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13 Survival Phrases for Using English on the Phone and Online

Using English on the phone is even more difficult than in-person. However, these expressions will make it a lot easier to deal with challenging situations over the phone and also using online platforms like Zoom.

May/Can I please speak to (someone)?

The most polite way to ask for someone specific on the phone is to say: "may I please speak to..." and then the person's name. It's also possible to use "can" instead of "may".

I'm sorry, may I ask who's calling? / I'm sorry, may I ask who this is?

When someone calls you and you don't know who it is, you can politely ask the person: "I'm sorry may I ask who's calling?" and the person should respond by identifying himself/herself. If it's a text message, you can type "I'm sorry, may I ask who this is?" It's considered a polite way to deal with this awkward situation.

I'm sorry but I can't hear you well. Can you speak a little louder, please?

When volume is a problem, the correct expression is "I can't hear you". It is incorrect to use the verb "listen". You can make the expression more polite by first saying "I'm sorry". You can also ask the person to increase the volume of their voice by saying "Can you speak a little louder, please?" This also works very well over communications platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

Can you hear me okay?

You can use this expression to check if other people can hear you. The word "okay" can be an adverb to describe something happening in a satisfactory way, so you can ask someone: "can you hear me okay?" and that means you want to know if your signal or connection is good enough. You can also use the adverb "well" and say: "can you hear me well?"

It seems we have a bad connection / There seems to be a delay

When the person you are speaking with is not clear because of a technical problem like slow internet or a bad signal, you can say: "it seems we have a bad connection" or if the person's video or voice is a few seconds delayed, you can say: "there seems to be a delay".

Are you (still) there?

Sometimes there is silence on the other end of a call and it seems like someone might have been disconnected or hung up their phone. In this situation, you can ask them "are you there?" or "are you still there?" If they are there, they will respond, and if there is no response, you know that there was a disconnection.

Am I calling at a bad time?

When you call someone and it sounds like they are busy or if there is a lot of noise in the background, you can ask them "am I calling at a bad time?" In this situation, they'll respond either by saying: "no it's okay, go ahead" or they will tell you that they are busy. The next expression in this lesson is for that purpose.



Sorry but I'm in the middle of something. Can I call you back?

If someone calls you at an inconvenient time, you can tell them "Sorry but I'm in the middle of something" and then you can either offer to call them back by saying "Can I call you back?" or ask them to call back later by saying: "can you call me back a little later?"

Can you hold (on) for a minute?

If you need to do something while on the phone with someone, you can ask them "can you hold for a minute?" You can either say "hold" or the phrasal verb "hold on" and you can use the word "minute" or the word "moment".

I'm afraid he's/she's unavailable at the moment. Can I take a message for you?

If someone calls you in order to speak to another person and that person isn't available, you can say: "I'm afraid he's unavailable at the moment." Then, you can offer to take a message by saying: "Can I take a message for you?"

Do you mind if I leave a message for him/her?

If you are the person who wants to leave a message for someone who is unavailable, you can politely ask: "Do you mind If I leave a message for him/her?"

Can you spell that for me?

The challenge with speaking on the phone is that you cannot see anything, so if someone says a name, address, or another word that you don't know how to spell, you cannot see the word and therefore must ask them to spell it. In this case, you can ask: "Can you spell that for me?"

I think your microphone is on mute

The most common expression of the year 2020 was probably "I think your microphone is on mute". When using a platform like Zoom, this is the expression you can use to politely tell someone that you can't hear them because their microphone is muted.


Practice

Exercise #1: Fill in the blank with the missing words to complete the phrases. Hints are provided below the sentences if needed.

  1. Are you still _____? (I'm not sure if you were disconnected)

  2. Can you _____ for a minute? (I need you to wait)

  3. I'm sorry but I can't _____ you well. Can you _____ a little louder? (the volume is too low)

  4. Can you _____ that for me? (I don't know how to write a word that you said)

  5. May I please _____ _____ Melissa? (I'm asking for her)

  6. Do you mind if I _____ a message for her? (she is unavailable)

  7. Am I calling _____ a bad _____? (I don't know if you are busy)

  8. I'm afraid he's ________ at the moment. Can I _______ a message for you? (he's not able to talk)

  9. I think your microphone is _____ _____. (I can't hear you)

  10. Can you _____ me ______? (I want to know if my signal is clear)

  11. I'm sorry, may I _____ who's _______? (I don't know who this is)

  12. It ______ we have a bad _______. (I can't hear you well because of technical problems)

  13. I'm sorry but I'm _____ the _____ of something. Can I call you ______? (I can't talk now)

Hints: calling / okay / middle / hold / at / back / there / hear / in / speak / connection / mute / time / ask / leave / take / on / seems / spell / to / unavailable

Exercise 2: What would you say in the following situations (expressions are given below as options)

  1. Someone calls you but you don't know who it is.

  2. You are calling for Laura, but she's unavailable.

  3. The person is speaking too quietly on the phone.

  4. Someone calls you while you are busy.

  5. You don't hear any response from someone and don't know if they hung up the phone.

  6. You think you might be interrupting someone when you call them.

  7. You don't know how to spell a name that someone says.

  8. A person on your Zoom call is speaking but their microphone isn't on.

  9. You're not sure if your signal is clear.

  10. The other person's camera or microphone is delayed.

  11. You want an unavailable person to receive a message from you later.

  12. You are calling for Brian but someone else answers the phone.

  13. You need the other person to wait on the phone.

Options:

  • May I please speak to....

  • I'm sorry but I can't hear you well. Can you speak a little louder please?

  • Am I calling at a bad time?

  • Can you hear me okay?

  • Are you still there?

  • I'm afraid he's unavailable at the moment. Can I take a message for you?

  • I'm sorry, may I ask who's calling?

  • Sorry but I'm in the middle of something. Can I call you back?

  • Can you spell that for me?

  • Do you mind if I leave a message for her?

  • Can you hold on for a moment?

  • I think your microphone is on mute

  • There seems to be a delay

Answers

Exercise #1:

  1. Are you still there? (I'm not sure if you were disconnected)

  2. Can you hold (on) for a minute? (I need you to wait)

  3. I'm sorry but I can't hear you well. Can you speak a little louder? (the volume is too low)

  4. Can you spell that for me? (I don't know how to write a word that you said)

  5. May I please speak to Melissa? (I'm asking for her)

  6. Do you mind if I leave a message for her? (she is unavailable)

  7. Am I calling at a bad time? (I don't know if you are busy)

  8. I'm afraid he's unavailable at the moment. Can I take a message for you? (he is not able to talk)

  9. I think your microphone is on mute. (I can't hear you)

  10. Can you hear me okay/well? (I want to know if my signal is clear)

  11. I'm sorry, may I ask who's calling? (I don't know who this is)

  12. It seems we have a bad connection. (I can't hear you well because of technical problems)

  13. I'm sorry but I'm in the middle of something. Can I call you back? (I can't talk now)

Exercise #2:

  1. I'm sorry, may I ask who's calling?

  2. Do you mind if I leave a message for her?

  3. I'm sorry but I can't hear you well. Can you speak a little louder please?

  4. Sorry but I'm in the middle of something. Can I call you back?

  5. Are you still there?

  6. Am I calling at a bad time?

  7. Can you spell that for me?

  8. I think your microphone is on mute.

  9. Can you hear me okay?

  10. There seems to be a delay.

  11. I'm afraid he's unavailable at the moment. Can I take a message for you?

  12. May I please speak to Brian?

  13. Can you hold on for a moment?


1 comentario


Good tips

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