Telephone English Practice Exercises

Woman sitting on sofa and talking on phone
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Speaking English on the telephone is one of the most challenging tasks for any English learner. There are a number of common phrases to learn, but the most challenging aspect is that you can not see the person.

The most important thing about practicing telephone conversations is that you shouldn't be able to see the person you are speaking to on the phone. Here are some tips and exercises to get you started improving your telephone English.

Exercises for Practicing Speaking on the Telephone

Here are a few suggestions for practicing phone calls without looking at your partner:

  • In the same room - Put your chairs back to back and practice speaking on the phone, you will only hear the other person's voice which will approximate a telephone situation.
  • Use the telephone - This is pretty obvious, but really not used that often. Give your friend a call and practice various conversations (role plays).
  • Use internal office phones at work - This is one of my favorites and great for business classes. If your class is on site (at the office) go to different offices and call one another practicing conversations. Another variation is for the students to go into another office and have the teacher telephone them pretending to be a native speaker in a hurry. It's then up to the students to make sure they have communicated what they need, or understood what the caller wants. This exercise is always a lot of fun - depending on how good your teacher is at acting!
  • Tape yourself - If you are practicing alone, tape standard answers and then practice using the tape recorder stopping and starting to simulate a conversation.
  • Real life situations - Businesses are always interested in telling you about their products. Find a product you are interested in and research it over the telephone. You can ...
    • call a store to find out the prices and specifications.
    • ring the company representative to find out details on how the product works.
    • telephone a consumer agency to find out if the product has any defects.
    • call customer service to find out about replacement parts, etc.

    Grammar: Present continuous for Telephone English

    Use the present continuous tense to state why you are calling:

    I'm calling to speak to Ms. Anderson.
    We're sponsoring a contest and would like to know if you are interested.

    Use the present continuous to make an excuse for someone who can't take a call:

    I'm sorry, Ms. Anderson is meeting with a client at the moment. 
    Unfortunately, Peter isn't working in the office today.

    Grammar: Would / Could for polite requests

    Use 'Would / Could you please' to make requests on the telephone such as asking to leave a message:

    Could you please take message?
    Would you please let him know that I called?
    Could you please ask him/her to call me back?

    Telephone Introductions

    Use 'This is...' to introduce yourself on the telephone:

    This is Tom Yonkers calling to speak with Ms. Filler. 

    Use 'This is ... speaking' if someone asks for you and you are on the phone.

    Yes, this is Tom speaking. How may I help you?
    This is Helen Anderson. 

    Check Your Understanding

    Answer these questions to check your understanding of how to improve your telephone English.

    1. True or False? It's best to practice telephone calls with friends together in a room.
    2. It's a good idea to: a) turn your chairs back to back and practice b) record yourself and practice conversations c) try to use real life situations to practice d) all of these
    1. True or False? You have to remember to use a real telephone to practice telephone English.
    2. Fill in the gap: Could you _____ let her know that I telephoned?
    3. Telephoning in English can be difficult because a) people are lazy when they speak on the telephone. b) you can't see the person speaking. c) the sound on the telephone is too low. 
    4. Fill in the gap: _____ is Peter Smith calling about my appointment next week. 

    Answers

    1. False - It's best to practice in separate rooms with real telephones.
    2. D - All of the ideas are helpful when practicing telephone English. 
    3. True - The best way to learn telephone English is to practice on the telephone.
    4. please - Remember to be polite!
    5. B - Telephone English is especially difficult because there are no visual clues.
    6. This - Use 'This is...' to introduce yourself on the telephone. 

      More Telephone English: