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Teaching Telephone English


Hispanic businesswoman working at desk
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Teaching telephone English can be frustrating as students really need to practice their skill as often as possible in order to improve their comprehension skills. Once they have learned the basic phrases used in telephoning, the main difficulty lies in communicating without visual contact.

Telephone English poses a special problem for English learners because of the lack of visual clues used when speaking. Practicing telephone English in class can also seem rather artificial as exercises generally ask students to practice speaking on the phone through role-plays sitting together in small groups. This telephone English lesson plan focuses on creating a more realistic telephoning situations to encourage students to practice authentic telephoning situations.

Aim: Improving Telephoning Skills

Activity: Role playing using office telephone lines

Level: Intermediate to advanced


  • Review phrases used in telephoning. See Telephone English: Dialogue and Appropriate Vocabulary and Business Telephone Conversations
  • Ask each student to write out notes for a telephone conversation that they would typically have with a native speaker. Example: Order 500 Liters of Olive Oil - Delivery: Next Friday - Payment Method: Company Account - Address: Student's Company Address - Telephone/Fax: Student's Telephone/Fax, etc.
  • Ask students to choose another student who should respond to the call for which he/she has written notes.
  • This next step is the most important, and if possible goes a long way to improving students' skills. Use internal office phones at work - This is one of my favorites and great for business classes.
  • Stress the fact that students need to understand and take note of everything crucial. If they do not understand they need to ask you to repeat, tell you to speak more slowly - anything that is needed to understand. For tips see: How to Telephone: Tips and Tricks to Make Sure a Native English Speaker Slows Down!
  • Ask your students to go to a different office, make sure to get the extension for the office. Ask students to take notes on the call.
  • Now, this is when your acting skills come in handy! Take the various notes, call the other extension and ask for the person suggested by the student who wrote the notes.
  • You've made it to Hollywood now! Take a variety of roles and act them out on the phone. Really put your students through the paces. You can be angry, impatient, in a hurry, etc.
  • Once you have repeated this exercise, get students to call each other in their own offices to repeat the exercise. Remember it is crucial to actually use the phone, as the difficulty lies in understanding English over the phone. If students need suggestions see: Role Plays: Role Play Dialogue Cues to Practice Telephoning with Friends

Finally, if you don't have the opportunity of using different telephone lines put students' chairs back to back and practice speaking on the phone, students will only hear the other person's voice which will approximate a telephone situation.

For more ways to practice telephoning see: Practical Exercises: Exercises to Improve Your Telephoning Skills

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