Making a phone call in English to somebody if English isn't your first language makes a lot of people nervous. Some people get so scared that they avoid making them. But if you know what to say and what the other person will say to you at the start of the phone call, the rest of the phone call shouldn't be that difficult.
Although similar, what you say at the beginning of a phone call if you are calling somebody directly (you are calling their mobile/cell phone or their landline number) is different in some ways to if you have to call reception and ask to be transferred to them.
For both types of calls what you say changes if you know or have had contact with the person you are calling or not. If you don't know the person or had no contact with them before, you have to use more formal phrases and vocabulary when introducing yourself and speaking to them. If you have, then you can use less formal phrases and vocabulary, and (for direct calls) begin the conversation by asking how they are.
In addition, if you know the person and are calling their mobile/cell phone directly, you don't need to confirm the name of the person you are calling. If it is a landline phone you are calling, you may have to (if the person doesn't say who they are first).
In the below exercise on English telephone phrases, you will learn and remember phrases and vocabulary for what to say at the start of the conversation when calling somebody directly. You will not only learn what you can say depending on the situation (if you know the person well, not very well or never had any contact with them before), but you will also learn what the other person will ask you in 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 three following telephone conversations, a person is calling somebody directly. Although all three are very similar, there are differences in what the caller says depending on the amount of contact the caller has had with the person they are calling before.
In the first, the caller knows the person well. In the second, the caller doesn't know the person well. And in the third, the caller doesn't know the caller or had any contact with the person before.
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:
William:'Hello Simon, It's William Smith from Tennessee Supplies.'
Simon:'Hello William, how are you?'
William:'I'm fine. Busy like always, but that's nothing new. And how are you?'
Simon:'Good. Just preparing for a presentation that I'm going to give in Boston next week.'
William:'They take a long time to prepare.'
Simon:'Yes they do. Anyway, how can I help you today?'
William:'The reason I'm calling is to ask you if you have thought anymore about what we spoke about last week.'
Telephone Call 2:
John:'Hello. Is that Nigel Robertson?'
Nigel:'Yes, it is.'
John:'Good afternoon, Nigel. My name's John Bridges and I'm calling from Trent Construction.'
Nigel:'Good afternoon, John. '
John:'I don't know if you remember, but we met each other about 6 months ago at a meeting in Nottingham.'
Nigel:'Of course I do. It was the meeting at the city council building, wasn't it?'
John:'Yes, it was.'
Nigel:'How are you?'
John:'I'm fine. And you?'
Nigel:'Good, thank you. How can I help you?'
John:'The reason I'm calling is that we received an email from your company on building equipment.'
Telephone Call 3:
Jim:'Jim Pritchard speaking.'
John:'Good morning. My name's John Smith and I'm calling from Orange Systems.'
Jim:'Hello John. How can I help you?'
John:'The reason that I'm calling is that we are thinking of placing an advertisement in your newspaper and we'd like to know about the prices that you charge.'
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.