Speaking skills - On the phone
In this week's Premier Skills English Podcast, Jack and Rich talk about some problems people often have when talking on the telephone. These problems can be language based (what to say) or problems with technology (bad line or reception). Rich and Jack have some practice phone conversations that should help you with your own phone conversations in English. They also introduce lots of words and phrases that are connected to phone conversations. We also have an exciting new phone-in where we call one of our listeners and test their knowledge of football vocabulary and the team they support. Our first contestant is Philemon from Ghana! As always, we also have a new football phrase for you to guess. Enjoy!
Jack: Hi, Rich, it’s Jack. Where are you?
Rich: Sorry, yes. I’m on my way.
Jack: We’re ready to start the podcast. I’m waiting.
Rich: Two minutes. I’m coming now. The traffic was a nightmare.
Jack: Alright, alright. No rush. Don’t give yourself a heart attack.
Rich: OK, see you in a minute.
Jack: Great. Bye.
Welcome - Talking on the phone
Rich: Hello my name’s Rich
Jack: and I’m Jack
Rich: and welcome to this week’s Premier Skills English podcast
Jack: Where we talk about football and help you with your English.
Jack: What’s happening this week, Rich?
Rich: In this week’s podcast, we’re talking about talking on the phone and we’re going to look at some of the most common fixed phrases that we use on the phone and give you some advice for talking on the phone in English.
Jack: And, we’ve got an exciting new quiz where we telephone one of our Premier Skills English podcast listeners and test their knowledge of football vocabulary and their knowledge of their football team!
Rich: Have a listen and maybe you want us to give you call in the future?
Jack: You made it!
Rich: Yeah, sorry, I’m a bit late. Like I said on the phone, the traffic was a nightmare. I think there had been an accident or something.
Jack: Don’t worry about it, you’re here now. Is that a new phone you’ve got there.
Rich: Yeah, it is. I wanted an iPhone but they were a bit expensive so I got this instead. I think it’s as good as an iPhone but quite a lot cheaper!
Jack: Nice. It’s always good to get a bargain. Let’s try it out. Go and stand over there and I’ll give you a ring.
Rich: That’s a bit weird but OK.
Jack: Alright go out of the room, then.
Jack: Hi Rich, it’s Jack. How are you?
Rich: Err.. can you speak up a bit? I can’t hear you.
Jack: Hi Rich, it’s Jack. How you doing?
Rich: Sorry? Can you say that again?
Jack: RICH! IT’S JACK!
Rich: No, no I’m not Rich. I think you’ve got the wrong number!
Jack: Oh? Err… sorry about that. Bye.
Jack: Rich! Come back in.
Rich: Hey! You know that it was me messing about.
Jack: Yes, of course I did.
Rich: The phone works perfectly.
Jack: I’ve had an idea. I think it would be a good idea to do another example telephone conversations for our listeners.
Rich: That sounds like a good idea. Why don’t you go out of the room this time? I’m tired.
Jack: OK, and you can call me this time
Rich: Alright, I’ll phone you. And our listeners have to think what our conversation is about.
Jack: Yes, and listen for phrases that you might only use on the phone.
Rich: Go on!
Jack: I’m going!
Jack: Hi Rich. Jack here.
Rich: Hey Jack. How are you doing?
Jack: Err… actually I’m in the middle of something. Can I call you back in a minute?
Rich: Sure, no problem. Speak in a minute.
Rich: Jack has hung up. I will have to speak on my own for a minute. Errr… I’m not sure what to say. I hope he calls back soon.
Jack: Rich. What’s up?
Rich: I was just ringing to see if you’d like to go and watch the match on Saturday?
Jack: Sorry, Rich. I can hardly hear you. This line is really bad. Can you hang up and call me back?
Rich: OK, I’ll try again. Lots of phone problems in this imaginary conversation!
Rich: Jack. Can you hear me?
Jack: Loud and clear. What’s going on?
Rich: I was just calling to see if you…….
Rich: The line’s gone dead. I think he’s cut me off! I’ll try ringing one more time.
Jack: Hi Rich. Sorry about before. Phone problems hey. Yes, the match on Saturday. Great idea.What time is good for you?
Rich: About seven?
Jack: Sounds good. If I’m late just give me a call to see where I am.
Rich: Yes, I will if I can get through!
Jack: See you Saturday.
Rich: You can come back in here now, Jack.
Jack: Hey that was a pretty good telephone conversation. I think we included lots of words and phrases that will be useful for our listeners.
Rich: Yes, I think so. In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at them.
Jack: Let’s look at some of the language we used in that last section. I think we should start with how you start a conversation. It’s quite simple but it’s important to get it right.
Rich: Yes, you definitely shouldn’t say ‘What?’ or ‘What do you want?’. That would be rude even when speaking to friends.
Jack: That’s right. When I pick up or answer the phone I usually say hello or hi.
Rich: And when you respond you usually use it’s followed by your name. You can see that we used this in our examples earlier. We said hi or hello and then the other person said it’s Jack or it’s Rich.
Jack: This is the most common way to start a phone conversation when you know the person you are calling but you might say things like Hey or Hi followed by the person’s name who is calling you.
Rich: Especially because on mobiles you can often see who is calling you before you answer. When we don’t know the person we are calling we are a little more formal and might say hello or good morning/afternoon or evening.
Jack: And we might follow this is up with a phrase that explains why we are calling. You could say I’m calling about the job advertisement I saw in the newspaper, for example.
Rich: And we can replace the word calling with phoning or ringing. We can say I’m ringing about… or I’m phoning about…
Jack: In our practice conversations earlier, we had a few problems. One example was calling the wrong telephone number.
Rich: The most common phrase to use here is ‘Sorry, I think I’ve got the wrong number’.
Jack: Another problem is when someone calls you but you are busy. Earlier I said, ‘I’m in the middle of something. Can I call you back in a minute?’
Rich: This is the phrase to use if you answer the phone but you can’t talk because you are busy. You could also say ‘Sorry, I’m really busy. Can I call you back in a bit?’
Jack: One other problem we had in our practice conversation was a bad line. A bad line is when the phone connection is not good or there is a lot of noise in the background.
Rich: Some good phrases to use in this situation are: ‘Can you speak up a bit?’ or ‘Can you say that again, please?.
Jack: Another option which uses more telephone language is what I said to Rich earlier; ‘This line is really bad. Can you hang up and call me back?
Rich: Hang up means to finish the phone call and to call back means to try telephoning again.
Jack: There are lots of other words and phrases that are specific to the telephone or mobile and we’ve got some activities that look at more of them in the page below.
Rich: And, your task for this week is to work together to write little telephone dialogues in the comments section.
Jack: We want you to think of a situation when you might need to speak on the phone in English.
Rich: We want you to imagine you’re either calling a friend to arrange to meet somewhere or calling a business to find out some information such as the opening times at the local gym or to book a table at a restaurant.
Jack: Write a short dialogue between you and the other person and try to include some of the phrases we included in our conversations earlier.
Rich: We’re very excited today because in this week’s podcast we’re going to speak to one of our Premier Skills English listeners.
Jack: That’s right. We’ve got a new quiz. We’re going to call one of our listeners to test their football vocabulary and football knowledge of their team.
Rich: And we’re very happy to welcome our first contestant who is Philemon, a Manchester United fan from Ghana.
Jack: Philemon’s nickname on the website is Kwesimanifest and we called him earlier this week - let’s have a listen and see how well he did in our first football phone-in!
QUIZ WITH PHILEMON
Rich: If you would like to be a contestant in the Premier Skills English Phone-in, contact us by email or in the comments section below.
Can you work out this week’s football phrase?
Rich: Have you got a football phrase for us this week?
Jack: Yes, I have, but first, last week’s football phrase. The phrase was free agent. A free agent is a player who is out of contract. This means that their contract with their club have finished and they can sign for any other club and their previous club doesn’t receive a transfer fee.
Rich: Well done to Liubomyr from Ukraine, AssemJuve from Palestine, Milos from Serbia, Ahmed Adam from Sudan, and Kwesimanifest from Ghana. You all got the right answer!
Rich: So, what’s this week’s football phrase, Jack?
Jack: This week’s football phrase is *** ****** ********. The phrase is used to describe matches that happen in July and early August before the Premier League kicks off. For example, Manchester Utd are playing Manchester City, Barcelona and Real Madrid in *** ****** ********** in the USA this month.
Rich: Right, that’s all we have time for this week! Don’t forget to write your answers to our questions and make a guess at our football phrase in the comments below.
Jack: Bye for now and enjoy your football!
How much did you understand?
In the podcast, Rich and Jack used lots of words and phrases that we use to talk on the phone. Some of them might be new for you. You can see two examples here:
No, no. I'm not Rich. I think you've got the wrong number.
Sorry, I'm in the middle of something. Can I call you back in a minute?
There were a few more tricky words and phrases in the podcast. Do you know what they all mean? Try the activity below, then, listen to the podcast again to hear how we used the words. This can really help your understanding.
On the phone - Starting a conversation
One of the most difficult things to do on the telephone is starting a conversation. There are different ways of starting a conversation on the telephone. These depend on two important things:
- Are you talking to someone you know?
- Is it a formal or informal conversation?
Jack and Rich know each other well, so the conversations they had in the podcast were informal. Take a look at these examples:
Hi Rich, it's Jack. How are you?
Hi Rich, Jack here. How you doing?
If it is a more formal conversation with someone you know, you might use slightly different structures. The next example could be used if you need to ring work to tell them that you are sick:
Hello. This is Richard Smith. I'm calling to say that I won't be able to come to work today because I'm sick.
If you don't know somebody, and you are calling somebody back, you might say something slightly differently again:
Hello. My name is Richard Smith. You called me this morning and I'm returning your call.
You may sometimes need to speak to a specific person when you are calling a company. There are a number of polite ways to do this:
Is it possible to speak to Mrs. Smith?
May I speak to Mrs. Smith?
Could you put me through to Mrs. Smith please?
And, sometimes, especially when you are calling about a service, you don't need to use your name, just give the reason why you are calling:
Hello. I'm calling about the advertisement for the job I saw in the newspaper last night.
Hello. I was wondering if there were any tickets left for the match on Saturday.
In this activity, take a look at some different conversations and decide which phrases are most appropriate for each situation.
Top tips for speaking on the phone
Jack and Rich had a few problems with their telephone conversations during the podcast. Some of these were language problems and some of these were technical problems such as a bad line and a lot of background noise. Here are our top tips for speaking on the telephone:
- Ask people to repeat things. If you haven't understood use phrases such as: Can you say that again, please?, Sorry, I didn't quite catch that, or Can you repeat that last part one more time, please?
- Confirm you have understood by repeating things back to the speaker. This is a good tactic to check your understanding and it's also very natural. Say things such as: So, you mean..., in other words, So, what you are saying is...
- Ask people to speak more slowly. People, especially native speakers, can sometimes speak very quickly on the phone. You need to get them to slow down! Use phrases such as: Can you speak a little slower, please? English is not my first language so would you mind slowing down a bit?
- Watch out for background noise. Before you telephone somebody, think about where you are. If you are in a public place look for a quieter place to speak.
- Think about how you start the conversation. Before you make a call, think about how to start the conversation and think about what you expect the other person to say. If you can guess what the answers might be, it makes things a lot easier!
A telephone conversation
In the podcast, Rich and Jack asked you to think of a telephone conversation, in English, that you might have in the future. We want to do lots of different dialogues in the comments section. Start your dialogue by writing ring, ring at the beginning of your message. To write the next line of the dialogue hit the reply button in the comments section and reply to that person. Then start a new dialogue with a new comment. Don't forget to use some of the words and phrases you've learned in this lesson. Here are some possible topics for your dialogues:
- Phone a friend and arrange to meet to do something together. Decide upon the time and place in your conversation. You might want to meet at a cafe / in the park / in the town centre / at the cinema.
- Call a business such as a local gym or restaurant to find out the opening times or to book a table.
- Ring a football club and ask about tickets for a match in the future.
Write your dialogue in the comments section below.
What do you think?
In this week’s podcast, Jack and Rich spoke about talking on the telephone.
Do you ever talk on the phone in English? When? Is it more difficult than speaking face to face? Why?
Let's write some telephone dialogues! Start your dialogue by writing ring, ring and reply to other people's dialogues by pressing the reply button. Look at the task above for more information.
Remember to write your guess at this week's football phrase and answer the questions above in the comments section below.