Phone calls. Love them, hate them, you have to admit: even the biggest texter needs to make a phone call at some point. You've surely done it a bunch--you often need to use the phone for:
- Doctor's appointments
- Technical support
- Customer service requests
- Making reservations
- And so much more.
Notice something? Well, all of these examples are professional or workplace-related--which calls for formal English language. We've talked before about how to text in English. While there are formal ways to text, that method of communication is almost always pretty casual. This makes phone calls a little different than texting.
Instead, today, I want you to think of phone calls more like a letter or an email, which will use more Business English.
See also, Kelsey's article on how to write a formal letter in English.
In English, to answer the phone, we say:
to pick up the phone or to take a call
To call someone, we say:
Make a phone call
But, okay, what's the big deal besides that? Well, phone calls are tough! With work calls, you not only have to be more formal, but you have to think fast. It is all listening and speaking--and when you can't see the other person on the end of the phone, you don't get the extra benefits of body language or lip reading. If you are nervous speaking in English, then phone calls can add an extra layer of difficulty.
But fear not! Today, we are going to learn some important conventions for phone calls in English. How do people pick up the phone? How do you ask for someone? What are some phrases you'll hear on the phone in English, but never in person?
Before we get into that, let's look at something vital for English phone calls: how to enhance your English listening and Speaking skills.
How do you prepare for a phone call?
Now, first off, the most important thing here is confidence.
Practice your active listening. The more you listen, the more you understand, and the more you really start to feel confident in your abilities to understand English.
Speechling offers a free listening platform so you can test your listening skills. British English, American English, male or female--you can pick your preferred option, choose your topic or level, and try your ear on thousands of sentences.
Remember the way native speakers talk is very from how audio recordings from your textbook or Youtube might sound. Try to go to language exchanges or meet up with a language learning buddy! But, as we said above, phone calls, especially these days, are often what you use to contact an office or employer directly. So, this is the time to ask your language exchange partner to use Business or Formal English.
And, of course, listening's best friend is speaking. Try practicing your pronunciation with a friend or language exchange buddy. Better yet, try Speechling's service! You can record yourself speaking, and a professional native speaker will get back to you with feedback. It's low-pressure, especially if you get nervous about speaking face-to-face (totally normal!).
The bottom line with this point is not so much that you need perfect English to make a phone call. Not at all! We'll talk about this more in a bit, but it's okay to make mistakes. The important thing is that you feel more confident and assured of your English listening and speaking skills.
You don't need to be Shakespeare, you just need to be able to smile, relax, and put what you've practiced to work.
Five Different Ways to Answer the Phone in English
Answering a phone call differs from each country and culture. In Italian, you say "Pronto" (literally: ready); in Korean, you say 여보세요 (yeoboseyo).
In English, you say...drum roll..."Hello?"
All right a bit anticlimactic! But yes, it's quite simple.
You can also say:
"Hello, this is (your name)."
This greeting is a personal introduction, used for when you're representing yourself and not a business.
This is (your name) from (your company). How can I help you?
If you are working at an office, it's quite common to answer this way. It's straight, simple, and to the point.
Example: "Hello! This is Jane from Happy Plants Inc. How can I help you?"
Let's look at a more informal way to answer a phone call:
"Jane speaking" (informal)
This one is informal, used usually with friends or perhaps work colleagues you speak to regularly.
Now, if you are making a call, then you can say:
"Hello, this is Jane. I'm calling about..."
You can then continue with whatever you need to call about--making an appointment, checking for test results, etc.
"Hello, this is Jane. May I speak with (person you want to talk to)"
If you are calling a general office, and you need to speak to someone in particular, use "May I speak/can I speak with...?".
How to Handle Unique Situations on the Phone
How to Answer Identity Questions
Often, with doctor's office, tax office, school or business calls, the first question they will ask is to confirm your identity. This is an important security step, and while it might seem obvious, there's an interesting way that people respond to them in English.
Secretary: Hello, I'm Jane with the dentist office. Am I speaking with John?
John: Hello, yes, this is he.
"This is he/she" is a common, formal answer to this question. Of course, you can also answer with:
John: Yes, I'm John.
John: Yes, that's me.
What to Say if Your Phone Call gets Interrupted?
Sometimes, you can't hear the other person well or the call drops.
If your connection is bad, you can say:
- "Hello, are you there?"
- "I'm having trouble hearing you. I think the connection is bad."
- "You're breaking up. I can't hear you."
- "You are cutting in and out. Let me try hanging up and try again."
If connection is restored, you can say:
- "I can hear you fine now."
- "Can you hear me? I can hear you."
- "What were you saying?"
- "Great! I was saying..."
If you have to end the call suddenly, you can say:
- "I'm sorry, I will need to call you back/put you on hold. Is that all right?" - formal
- "Hey, can I call you back?" - informal
- "Let me call you back in a minute." - informal
This video roleplay can help you practice some of these phrases out loud.
How to Make "Small Talk" in English
Phone calls, especially between family members or friends, might include some "small talk". That means, conversations about everyday topics, like the weather, how work or school is going, or your routine. It is talk about the "small" things. While many people find "small talk" boring, it is still very useful to know how to chat about little topics like these.
For example, your English friend might ask you:
- "How's it going?" or "How have you been?" - how are you?
- "What are you up to?" - what are you doing?
- "How's the weather over there?"
- "What have you been doing for fun lately?"
And so on! Check out this video for some examples on more small talk. We won't get into "small talk" too much today. For more ideas for conversation topics, some of which are small talk and some are "bigger" talk, see our article on making conversation in English.
Closing Out the Phone Call
Now, in movies, you might see characters on screen hang up on a call without saying goodbye. Don't get confused, that is just Hollywood! In America and other English-speaking cultures, you should definitely close out a phone call with at least a "goodbye."
Here are some common ways to finish a phone call in English:
Thank you for your time, goodbye!
Short and simple! This is very common if you are speaking with someone who did you a service or for a client.
Have a great day, bye!
Also common as a goodbye. You can also combine it with a Goodbye.
Talk to you soon or See you soon.
This one you can use with friends or with someone who you expect to interact with again very soon, such as a colleague.
It was great speaking with you, goodbye.
Now, this one is more formal. It's perfect for formal or business situations, but a little odd to use with close friends.
Some more informal examples:
- "I gotta go"
- "I need let you go."
- "I've got to run, so I'll catch you later."
- "Love chatting with you, I'll talk to you soon."
- "Take care!"
These examples are VERY informal and should be used with friends.
For more useful phrases in English, including how to take a message or put someone on hold, check out this article. We also recommend reading this guide for some tips on maintaining a professional attitude while taking phone calls.
How to Have a Great, Professional Phone Call
Look, it's easy to feel overwhelmed with language learning.
Sometimes, you hit a plateau and you feel like your skills are stagnating--or worse, regressing. The truth is, language learning isn't linear. Some days, you can have smooth, easy interactions in English. The next day, you forget basic words. It's normal!
Ultimately, every person learns differently and takes more or less time. Speaking and writing are production skills, which means it takes more of your brain's effort because you must produce language. Listening and reading are passive skills, because you are intaking the language rather than producing it.
So, when thinking about phone calls, it's easy to psych yourself out. These days, phone calls are used for interviews, appointments--formal situations. It's okay to be nervous, and remember, the goal is to communicate. Not to be perfect!
And the more you do it, the better you'll get. For now, I gotta let you go.Take care, and goodbye!