Three words that will save your life on the telephone

Telephone conversations can be challenging, or even terrifying, if English is not your first or second language.

Many of you know the scenario. You are working comfortably at your desk. Bleep bleep, the telephone rings. The line is not very clear, the speaker has had four double expressos and English words are being fired at you at 155 kmph. But the rapid fire is not the cause of rising panic. It’s the accent. It’s so alien and thick that you’re finding it difficult to understand every third word.





Don’t panic. Just calmly reply: One moment please…”, and 99 times out of 100, the person on the line will reply: “Of course”

One moment please is an expression that can save your life on the telephone.


Gently put the phone down on the desk.

And breathe…

And breathe again.



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One moment please is a golden phrase for the telephone. It buys you time. You can use this time to remember your telephone language (see below) and prepare your response.

Yes, how can I help you? Yes, Can I help you?


When you don’t understand

I am sorry could you speak slowly please?

Can you repeat that please?

I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.

Did you say Tuesday or Thursday?

If I understand correctly, you would like to speak to the marketing director?

If I understand correctly, you would like to cancel your appointment on Friday?


Taking messages

I’m afraid Sarah is in a meeting. Can I give her a message?

Can I take a message?

Would you like to leave a message?

Can I have your name please?

Your number?

And your email address please?

Would you like to ring back after lunch?

Would you like her direct number?

Can you spell that please?


Check spelling and email addresses

How do you spell that?

Did you say M-I-K-A-E ..?

Is that E-for-elephant?

So that’s Mikaelia –  M-I-K-A-E-L-I-A…?

So that’s Monday, June 5 at 3.30pm in your office?

So that’s George Wilkins…  W- I – L – K – I – N – S?

 And your email address is [email protected] 

So that’s G dot Wilkins – Wilkins -W-I-L-K-I-N-S at greencables (all one word) – G-R-E-E-N-C-A-B-L-E-S dot ch


Final check before you end the conversation

If necessary, make a final check at the end of the conversation. Just repeat the important facts.

You: Thanks for your call. I will ask Susanne call you on 079 533 72 98 or she can email you at [email protected] – that’s Mikaelia –  capital M-I-K-A-E-L-I-A dot Hobson capital H-O-B-S-O-N at greencables  – all one word – G-R-E-E-N-C-A-B-L-E-S dot CH.

Mikaelia: Great. Thank you.


You: Thanks for your call. I will ask Susan to call you back this afternoon between 3 and 4.30pm.

Your name is Rafael – that’s Rafael with a F, NOUNCI – N-O-U-N-C-I and you are calling from Cisco Systems -that’s Cisco – C-I-S-C-O Systems.

Rafael: Correct. Thanks


And breathe. Good job!


to buy time: delay an event temporarily so as to have longer to improve one’s own position.

The police kept the gunman talking to buy time for the hostages.

French: gagner du temps

rapid fire: to speak very quickly or shoot bullets very quickly


Garry Littman

Garry Littman est le fondateur de The Language House à Genève. The Language House propose des coachings d'anglais à Genève pour les particuliers et les entreprises, ainsi que des cours intensifs d'anglais dans les pays anglophones. Garry a été journaliste en Australie et en Asie, il a travaillé pour World Radio Switzerland.

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