, it’s [Your Name].
  2. Good morning/afternoon/evening.
  3. How may I assist you?
  4. May I ask who’s calling, please?
  5. Is [Name] available?
  6. I’m returning your call.
  7. This is [Your Name] from [Your Company].
  8. I’m calling regarding…

Taking Messages:

Can I leave a message?

  1. Please tell [Name] to call me back.
  2. Could you ask [Name] to return my call?
  3. When is a good time to reach [Name]?
  4. I’ll make sure [Name] gets your message.

Transferring Calls:

I’ll connect you to [Name/Department].

  1. Let me transfer your call.
  2. Please hold while I connect you.
  3. I’m putting you through to [Name].

Ending a Call:

Thank you for calling [Company].

  1. Have a great day!
  2. It was a pleasure talking with you.
  3. Goodbye.
  4. Take care.

Common Business Phone Phrases:

I’m sorry, but [Name] is in a meeting right now.

  1. Can I take a message?
  2. I’ll check [Name]’s availability.
  3. Could you please hold for a moment?
  4. I’ll look up that information for you.
  5. Let me get back to you on that.
  6. I’ll forward your request to the appropriate department.
  7. We’ll investigate the issue and get back to you.
  8. I’ll send you an email with the details.
  9. Is there anything else I can assist you with?
  10. Your call is important to us.
  11. I apologise for any inconvenience.
  12. We appreciate your business.
  13. We value your feedback.

Telephone Etiquette Phrases:

Speak clearly and slowly, please.

  1. Could you please repeat that?
  2. I’m having trouble hearing you.
  3. May I put you on hold for a moment?
  4. I’ll find someone who can help you.
  5. Let’s schedule a follow-up call.
  6. I’ll make a note of this in our records.
  7. Can I confirm your contact information?
  8. I’ll follow up on this matter.
  9. Thank you for your patience.

Scheduling and Confirming:

Are you available on [Date/Time]?

  1. Let’s set up a meeting for [Date/Time].
  2. I’ll send you a calendar invite.
  3. Could you confirm our appointment for [Date/Time]?
  4. We’re confirming our meeting for [Date/Time].
  5. Can we reschedule for another time?
  6. Our meeting is scheduled in the conference room.
  7. I’ll be waiting for you in the lobby.

Problem Resolution:

We’ll address the issue right away.

  1. Let me investigate the problem.
  2. We’ll find a solution to this challenge.
  3. I apologise for the inconvenience.
  4. I’ll escalate this issue to the appropriate department.
  5. We’ll get this sorted out as soon as possible.
  6. I’ll make sure this doesn’t happen again.
  7. Your feedback is valuable in resolving this.

Expressing Gratitude:

Thank you for your time and cooperation.

  1. We appreciate your business and loyalty.
  2. Thanks for choosing our services.
  3. Your feedback helps us improve.
  4. We’re grateful for the opportunity to serve you.
  5. Please let us know if there’s anything else we can do for you.

The Phonetic Alphabet

When we speak on the phone, we often use the phonetic alphabet to spell things out to avoid confusion. Here are the words that we use to represent each letter.

LetterPhonetic RepresentationLetterPhonetic Representation
F FoxtrotSSierra
The Phonetic Alphabet Reference

Useful grammar for talking on the telephone

  1. Modal Verbs: Modal verbs are often used in phone conversations to express politeness, requests, and permissions.
    • May I speak to…?
    • Could you please…?
    • Can I leave a message?
    • Would it be possible to…?
  2. Conditionals: Conditional sentences can be used to express hypothetical situations or make offers and suggestions.
    • If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.
    • I would be happy to assist you if you need further information.
  3. Direct and Indirect Speech: In phone conversations, you may need to use both direct and indirect speech when relaying messages or reporting information.
    • He said, “Call me back at 2 PM.” (direct speech)
    • She asked me to call her back at 2 PM. (indirect speech)
  4. Imperatives: Imperative sentences are used to give instructions or commands politely.
    • Please hold for a moment.
    • Kindly send me the details via email.
  5. Present Simple and Continuous: These tenses are commonly used to describe current actions or situations during a call.
    • I am currently reviewing your file.
    • He works in the marketing department.
  6. Past Simple and Perfect: Past tenses are used when referring to actions or events that occurred before the call.
    • I left a message for him yesterday.
    • She had already sent the report when I called.
  7. Gerunds and Infinitives: These are used when talking about actions or responsibilities.
    • I appreciate your calling me back.
    • I need you to fill out this form.
  8. Prepositions: Pay attention to prepositions when discussing time, dates, and contact information.
    • The meeting is scheduled for Monday.
    • Let’s set up a conference call for next week.
  9. Tag Questions: These can be used to seek confirmation or agreement.
    • You’ll call me back, won’t you?
    • This is the correct number, isn’t it?
  10. Conditional Clauses: Conditional clauses with “if” can be used to discuss potential outcomes.
    • If you could send me the report, I would appreciate it.
    • If there are any issues, please let me know.
  11. Relative Clauses: These are used to provide additional information about people or things.
    • The person who handles billing is out of the office today.
    • The project that we discussed last week is progressing well.

Listening Comprehension

A (Caller): (Dials the number and waits for the answer)

B (Receptionist): (Answers the call) Good morning. Global Marketing, this is Hannah at reception. How can I help you?

A: Good morning. This is George Watson calling from Dynamo Accounting. I’d like to speak with Mr. Johnson in the sales department, please.

B: Of course, Mr. Watson. I’ll connect you to Mr. Johnson’s extension. Please hold for a moment,I’ll just put you through.

A: Thank you.

B: (Attempts to transfer the call but after a brief pause) I’m sorry, but it seems Mr. Johnson’s line is currently busy, and he might be on a call for a while. Would you like to leave a message, or would you prefer to call back later?

A: Thank you for letting me know. I appreciate it. I’ll leave a message for him. Could you please ask him to cll me back at his earliest convenience? My number is 0798 765 234.

B: Certainly, that’s 0798 765 234 and your name is Mr. Watson. whisky, alpha, tango, sierra, Oscar, November, is that right?

A: Yes, that’s right.

B: Okay, I’ll make sure to pass on the message. Is there anything else I can help you with today?

A: No, that will be all for now. Thank you for your help.

B: You’re welcome, Mr. Watson. Have a great day, and Mr. Johnson will be in touch soon.

A: Thank you. You too. Goodbye.

B: Goodbye. (Ends the call)