There are a number of factors that can make communicating by telephone very challenging.

We cannot read body language and often don’t know the person we’re speaking to. At work, we usually have time pressure and need to sound professional.

Doing this in our own language is difficult enough, so what if we have to do everything in another language?

Here are some tips to help you:

1. Learn some telephone phrases by heart

There are some things we say again and again on the phone. ‘[Thomas Müller] speaking’, ‘I’ll put you through’ and ‘Thank you for calling’ are all phrases which are worth learning by heart.

2. Take a look at some telephone-specific vocabulary

Learn some telephone-specific vocabulary such as busy (besetzt), (to) hang up (auflegen) and landline (Festnetz). Even if you never use them yourself, you’ll probably hear them sooner or later.

3. Learn the NATO phonetic alphabet

nato-phonetic-alphabet
The NATO phonetic alphabet

This will make it easier for you to spell things like your name, company name and email address. Even if you know the alphabet well, the person on the other end of the line might not. Print it out and leave it by your office phone.

4. Give yourself time to think

Learn phrases that will give you more time to think like One moment, please and Could you hold the line, please?

5. Ask native speakers to slow down

If you don’t feel comfortable saying Could you repeat that, please? or Could you speak more slowly, please? when speaking to native speakers, try using I’m sorry, the line is bad. They’ll automatically try to start speaking a little more slowly and clearly without sounding  patronising!

6. Take the caller’s name and number

Always take the caller’s details so that you can call back if there’s something you’ve forgotten.

7. Make message taking easier

Keep a list of questions by your office telephone to ask the caller when you’re taking a message such as What are you calling about, please? and When can he/she call you back?

8. Prepare before you pick up the phone

Make notes before you make a call. Include any information or vocabulary that you might forget during the call.

9. Smile and relax

It’s easy to sound impolite on the phone when we’re under pressure. The other person won’t be able to see your smile but they’ll certainly be able to ‘hear’ it. If you’re friendly, people will normally try to help if you’re having problems.

10.Learn from experience

Remember that ‘practice makes perfect’. The more experience you get, the more confident you’ll become. So the next time you’re telephone rings and you see an international number, don’t be afraid; pick up and have a go!

What’s your best telephone tip?


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