Real English: Speaking on the phone


Well... Oo, actually I've got to go now because you know I'm at work. Yeah.

I've just got to teach a lesson. Okay. Yeah, I'm teaching a lesson right now. Uh-huh.

Okay, so I'll see ya later. Yeah? All right. See ya later, then. Bye. Bye.

Sorry about that.

Hi. Oo. Pen. Hi. I'm Gill from engVid, and today-sorry-we have a lesson on the phone.

Not on the phone. I was just on the phone. I apologize about that. Unexpected phone call.

We're looking today at: "Phone Vocabulary". Okay? So words and phrases to use to do with

making phone calls, being on the phone, calling people. Okay. Maybe just with your friends,

phoning your friends, but also in your job if you have to use the phone at work - this

is all useful stuff for that. Okay. Right. So, phone vocabulary.

First of all, if the phone rings you "answer the phone". Okay? Answer the phone. You say:

"Oh, the phone is ringing. I'll have to answer the phone."

Okay. Now, if you're making the

call, you're phoning, you're making... Making a phone call. Okay? And somebody answers at

the other end, you have to say something. So you might say:

"Hello, is that Anne? Is that Anne?"

So: "Hello, is that", and the name of the person that you want to speak

to. That's more maybe informal if you're phoning somebody's home. If you're phoning an office,

a business, you might say: "Hello. Could I speak to...?" This is a little bit more...

More formal. "Could I speak to Mr. Jones?" Something like that. Okay.

Sometimes when you make a phone call and somebody answers, and you're not quite sure if it's

the person you want or not, you don't quite recognize the voice, so you sometimes want

to ask them their name to see if that is the person you were phoning to speak to. So you

can say: "Who am I speaking to, please?" It's always a good idea to use "please" when you're

asking a question on the phone. "Who am I speaking to, please?" And then they will say

who they are and if they are the person you want to speak to, you can continue with your

call; if they are not the person you want to speak to, you would use this:

"Could I speak to Mr. Jones, please?"

Okay, right.

Now, sometimes if you phone and the person at the other end, they want you to wait probably

because they need to find the person you want to speak to, so they say:

"Could you hang on?" or "Could you hold on?" That's the same thing. It just means to wait. "Hang on" or

"Hold on". Or if they're being very polite or if this is you in an office taking a phone

call, and it might be a customer, an important person, so you might say very politely:

"Would you mind holding?" Instead of just saying: "Hang on", which is a little bit casual and

informal, or even: "Hold on" which is a little... Not very... It's okay, but it's not very polite.

This is much more polite: "Would you mind holding?" It's a much nicer way.

"Would you mind holding, please?" is even better. Okay, so that's a good one to use.

And then say this is you going to try to find somebody in the office to take this phone

call, you come back. If you have to go back to the same person after they've been holding

on or hanging on, or holding, you come and say: "Sorry to keep you waiting. Sorry to

keep you waiting." Especially if they're a customer. And, again: "Sorry", if there is

other bad news like the person they want to speak to is not there: "Sorry, she's not here."

You might say: "She's not here at the moment." At the moment. Or if that person is already

on the phone talking to somebody else, you can say: "Sorry, he's on the other line",

meaning the telephone line. "Sorry, he's on the other line."

So, when that situation happens and say it's you in an office taking the call, you don't

want to just say: "Oh, sorry, he's on the other line" and then wait for the person to

say something, like: "Oh well, okay then, good bye." You have to be helpful. You've

got to then continue being helpful because this could be a customer or it could be the

boss, it could be anybody. So you need to be helpful and say: "Sorry, he's on the other

line. Can I take a message?" Okay? Take a message, to write down a message to say this

person called, and either they will call again or can you call them back. So:

"Can I take a message?" or "Can I give her a message?" Okay? And if it's you that's calling, you

have phoned somewhere and the person is not available-okay?-you can say, politely:

"Could I leave a message?" Okay? So that the person who has answered the phone will write a message

down and give it to the person that you want to speak to. "Could I", that's the polite

way of asking. Not: "Can I", but: "Could I", it's much more polite. "Could I leave a message, please?"

You could put "please" again. "Could I leave a message for him, please? Could I

leave a message for her, please?" Okay.

Now, this one, this is if the person who has answered is the person you want to speak to,

but they are busy doing something else at that moment. It's not convenient for them

to speak to you, but they are being helpful and they say: "Can I call you back?" Maybe:

"Can I call you back in 10 minutes? Can you...? Can I call you back this afternoon?",

"Can I call you back before 4 o'clock?" So this is all being helpful and ensuring that you

do eventually speak to that person and have time to talk about something.

"Can I call you back?"

Now, this one, this is if someone has phoned you and you weren't there, so somebody else

had to take a message for you, and apologize, and be polite and helpful, and you come home

and you get this message: "Mr. Jones called. Can you call him?" So you phone the number

and you tell the person who answers: "I'm returning..." "Could I speak to Mr. Jones?

I'm returning his call." That means he called me, he wants to speak to me.

"I'm returning his call" so that we can have the conversation. He wants to speak to me. I'm returning his

call. I'm calling him back. Okay.

And then finally in this section, sometimes people's names are difficult to spell or place

names, and so on, so if you need to get a name clear, if you want to make sure you've

got the right spelling, you can say: "Could I", the polite form: "Could I ask you to spell that, please?"

Okay? If it's a difficult name: "Could I ask you to spell that, please?" Okay?

So that's most of the main ways of speaking on the phone, and we just have a few more

items which are to do... We've had a few problems here with not being able to speak to people,

but we have a few more problem situations and a few more words and phrases connected

to that, so we'll do that next.

Okay, so a few more telephone problems and the words to use. So, if you try to ring a

number and you just can't... Well, this is it: "I can't get through. I can't get through"

meaning there's something wrong. You're tapping out the number, but nothing is happening for

some reason, nobody is answering. You can't even hear the line ringing. You know the ringing,

ringing tone isn't... It's not even ringing. Okay. "I can't get through" meaning I can't

make the connection. Okay.

And some of the reasons why you can't get through: "The line is busy".

If the person is already on the phone the line is busy. Or in the UK we say: "It's engaged". "Engaged"

means, you know, somebody is already speaking on the phone to somebody else, which is why

you can't get through. Okay. It's busy or engaged, so those... Those are the same thing.

Sometimes "unobtainable". In the UK we get a sort of continuous "[makes beep noise]"

sound when you dial a number that doesn't exist basically. Maybe it's an old number,

you're trying to contact a friend, maybe that friend has moved away and they didn't take

their phone number with them. So that line, that number doesn't exist anymore. So we call

it this fancy word: "unobtainable", meaning you can't obtain it, you can't get through

because it doesn't exist. Okay. So...

Okay, so say you do get through, you can get through and you can hear a voice at the other

end, but you can't hear them very well, they're very quiet, so you can say:

"Could you speak up, please?" Again, "please" is good. "Could you" is good, a polite way of asking.

"Could you speak up? Could you speak up, please? I can't hear you." Okay. "It's a bad line."

Rather than blame that person for having a quiet voice:

"Oh, your voice is really quiet. I can't hear you." That's not very nice to say that,

and it may not be their fault anyway.

It may be the technology that is... Has something wrong and you can't hear them very well, so

you can ask them: "Could you speak up, please? It's a bad line." Always blame the technology.

Don't blame the person for having a quiet voice because they won't be your friend for

much longer if you do that. Okay. So: "Could you speak up, please? It's a bad line." Okay?

The line is the connection, the technology the cable, whatever.

Or if you're on a mobile phone: "Sorry, you're breaking up." It doesn't mean they're falling

apart physically. It's their voice, the voice is breaking up. Oops, sorry, wrong way around.

Meaning your voice is breaking up. The sound is... Has got little broken pieces in it.

Instead of continuous sound it's: "Unh-unh-unh-unh-unh-unh", and you're losing part of what they're saying.

"You're breaking up", that's usually with a mobile phone. So, again, blame the technology,

not the person for having a funny voice that goes: "Unh-unh-unh-unh-unh" because it's probably

not their fault. Okay. "Sorry, you're breaking up. Bad signal." Right. That can happen. Sometimes

if you're on a train and you go under a bridge, you lose the signal and you even get cut off sometimes.

That's the next one, yeah. "I think we got cut off." Okay. You don't say:

"You hung up on me!" meaning the other person just put the phone down because they didn't want to

talk to you anymore. Don't blame them for hanging up on you. Hanging up on someone isn't

a very nice thing to do, but sometimes if two people are having an argument over the

phone and one person has just had enough, they just put the phone down. They don't want

to talk anymore. They're too fed up with it. So just if the connection is lost, don't blame

them. Phone again if you want to and say: "I think we got cut off." Yeah, right. So,

don't blame them for... Don't suggest that they hung up on you because it won't... It

won't help your relationship probably. So: "I think we got cut off." Right.

The last two examples are when you just phone and... Or somebody phones you and you don't

know them, they're total strangers. So if they say: "Hello, is Gladys there?" and your

name isn't Gladys and nobody called Gladys lives in the same building as you, you say...

You don't sort of... Don't be rude. Even if it's a stranger, you don't say:

"Don't be stupid. There's no one here called Gladys." No. Not a good idea.

Try to be polite again

and say: "Sorry, I think you've got the wrong number." Okay? They've tapped the numbers

wrong, in the wrong order or something's gone wrong with the technology again.

"Sorry, I think you've got the wrong number."

And if they have asked for somebody by name and there is no one with that name where you

live or where you work, you say... You could say: "Sorry, there's no one of that name here."

Okay? "Sorry, there's no one of that name here. Are you sure you dialed the right number?"

You can ask them: "What number? What number did you dial?" You can ask them to read the

number back to you, and sometimes they read you a number and it's not your number, and

you can say: "Oh, sorry, that's not this number. Something has gone wrong."

So these are all some of the lovely scenarios that can happen with the telephone or the

phone. We don't use the word "telephone" so much now. It's a very formal word, "telephone".

You might use it in an essay, but in speaking you say "phone". So, okay. So I hope that's

been helpful, something you can use in your daily life and in your job.

If you'd like to answer a quiz on this, which I highly recommend, please go to the website,,

and answer the questions there. And come back and see us again soon.

Okay. Bye.