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Phone Calls in English

Introduction

The TaschenGuide Phone Calls in English is intended as a guide for people whose profession requires them to make international telephone calls. Although anyone technically can make phone calls, this tends to get a lot more difficult in another language. How to answer a foreign phone call in a correct way, if you're not prepared for it? How to leave messages on an answering machine or a mobile telephone?

Such things can make many people insecure, especially in a foreign language. The telephone situations cover a wide range of business interactions, which are organised into functional sections to provide a quick reference when making real calls. It will certainly help you to make a good first impression.

The material in this TaschenGuide is written to give you the skills you need for effective business phone calls and to build your confidence in a systematic way.

Wishing you every success with that,

Sander Schroevers, ll.m

Getting Started and Ending a Conversation

When calling in another language it is often difficult finding the right words to start or end a conversation.

In this chapter, you will learn,

  • how to make a good first impression (page 7),

  • to formulate your opening questions (page 9),

  • to ask for persons (page 12),

  • and how to end a call in a friendly way (page 22).

Calling according to plan

Making phone calls in another language can be difficult at first, especially for someone who doesn't speak the language fluently yet. That is why important business telephone calls should never be made on the spur of the moment. Because telephone conversations tend to be short and you do not have eye contact, it is difficult to adjust what you are saying as you go along. Advance preparation can be a big help.

Check-list: advance preparation
  1. Look up international dialling codes.

  2. Decide who the best person is to talk to.

  3. Decide who the next best person is to talk to.

  4. Decide the objective(s) of the call.

  5. Think of specific desired information.

  6. Make a list of key points to be covered.

  7. Write down what to say in the opening sentences.

Vocabulary:

on the spur of the moment: spontan

objective: Zielsetzung

Beginning a call

When you call someone it is important to observe the following: identify yourself and your company clearly, because there is only one first impression. But also try to make a positive closing, as that is usually best remembered. Always let the caller hang up first. It is helpful to prepare some expressions for the following situations during the start of a telephone conversation:

  • how to introduce yourself with your name and company name,

  • how to ask for a specific person, if the phone is answered by someone else,

  • how to explain the reason for your call, and ask whether your call is convenient,

  • how to leave a message in case the person you wish to talk to isn't available.

In English-speaking cultures it is common to exchange a few polite phrases about unimportant or uncontroversial matters at the beginning and ending of a conversation. This is called ‚small talk’ and considered an important part of building business relationships. For further details please refer to the specific paragraph.

Vocabulary:

observe: beachten

desired: erwünscht

elaborate: näher eingehen

Example

A: Good morning. Tulip Technology. Ali speaking.

B: Hi Ali, this is Jule at Oberbilk Computing

A: Oh, hi Jule. How are you?

B: Good, thanks. Have I rung you at a busy time?

A: No, now is fine. What can I do for you?

A: Hello. Accounts.

B: Hello. It's Czeslawa. Is Albrecht there?

A: No, he isn't. Shall I try someone else for you?

B: No, I think I'd rather leave him a message.

A: Right, one moment. I'm just getting a pen. OK. Go ahead.

B: Well, I need Albrecht to submit an estimate by Thursday.

A: OK, Czeslawa. I'll give him the message. Anything else?

B: No that's it. Thank you very much. Goodbye.

Telephone scripts

In order to make their call more goal oriented, people often work with so-called telephone scripts. These allow a caller to structure a conversation and think in advance about possible answers and changes of topic. Telephone scripts are best printed in a readable size (13 points or more). Also write down some specific translations, the spelling of a name or website etc. It will lead to telephone calls (in another language) with better results.

Example
Name and contact details Mrs. Shizuka Moriwaki 51 E.42nd Street, New York +1-212 661 5151
Own name (in English spelling) Heiko. That's H for Harry, E for Easy, I for Item, K for King and O for Oliver.
Own (international) telephone number +49-211-712257
Opening phrase My name's Heiko Broschek of Train AG. I'm calling about our next meeting.
Is it convenient? No: shall I call back at 2 PM or 4 PM?
Did you receive my report? Yes: can I ask your opinion? No: would you like me to e-mail it to you now?
Ending phrase Thank you for your time. It has been very nice talking to you again.
Vocabulary:

telephone script: Dialogschema

After the greeting

Try to identify yourself and your company clearly because there is only one first impression. But also try to make a positive closing, as that is usually best remembered. Always let the caller hang up first. At the beginning of a call there are a number of different ways of clarifying who you are. These follow a similar pattern:

Abbildung
Introducing yourself
  • Good morning. It's Franziska Hauser here, from head office.

  • Hello. My name's Andreas Obermaier from sales.

  • Good afternoon, this is Chris from Tulip Technology.

  • Hi, Jule speaking, from the Düsseldorf office.

  • This is Antje. Is that Jack? Speaking.

Vocabulary: speaking: am Apparat

Wichtig

Don't say ‚hello’ or ‚hi’, unless you already know a person well. Don't call yourself ‚Mr’; however, ‚Mrs’ is fine for women.

Using first names

In contact with Americans, Australians, New Zealanders or Irish, it is normal to switch quickly to using first names. People from cultures that use family names in combination with Mr and Mrs may feel a bit uneasy perhaps. But the social consequence of not being on first-name terms with a person is the risk of appearing distant or even unfriendly. So simply follow the approach of your conversation partner. It would probably sound exaggerated to suggest saying ‚Du’, as there is no difference between ‚Du’ and ‚Sie’ in English.

Nicknames

Many Americans or other English-speaking people commonly use nicknames in business contacts. To address them with their full first name could even look somewhat exaggerated. In the same way as names like Maximilian and Gabriele may be shortened to Max and Gabi, the English language shortens first names. Examples of common nicknames are: Harry for Harold, Tony for Anthony, Bob for Robert, Gene for Eugene, Jack for John, Bill for William, Frank for Francis and Ted for Edward. Irish nicknames can also be spelled in Gaelic sometimes (for example: Seán for John, Liam for William).

Vocabulary:

be on first-name terms with somebody: duzen

nickname: Spitzname

Gaelic: gälisch

What's in a name?

In certain countries other words than first and ‚last name’ may also be used. For instance, in the Republic of Ireland the word ‚Christian name’ is often used in official papers. Also note that ‚first name’ may refer to any forename, not just the very first.

Wichtig
Given name Bildelement/Forename Bildelement Vorname
First name Bildelement Vorname
Christian name Vorname (Taufname)
Family name Nachname (Familienname)
Surname Bildelement Nachname (Zuname)
Last name / Second name Nachname

Most married women (still) adopt their husband's family name. When a woman decides to use both names (e.g. Hillary Rodham Clinton), the second last name (unlike the practice in German-speaking areas) is the husband's family name. However, when two last names are written with a hyphen, this indicates that it is a double last name.

Asking to speak to someone

When asking to speak to a person it is best to use politer expressions such as: ‚could I’ or ‚I'd like to speak to’ instead of a too direct phrasing like ‚I want to speak to’.

  • Could I speak to Jack Miller please?

  • Could you put me through to Mrs Schätzing, the import department, please?

  • I should like to speak to Mr. Staebel, please.

  • I'd like to speak to the head of the purchasing department, please.

  • Can I speak to his secretary / assistant, please?

Who's calling please?
  • Sorry, who's calling / speaking, please?

  • I'm sorry, who shall I say is calling?

  • Yes, of course. And your name again?

  • Sorry, what did you say your name was?

  • Are you one of our suppliers?

  • What would you like to speak to him / her about?

Vocabulary:

phrasing: Formulierung

supplier: Lieferant

The reason for the call

Whether you get to talk to a person directly, or by way of a secretariat or colleague, it is always important to know how to explain the reason for your telephone call. In the illustration below you can see the normal grammatical arrangement of noun and verb (verb + ing form) after an introductory phrase.

Abbildung
  • It's / I'm calling in connection with Friday's conference.

  • I'm phoning / ringing about the PowerPoint presentation.

  • I'm calling to discuss the conference of next Friday.

  • I'm phoning to inform you about the changes.

  • It's about placing an order.

  • The reason I'm phoning is Friday's conference.

Is it convenient?

To check if the person who answers the phone has time to talk can be done with the following phrases:

  • Are you busy right now?

  • Do you have a sec / second?

  • Is this a good moment to talk?

  • Have I rung you at a bad moment, Christa?

  • Can we talk now or perhaps later?

  • What time do you want me to call you back?

  • Do you mind calling back this afternoon?

  • Sorry, can you call again later?

Small talk

Small talk is used in English-speaking cultures, to influence conversations in a positive way. Small talk is very functional to introduce or end a conversation, with a few phrases about friendly and risk-free topics. Please note that the question ‚How do you do?’ is best answered with ‚How do you do?’ or ‚I'm fine, thank you. How are you?’.

Would you like to know how the story ends?

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