2. Telephoning



·         Reading


2. Telephoning across cultures


Many people are not very confident about using the telephone in English. However, good preparation can make telephoning much easier and more effective. Then, once the call begins, speak slowly and clearly and use simple language.

Check that you understand what has been said. Repeat the most important information, look for confirmation. Ask for repetition if you think it is necessary.

Remember too that different cultures have different ways of using language. Some speak in a very literal way so it is always quite clear what they mean. Others are more indirect, using hints, suggestions and understatement (for example ‘not very good results’ = ‘absolutely disastrous’) to put over their message. North America, Scandinavia, Germany and France are ‘explicit’ countries, while the British have a reputation for not making clear exactly what they mean. One reason for this seems to be that the British use language in a more abstract way than most Americans and continental Europeans. In Britain there are also conventions of politeness and a tendency to avoid showing one’s true feelings. For example if a Dutchman says an idea is ‘interesting’ he means that it is interesting. If an Englishman says that an idea is ‘interesting’ you have to deduce from the way he says it whether he means it is a good idea or a bad idea.

Meanwhile, for a similar reason Japanese, Russian and Arabs – ‘subtle’ countries – sometimes seem vague and devious to the British. If they say an idea is interesting it may be out of politeness.

The opposite of this is that plain speakers can seem rude and dominating to subtle speakers, as Americans can sound to the British – or the British to the Japanese.

The British have the tendency to engage in small talk at the beginning and end of a telephone conversation. Questions about the weather, health, business in general and what one has been doing recently are all part of telephoning, laying a foundation for the true purpose of the call. At the end of the call there may well be various pleasantries, Nice talking to you, Say hello to the family (if you have met them) and Looking forward to seeing you again soon. A sharp, brief style of talking on the phone may appear unfriendly to a British partner. Not all nationalities are as keen on small talk as the British!

Being aware of these differences can help in understanding people with different cultural traditions. The difficulty on the telephone is that you cannot see the body language to help you.



Choose the closest definition of the following words from the text.

1.       literal

a. direct and clear    b. full of literary style     c. abstract and


2.       understatement

a. kind words          b. less strong way of talking       c. clever


3.       deduce

a. reduce    b. work out       c. disagree

4.       vague

a. unclear    b. unfriendly      c. insincere

5.       devious

a. rude        b. dishonest       c. clever

6.       pleasantries

a. question  b. request          c. polite remarks





Language Checklist

Telephoning (1)


Introducing yourself

Good morning, Aristo.

Hello, this is … from …

Hello, my name’s … calling from …


Saying who you want

I’d like to speak to … please.

Could I have the … Department, please?

Is… there, please?


Saying someone is not available

I’m sorry he/she’s not available …

Sorry, he/she’s away / not in / in a meeting / in Milan.

Leaving and taking messages

Could you give him/her a message?

Can I leave him/her a message?

Please tell him/her …

Please ask him/her to ring me on…

Can I take a message?

If you give me your number I’ll ask him/her to call you later.


Offering to help in other ways

Can anyone else help you?

Can I help you perhaps?

Would you like to speak to his assistant?

Shall I ask him to call you back?

Asking for repetition

Sorry, I didn’t catch (your name / your number / your company name )

Sorry, could you repeat your (name, number, etc.).

Sorry, I didn’t hear that.

Sorry, I didn’t understand that.

Could you spell (that / your name), please.


Acknowledging repetition

Okay, I’ve got that now.

(Mr. Kyoto) I understand.

I see, thank you.



Skill Checklist

Telephoning: Preparation for a call


Reading – background information

Desk preparation

Have the following available:

·         Relevant documentation / notes

·         Correspondence received

·         Computer files on screen

·         Pen and paper

·         Diary

Check time available

·         How much time do you need?

·         How much time do you have?



·         Who do you want to speak to?

·         In case of non/availability, have an alternative strategy:

·         Call back / be called back – when?

·         Leave a message

·         Speak to someone else

·         Write or fax information


Do you want to:

·         Find out information?

·         Give information?



Do you need to refer to:

·         A previous call?

·         A letter, order, invoice or fax?

·         Someone else (who?)

·         An event (what? When?)



What do you expect the other person to say / ask you? how will you respond?




Exercise 1 Making a call


A few common expressions are enough for most telephone conversations. Practice these telephone expressions by completing the following dialogue using the words listed below.


Switchboard    Conglomerate Group; can I help you?

You                  Could I ------  ------- Mr. Pardee, please?

Switchboard    Putting you ------ .

Secretary         Hello, Mr. Pardee’s ------ . -------- I help you?

You                  ------, can you hear me? It’s a ------ line. Could you ---     ---- up, please?

Secretary         IS THAT BETTER? Who’s --------, please?

You                  (your name) from (your company).

Secretary         Oh, hello. How nice to hear from you again. We haven’t seen you for ages. How are you?

You                  Fine thanks. Could you ------- me -------- to Mr. Pardee, please?

Secretary         -------- the line a moment. I’ll see if he’s in. I’m sorry, I’m afraid he’s not in the ------- at the ------ . Could you give me your ----------, and I’ll ask him to ------- you ---------- ?

You                  I’m ----- 347 8621. That’s London.

Secretary         Would you like to leave any -------- for him?

You                  No thanks. Just tell him I --------- .

Secretary         Certainly. Nice to hear from you again.

You                  I’ll expect him to ------- me this afternoon, then. Thanks.

Secretary         You’re welcome. Goodbye.



On                   speak to           back    message           bad      put       number                        call                  ring

Secretary         through                        office               speak   speaking          can                  hello

Rang                            hold                 moment                        through



Note: If you do not hear or understand the other person, say: I’m sorry? or I’m sorry, I don’t understand. It is not polite to say: Please repeat!





·         DATAFILE: The Telephone


This datafile gives you many of the terms and phrases commonly used in making telephone calls.


The directory                                     

Look up their number in the directory. (UK).                              

I’ll look up the number   in the telephone book. (US).                  

The number is ex-directory. (UK).        

The number is unlisted. (US).                

I’ll ring Directory Enquiries. (UK).        

I’ll ring information. (US).                                             

The receiver

Can I help you?

Putting you through.

I’m afraid he’s not available at the moment. (UK).

I’m afraid he’s tided up at the moment.

You’re welcome. Goodbye.

The line                                     

He’s on the other line.              

Would you like to hold the line? 

The line is engaged. (UK).        

The line is busy. (US).              

The operator (in the public telephone system)

Dial 100 for the operator. (UK).

Dial 0 (zero) for the operator. (US).

I’d like to make a reverse charge call. (UK).

I’d like to make a collect call. (US).

I’d like to make a transfer charge call. (UK).                             

The dial

Dial 123 for the correct time. (UK).

Listen for the dialling tone.

All lines to the country you have dialled are engaged.

Please try later. (UK).

The codebook                                                

I’m on a long distance (or international) call.      

The STD code is … (UK).                   

The area code is … (US).                     

A message pad

Can I tell him who called?

Can I give her a message?

Let me take down your number.


·         Remember

If you do not understand, say… “Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.”


Practice 1


Use the following flow chart to make a complete telephone conversation. If you need to, refer to the Language Checklist.


Caller                                                  Receptionist


‘Good morning, Gorliz and Zimmerman.’

Introduce yourself.


Ask to speak to Mr. Conrad Bird.

                                                            Mr. Bird is not in.

Ask when you can contact him. 

Explain that he is away – offer to take a message.

You want Mr. Bird to call you.

Repeat your name.

Give your number.

                                                            Confirm the information.

End call.

                                                            End call.




Practice 2

In the following conversation, a Singaporean exporter plans to send goods from Singapore to Greece. He wants to have a meeting with a Greek shipping company, Intership.

Suggest suitable phrases for each step in the conversation, then practice the dialogue with a colleague.



Caller (Computech)                            Called Person (Intership)


                                                            ‘Intership, good morning.’


Introduce yourself.

                                                            Check name.

Confirm / correct.

                                                            Offer to help.


Ask for appointment

with Mr. Dionis.

                                                            Ask what it’s about.

Explain that you want

to discuss transport of goods

from Singapore to Athens.        

Acknowledge – ask when would be a good time.

Suggest next week.

                                                            Reject – Mr. Dionis is away.

                                                            Suggest beginning of next



Suggest Monday 3rd.

Reject – On Monday Mr. Dionis is busy all day.

                                                            Suggest Tuesday.

Agree. Suggest 10.00 a.m.

Agree – ask for fax to confirm.

                                                            Offer to book hotel.

Agree to fax – hotel booking

is not necessary.

Signal end of call.

End call / thanks / refer to fax, etc.


End call.