Practical Skills 01 - Make friends with your phone.


I don't think I've met a single student who feels phone calls or conference calls are their strong point, they seem to make everybody stressed and uncomfortable. 

Living in Madrid and working freelance has meant a lot of phone calls in Spanish with varying degrees of success. The first six months where I had virtually no Spanish I would panic when the phone rang, ignoring it unless I absolutely HAD to answer. There was one incident where I received my medical check up results which could only be accessed by a code given over the phone.  I think the poor man who had to walk me through the steps with my pigeon English was more traumatised than me. I still felt like an idiot days later

One year later I'm happy to open bank accounts, do phone interviews and arrange deliveries in Spanish by phone, it's not always smooth but I definitely feel confident about the process!

People think that conversations are all different and complex. In reality, we are repetitive creatures and most conversations follow a fairly set script. This works to your advantage when you're in your second language. If you prepare a cheat sheet before each planned phone call over the next few weeks and add to it during and after the phone call; you'll feel much more confident and even start to enjoy making efficient phone or conference calls.

So based on my personal experiences and those of my students here are some strategies for handling phone/conference calls:


- At the end of the blogpost you can download a cheatsheet template to put these ideas into practise!-


1. Refresh the alphabet and numbers and remind yourself of very basic punctuation @ . / etc

Sounds basic, but it's incredible how many people (me included!) are suddenly silent when they're asked for their email address or mobile number in language 2.

2. Keep a record of useful expressions in the notes section of your phone,

for example it took me a number of awkward callbacks before I remembered to learn the Spanish for 'Hi, I have a missed call from....' I only remembered I needed this phrase when I was already inelegantly shouting - 'give me Ana, Ana call me!'.

3. Are you making the call or receiving it? This affects the language you're going to use. 

If you're making the call, think about your aims for the call, what information do you need? Simple things like this disappear from your memory when you're concentrating on understanding somebody without any physical gestures or facial expressions to help you.

If you're receiving the call, what questions can you expect? Try to anticipate as many as possible to prevent any nasty surprises. 

4. Don't apologise for your English.

My friend Carmen taught me this, for my first year in Spain I started every conversation with 'Hello, I'm sorry but my Spanish is very bad'. This puts you in a defensive position that you just shouldn't be in. Anyone attempting another language is already doing a great job. 

5. Who are you talking to? What accent do they have?

Use youtube to listen to the target accent and note down any characteristics of the accent that can help you.

This blog is a great resource for Native accents.

For non-native accents, there are many generalities. However, for sure, Spanish speakers find other Spanish speakers easier to understand as well as the French, Italian and Portuguese in English. 

The key is to identify what happens to the vowels and the ends of words, do they miss the -ed endings? How pronounced are the /r/ sounds? What happens to their intonation? How connected is their speech? Identifying just a couple of these elements will lead to a much smoother experience on the phone!

6. What are the typical errors you make when speaking? 

Most people forget to use the past tense when they're speaking, I'm not entirely sure why but this is something I've noticed myself and almost all of my students do. 

Question forms disappear also, remember if you want to make 'So, see you next Tuesday' into a question rather than a flat statement, you need to use INTONATION, or you could sound robotic. Which is ok, but not ideal for building relationships with people.

7. can you prepare any Key Vocabulary?

If the call is with someone from Human Resources, get a list of human resources vocabulary and review the key terminology before the call. This gives you the chance to anticipate any 'jargon' (area specific language) and note the pronunciation. The same goes for Acronyms - are there any you have in your language that are different in English?  Take 30 seconds to check on google!