Sometimes even little things will improve your English abilities. Composing emails or texts with good grammar can help your English skills develop. Sitting by the radio or TV for news broadcasts can develop your listening. Reading magazines and comics are great to help you become a better reader.
For speaking, you can do so many things, including talking on the phone. It might not sound like much but it really can be beneficial to your listening, as well as your vocabulary development and, inevitably, speaking skills.
To get started, it’s good to know some key phrases that you can use freely while talking on the phone. These are all useful phrases and used by native speakers daily:
Greetings and directing calls
Whenever you answer the phone, it’s good to greet the caller properly, with terms like ‘Hello’ or ‘Good morning’, ‘Good afternoon’, or ‘Good evening’. If you work for a company or live with others, you might have to direct calls, so it’s good to say phrases like ‘How may I direct your call?’ or ‘Who would you like to speak to?’
Seeking people or information
As a caller, once you get in touch with people over the phone and wish to speak to someone in particular, it’s good to use ‘Could I please speak to…?’ or ‘I'd like to speak to…regarding…’ It also helps if you note where you’re calling from, such as ‘I’m calling from…’ as it gives the person you’re speaking to a reference of where you’re from and some urgency as to why you’re making the call. Likewise, if you’re receiving a call, don’t be afraid to use similar expressions to get information from the caller, like ‘Who's calling please?’, ‘Who am I speaking with?’, ‘How may I direct your call?’, or ‘Where are you calling from?’
Dealing with a bad connection
Funnily enough, the communication problems you often experience over the phone has nothing to do with you or who you are speaking to, but the connection you’re using. Static and audio failures can interrupt your conversation. If this happens, use expressions like ‘Could you repeat that please?’, ‘I’m sorry but I can’t hear you’, and ‘The line is very bad. Could you speak up [or repeat that] please?’
When someone isn’t around
Typically when you call someone and they aren’t in, or you can’t connect a caller with someone they’re seeking, there are some polite expressions to use, such as ‘I'm afraid the line is busy now’ or ‘I’m afraid he/she isn’t in now.’ If you’re receiving the call, it’s good to also offer ‘Could you call back later?’ or ‘Would you like to leave a message? I’ll be sure he/she gets it.’
Holding the line
In the event that you have to get information for a caller or seek someone that the caller is looking for, you might have to ask the caller to wait. Commonly, it’s proper to say simple requests like ‘Just a moment, please’, ‘Hold the line please’, or ‘Could you hold on please?’ before you leave the phone to go to find what or whomever the caller is seeking.
Most of these phrases are common both in homes and at work. In fact, a lot of business communication is transferrable outside of the office and can improve your overall English fluency. Take a look at The Language Gallery’s Business English courses, Business Communication electives, and various English for Specific Purposes courses to find programmes that can improve your English communication abilities.