Teaching Telephone English

Hispanic businesswoman working at desk
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Telephone English poses a special problem for English learners because of the lack of visual clues used when speaking. Practicing telephone English in class can also seem rather artificial as exercises generally ask students to practice speaking on the phone through role-plays sitting together in small groups. Once they have learned the basic phrases used in telephoning, the main difficulty lies in communicating without visual contact.This telephone English lesson plan focuses on creating more realistic telephoning situations to encourage students to practice authentic telephoning situations.

The lesson has been planned to take place in a business setting. However, the lesson can be modified by the use of smart phones to fit any teaching situation.  

Aim: Improving Telephoning Skills

Activity: Role playing using office telephone lines

Level: Intermediate to advanced

Telephone English Lesson Plan

  • Review phrases used in telephoning with the telephone English match-up and quiz below. 
  • When students have finished, ask them to identify phrases that are not used in personal interactions. (i.e. This is Mr. Smith. Would you like to leave a message?)
  • To begin practicing on the phone, ask students to pair up and then separate into different rooms. Make sure students have the right telephone numbers! 
  • Students should take turn initiating telephone calls as indicated in the short cues provided in the worksheet.
  • Once students are comfortable with easy conversations, move on to more difficult conversations as outlined in the next activity.
  • Ask each student to write out notes for a telephone conversation that they would typically have with a native speaker. Make sure students have a specific task in mind when writing out the notes. You can provide a few examples such as: Order 500 liters of olive oil, expect delivery by Friday, Use the company account for payment, Send to 2425 NE 23 St, Portland, Oregon, etc. 
  • Choose some notes and ask the student to leave the room and go into the next office. Now, this is when your acting skills come in handy! Take the various notes, call the other extension and ask for the person suggested by the student who wrote the notes.
  • You've made it to Hollywood now! Play a variety of roles and act them out on the phone. Really put your students through the paces. You can be angry, impatient, in a hurry, etc.
  • Once you have repeated this exercise, get students to call each other in their own offices to repeat the exercise. Remember it is crucial to actually use the phone, as the difficulty lies in understanding English over the phone. Make sure students get lots of practice with a variety of telephone role plays

Finally, if can't use separate telephones lines in a business setting, use smart phones and ask students to go to separate rooms for their calls. 

Remember that students will need lots of practice to improve their telephoning skills. To help create further opportunities, spend some time discussing specific telephoning tasks they can expect at work. 

Telephone English Exercises

Match Up

Match the first half of the sentence to the second half to complete these common expressions used on the telephone.

First Half:

  • I'll put you
  • This is
  • Would you like to
  • Peter
  • Can I ask
  • Can you hold
  • I'm afraid Ms. Smith
  • I'm sorry, 

Second Half:

  • who is calling?
  • the line?
  • leave a message?
  • through.
  • calling.
  • isn't available at the moment.
  • Alice Anderson.
  • the line is busy. 

Telephone Cues

Use the cues to make telephone calls with a partner.

  • A telephones B in order to speak to the manager. Unfortunately, the manager is out. Leave a message.
  • B telephones A and would like to speak to a colleague, Ms. Anderson. A asks B to wait and puts B through to Ms. Anderson.
  • A telephones B and wants some basic information about the company. B describes what the company does and sells. 
  • B telephones A to complain about a broken product. A apologizes and redirects B to the appropriate customer service department.
  • A telephones B to make an appointment with the personnel department. B suggests a time to speak to Mr. Taylor who works in the department. A agrees to come in at the suggested time. 
  • B telephones A asking for information about store opening hours. A provides the appropriate information.

Notes for a Call

It's a good idea to write out short notes before your make a telephone call. This will help you keep on track during your conversation.

  • Write out some notes for a telephone call asking for specific information needed for your current job.
  • Ask for specific details about a product, a meeting, or another event that you'll attend.
  • Make a copy of your notes for a class mate and practice the conversation using the telephone. 
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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "Teaching Telephone English." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/teaching-telephone-english-1210130. Beare, Kenneth. (2023, April 5). Teaching Telephone English. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/teaching-telephone-english-1210130 Beare, Kenneth. "Teaching Telephone English." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/teaching-telephone-english-1210130 (accessed May 28, 2023).