Making a phone call in a foreign language is difficult. You can’t see the other person, so you don’t get the visual clues that help you understand what they’re saying.
Another problem is that you can’t predict what the other person will say – so you might find yourself in a situation where:
– you might not understand the other person
– you don’t know if the other person will understand you
– you might not know how to respond to the other person
No wonder people prefer to write emails!
But there are some things you can do to be more in control of an unpredictable situation. Here are five tips to make sure you can understand the other person, so that you can feel more confident when you use the phone in English:
1. Prepare and practise before you phone
Make sure you know what to say. If it helps, write down your main points before you phone:
“Can I make an appointment to see the doctor, please?”
“Are you available for a meeting next week?”
“I’d like to change the details on my bank account.”
2. Make sure you get all the important information
Repeat the key points of your phone call as they happen – or ask the other person to confirm.
“So that’s tomorrow afternoon at 2 pm. Right?”
“Sorry, did you say 13 or 30?”
3. Take notes as you talk
If you’re phoning for details, write them down! It sounds obvious, but it’s a lot of pressure on you to remember the right telephone phrases to use AND all the details of your call. Besides, if you’re writing things down, the other person will need to slow down for you. Use these phrases:
“Hold on a sec. Let me write that down.”
“Let me just note down these details. OK – can you repeat the phone number for me?”
4. Get the other person to slow down
If the other person is still speaking too fast, ask them to speak more slowly.
“Sorry, can you slow down a bit?”
“Sorry, I don’t understand! Can you speak more slowly, please?”
5. Know when to end the phone call
Learn some useful phrases so you can end the call easily. This is often the part of the call that people don’t prepare for, so it makes the end much longer and more complicated than it needs to be! Say something like:
“OK great. See you next week.”
“OK, thanks for your help. Bye!”
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