Making Telephone Calls

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In multicultural business environments, communication over the telephone has become a vital part of getting things done.  Conference and video calling have become a weekly, almost daily, event for most companies.  This teaching tip provides a summary of practical strategies for making international telephone calls. It encourages clear and concise expression, a skill necessary for the international and multicultural workplace.

Content Objectives

  • To introduce students to essential language for international telephone calls, crucial knowledge in an international workplace
  • To encourage students to be aware of the need for clarity and conciseness when operating in an international and cross-cultural environment

Language Objectives

  • To provide opportunities for students to practice role playing telephone calls
  • To differentiate between language used in a phone conversation with a friend and that used in a phone conversation with a business colleague


1. Explore with your students the difference between a telephone call and a face-to-face conversation:

    • Ask students how they typically use the telephone to talk to friends and how that differs from doing business on the phone.
    • Ask several students what typical topics might be discussed on the phone during each type of conversation.
    • Clarify and provide additional examples for students, as needed.
    • Let students discuss how not being able to see the other person’s face or gestures changes communication.
    • Ask them if, from a technical aspect, telephone calls are ever as clear as regular conversations.
    • Elicit strategies for making telephone calls clearer.

2. Have students work in pairs to make several telephone role play situations. Here are some examples:

o Have several pairs “perform” their calls for the class and, if appropriate in your culture, ask for feedback from the other students.
o Ask the students to create several possible situations for role plays.
o Have them write out a few prompts they will use in their own role plays.
o Encourage clarity and conciseness.

3. Advanced activity (thinking outside the box)—balancing conciseness and politeness

In business situations we must always balance conciseness (a matter of time) with politeness (a function of relationships).
Ask students to write “overly” concise telephone conversations (e.g., “NO!”) and “overly” polite dialogue (e.g., “Well, I could try to see if we maybe can ask them to help us perhaps get that put on the agenda for next meeting or in the future.”). Have them perform both variants, and then in groups have them try to create a dialogue that balances conciseness and politeness.
Share the best ideas from each group with the whole class.


Background Reading and Sample Exercises


English for Business and Diplomacy: Clarity in intercultural communication

Learning Theme

Learning to live together; learning to work together


Beare, K. (n.d.). Teaching Telephone English. Retrieved from

Ruban, G. (2007). Tips for Making Phone Calls You Don’t Want to Make. Retrieved from

Edelman, D. (n.d.).Tips for Making Phone Sales Calls. Retrieved from w<span id="fck_dom_range_temp_1289765475650_306" />

Additional Resource

Friedenberg, J., Kennedy, D., Lomperis, A., Martin, W., & Westerfield, K. (2003). Effective Practices in Workplaces Language Training. Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (TESOL).


Charles Hall, PhD, dr. h. c., Department of English, University of Memphis, Memphis, TN, USA  

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