Fluency in Telephone English
Thereís an important point you must
remember when you have a telephone conversation. When you
have a conversation with someone on the telephone, youíre
not face-to-face with them. You and the person youíre having
the conversation with are not within each otherís presence
or sight. On the other hand, when you have a face-to-face
conversation with someone, youíre near them, and you can see
them. And you can listen to them and speak to them ?by actually
looking at them (and their facial expressions and gestures)
and at the surroundings.
You see, when you have a face-to-face conversation
with someone, you communicate not only through the actual
words you use, but also through a number of extra-linguistic
factors ?such as facial expressions, gestures, etc. But when
you have a telephone conversation, many of the extra-linguistic
factors are absent ?and youíve got to rely mainly on the
actual words you use in order to convey your meaning. The
person at the other end canít watch your facial expressions
or gestures. And you canít watch his. And so, neither
of you can take advantage of extra-linguistic factors like
facial expressions or gestures to add meaning to the actual
In the same way, when you have a face-to-face
conversation with somebody, you donít need to spell out everything
in words. Many of the things you want to communicate to them
would be clear to them from the situational context. But when
you have a telephone conversation, a number of aspects of
the situational context are absent. So when you have a telephone
conversation, youíll have to spell out all these things clearly
in words. Or the person at the other end of the line wonít
be able to understand what you mean. For example, when you
have a telephone conversation, you wonít be able to speak
about something or someone by pointing them out to your addressee
?because the addressee is not near you, and the addressee
canít see them. So on the phone, youíll have to speak
about them by mentioning their actual names (if your addressee
knows them by those names) ?or by actually describing them
in such a way that the addressee understands what youíre referring
to or who youíre referring to. Similarly, the addressee (the
person at the other end of the line) wonít be able to see
the surroundings at your end or what is going on around
you at your end at the time youíre speaking. And so
the addresseeís eyes give him no help in understanding
what youíre saying, and heíll have to depend solely on his
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All this means that when you speak to somebody
on the phone, youíll have to assume less and spell out more.
Yes. When you have a phone conversation, youíll have to explain
almost everything in the clearest or the most detailed way.
What Iím trying to tell you is this: When you speak to somebody
face to face, you can take a number of things for granted.
That is, you can assume one thing: Even if you donít spell
out many of the things clearly in words, your addressee would
be able to understand them from your facial expressions, gestures
and the situational context. And so, when you speak to somebody
face to face, you neednít spell out these things clearly.
In other words, when you speak to somebody face to face, you
can assume a lot, and you need only spell out the important
things. But when you speak to somebody on the telephone, youíll
have to do the opposite: Youíll have to assume less and spell
out more. And thatís not all. When you have a telephone conversation,
you must be careful to do one other thing: Youíll have to
spell out what you want your addressee to understand in a
way thatís clearer than you wouldíve done if you had been
speaking to him face to face. That is, when you have a telephone
conversation, itís not enough that you spell out a lot. You
must also spell them out far more clearly and in a far more
In short, when you have a telephone conversation,
youíre handicapped in several ways. And itís not always as
easy to get your meaning across over the telephone as it is
when you have a face-to-face conversation. But all this does
not mean that when you speak on the telephone, youíll have
to be as explicit as you are when you communicate the same
thing in writing. No. Thatís not so. First of all, you can
never be as explicit during a telephone conversation as when
you write something ?because even during a telephone conversation,
you communicate through the spoken medium (and not through
the medium of writing). So, even during a telephone conversation,
you speak under pressure of time, and you can only express
yourself by composing and speaking at the same time, just
as you do when you have a face-to-face conversation. Secondly,
when you have a telephone conversation, you keep getting feedback
and reactions to what you say from your addressee ?in words,
exclamations and other sounds that he produces over the phone
as he listens to what you say. And so, depending on the addresseeís
reaction, you can keep modifying, improving and adding to
what you say from moment-to-moment, and thus make your meaning
clear to him. And his moment-to-moment reactions would let
you know the points on which he shares knowledge with you
and the points that he has understood without your having
specifically mentioned them. This saves you from having to
spell out those points in words, and you can safely speak
on by taking those points for granted.
Because of all these reasons, if you want
your telephone conversation to be effective, you must never
forget to do the following things:
Guidelines for making a call
1). Whenever you dial a number and someone
picks up the phone at the other end, you should do these things:
i) Ask the person who picks up the phone
at the other end if the number of the phone he has picked
up is really the number you dialled.
Eg: ?Are you 3467983? ?Is that 3467983?
ii) If he says it is the right number,
itíd be a good idea to go ahead and ask him if itís really
the place (office, house, etc.) that you want.
Eg: ?Is that the XYZ Co.? ?Is that the
iii) Then you should announce your identity.
(You should do this ?if the person who picked up
the phone at the other end has not already recognized your
voice). Tell him who you are and where youíre calling from
?that is, the place, office etc. youíre calling from.
iv) After announcing your identity, you
can straightaway ask him if you could speak to such and
such a person ?without asking him who he is. Of course,
if you recognize his voice, and if heís the person you want
to speak to, you can straight away launch into a conversation.
v) If the person who picks up the phone
at the other end voluntarily announces his identity, and
if heís not the person you want to speak to, tell
him youíd like to speak to such and such a person ?or ask
him if you could speak to that person.
vi) Suppose that the person who picks up
the telephone at the other end tells you that the person
you want is not available or that, for some reason, you
canít speak to him at that point of time. Then if you want,
you can ask the person who has picked up the phone who he
is ?before you start telling him anything else.
Eg: ?Whoís this speaking? ?May I know
who this is speaking, please?
But remember one thing: In general, nobody
likes to tell you who they are if you donít tell
them who you are first. So the best policy is to announce
your identity first, before asking for the identity
of the person at the other end.
vii) Suppose that the person who picks
up the phone at the other end is not the person you
want, and suppose that he puts you through to the right
person. Then, announce your identity once again, and ask
this second person if he is really the person you want to
Eg: Is that Mr. Sridhar?
2). Once you get the person you want on the
phone, and once youíre sure that heís the person you want,
you can state the purpose of your call. But donít just rush
into explaining the purpose all of a sudden. Instead, start
by preparing the ground ?by telling him that youíre now going
to state the purpose. For example, if youíre calling him to
tell him something about a meeting, you can begin by saying
something like this:
?Iím calling you about tomorrowís meeting.
?Itís about tomorrowís meeting.
Tell him what you want to tell him about
the meeting only after you get him ready to listen to it by
preparing the ground in this way. On the one hand, this step
gives a sense of direction to what you want to say. And on
the other hand, it directs your addresseeís attention to what
youíre going to say.
3). In the same way, before you speak to
him about anything important, start by telling him that youíre
going to speak to him about such and such a thing or such
and such a person or such and such a topic. In this way, you
must always build an expectation in him about what youíre
going to say ?before you actually say it. This step is very
important if your telephone communication is to be really
4). Before you actually ring off, say something
appropriate thatíd indicate to the person at the other end
that youíre going to ring off. Depending on the context, word
groups like the following would help you do this:
?Bye, then. ?Iíll get back to you soon.
?Well, thatís settled, then. ?Thanks a lot. Goodbye. ?
Until tomorrow, then. Goodbye.
Guidelines for answering a
So far, Iíve been telling you about
making a phone call. Let me now tell you a few things
about answering a call.
When you answer a call, points 3 and
4 given above are as important as when you make a call.
But the preliminary things that you must do (when you answer
a call) are not the same.
And here are the preliminary things you must
do when you answer a call:
1). As soon as you pick up the phone to answer
a call, let the caller know that youíve picked up the phone
and that he has your attention. You can do this by saying
2). If you want to be more helpful, you can
voluntarily announce the number of your phone or announce
your identity while saying ďHello?(or instead of saying ďHello?.
Eg: ?Hello, 3468953. ?Hello, Ashok Kumar
here. ?XYZ company. Good morning.
3). If the caller starts stating the purpose
of his call without announcing his identity, you can ask him
who he is before telling him anything or helping him ?if
you find it necessary to do so.