I am delighted to introduce you to yet another guest writer. Caroline Klemt is a Business English trainer based in Germany.She has just started her journey as a writer and I was delighted to help a fellow writer. She asked me if she could write a post for English with a Twist on telephone skills. She said that her clients find it very challenging speaking on the phone with colleagues or customers from other countries. In fact, they find it scary. In all my years as a trainer, I haven’t worked on these skills with my own clients so naturally, I was intrigued to know more about how Caroline helps her clients become more confident over the telephone. If you can identify with Caroline’s clients, I am sure you will find this week’s post extremely helpful.
Talking on the phone in a foreign language can be terrifying for many. When we talk on the phone, we are missing key communication tools such as facial expressions and body language. Even worse, there is no ability to ‘edit’ our message like we do in an e-mail. This leaves many English learners in a scary situation, especially on a professional level.
In my five years of teaching, I have never seen students more afraid to practice a key English skill than telephoning. Some students have even missed opportunities for career advancement because they dread speaking English on the phone. Having lived in Germany for a near six years, I can sympathize with my students. I know how tough it is to speak on the phone in a foreign language. It’s easy to become embarrassed and frustrated, never wanting to experience it again.
Rather than avoiding telephoning, I encourage my students to face it head on. Below are strategies to help you keep calm and approach telephoning with the confidence of a native speaker.
Use Key Phrases
Whether we are talking to a client or booking a hotel room for our next vacation, speaking on the telephone can be a bit different than speaking in person. Would, could, and may are three words that go a long way while talking on the phone. While this list is not exhaustive, here are some more useful phrases:
Making a Call
- Hi, this is (your name) speaking. I’m calling about…
- Good morning /afternoon /evening. This is (your name) speaking. I would like to speak to…..
- May I speak to…? / Could I speak to…?
Answering a Call
- Good morning / afternoon / evening, this is (your name) speaking.
- How can I help you?
- Who’s calling please?
- Could you hold on please?
- I’m afraid (Requested Person) is not available. Would you like to leave a message?
Ending a Call
- May I send you a follow-up e-mail?
- I will follow up next week if I don’t hear back from you.
- Have a great day. Bye.
- Thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. Have a nice day.
Ask for Clarification or Slower Speech
Many non-native English speakers struggle to understand foreign accents on the phone. What do you say when you haven’t understood the person on the other end of the line? Do you admit you didn’t understand or do you attempt responding to the best of your ability?
In my personal experience, there is nothing wrong with asking for clarification. If you don’t, you run the risk of making yourself look unprofessional. Here are some helpful phrases you can use when you need some clarification:
- I’m sorry, I’m having trouble understanding. Could you repeat that please?
- Could you speak more slowly?
- Could you spell that for me? /Do you mind spelling that for me?
- Allow me to understand, you are saying that…
Practice, Practice, Practice
When it comes down to it, talking on the phone in English is like anything else. Like riding a bike, it takes time and a lot of practice to get used to it. Due to fear, most people avoid practicing at all. The problem with this, is they will never improve their skills. Brainstorm ideas for getting practice. Make a list of possibilities such as friends or family members who speak English.
If you are brave, you can try this alternative idea: call hotels and ask about their service. Almost all hotels have English speaking staff. It may feel silly at first but it works. There is no need to book the hotel. You can call and ask what they have to offer. For example, you might call and ask for the number of rooms, food service, or spa. You might call to ask about events happening in the area. Whatever it is, this is your prime opportunity to practice polite speech on the phone.
Write It Down First
Write down some key phrases and ideas and post them somewhere close by. This way, you are prepared if a client or colleague calls you on the phone. If you deal with technical vocabulary, it is especially important to keep a list of key words close by.
If you are going to have a telephone interview, I recommend writing down and practicing beforehand. Grab a friend, your partner or English instructor and practice the interview over the phone. That way, you are less likely to be nervous and foresee any possible obstacles. Having a written version of key phrases or mock conversations, will solidify those phrases in your mind. You will be less likely to forget them when the time comes to speak on the phone.
Improving your telephoning skills is not an easy task, but with time, patience, and a lot of practice it is definitely doable. Take small steps using the tips above and see how you progress. Remember, the more you practice, the better you will be. Good luck and happy telephoning!
About Caroline Klemt
Caroline Klemt is a freelance English teacher and writer living in the city of Hamburg, Germany. Her primary focus is helping business professionals gain more confidence speaking English in the workplace. She has extensive experience with English telephone training. When she isn’t teaching, she’s busy writing or exploring Europe. You can find her on Linkedin.
Thanks very much for this helpful post,Caroline. If you think your colleagues would benefit from this post, please share it with them.
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