Sometimes when you phone people you won't have their direct phone number or cell/mobile number. In these situations, when you call them you will have to ask somebody else (often a receptionist) to connect/transfer your call through to them.
What you say when making these type of phone calls is different in some ways to what you say when calling somebody's phone directly. In addition, what you say when asking to speak to someone changes if you know or have had contact with the person you are calling for before or not. Although you say the same types of things when starting these phone calls (who you want to speak to, who you are and why you are calling), how you say it is different.
Do you know the person?
If you don't know the person or have had no contact with them before, you have to use more formal phrases and vocabulary both when asking to speak to them and when actually speaking to them. If you have, then you can use less formal phrases and vocabulary.
Although it is difficult to make phone calls in English if it isn't your first language, if you already know what to say, how to say it and what people will say to you, it makes them a lot easier to do.
In the below exercise on English telephone phrases, you will learn and remember phrases and vocabulary you can use when asking to speak to somebody (either somebody you know or you don't). In addition, you will learn what people will ask you on these types of telephone conversations.
Although the below examples are business calls, you can use and hear the phrases in them when you make calls for non-business reasons (e.g. to contact your bank etc...) as well.
In each of the two following telephone conversations, a person (the caller) is asking to speak to somebody in a company. Although both are very similar, there are differences in what the caller asks for.
In the first, the caller want to speak to somebody in a specific department. In the second, the caller gives the reason why they are calling.
From the context, try to guess what the meaning of the words/phrases in bold are and when you should use them in a telephone call. Then do the quiz at the end to check if you are right.
Click to see more telephone English vocabulary exercises
Telephone Call 1:
Receptionist:'Good morning. Ward Computers. How can I help you?'
Caller:'Good morning. Can I speak to Peter Thomas, please.'
Receptionist:'Who is calling, please?'
Caller:'It's William Smith from Tennessee Supplies. He knows me.'
Receptionist:'May I ask what it is regarding?'
Caller:'It's about some issues with an order we recently made with yourselves.'
Receptionist:'If you'd just hold the line for a minute, I'll see if he is available.'
Telephone Call 2:
Receptionist:'Good morning. The Housing Corporation. How can I help you?'
Caller:'Good morning. I'd like to speak to Sue Perkins, please.'
Receptionist:'May I ask who is calling?'
Caller:'My name's John Smith from Leeds City Council and I'm returning her call.'
Receptionist:'If you'd just hold the line for a minute, I'll see if she is available.'
Below is a definition/description of each of the phrases in bold from the above text. Now choose the word/phrase from the question's selection box which you believe answers each question. Only use one word/phrase once. Click on the "Check answers" button at the bottom of the quiz to check your answers.
When the answer is correct, two icons will appear next to the question. The first is an Additional Information Icon "". Click on this for extra information on the word/phrase. The second is a Pronunciation Icon "". Click on this to listen to the pronunciation of the word/phrase and to do a pronunciation speaking test.
Now that you understand the vocabulary, you need to use it. So imagine you are making a phone call to somebody and say the phrases.