When I have to make a doctor’s appointment, I’m often nervous about making that phone call. I don’t really know why. Maybe it has to do with why I need to see the doctor. But, I really think I’m just afraid of speaking to the receptionist (person who answers the phone in an office). Now, if I’m a native English speaker, and I’m afraid, I can imagine how afraid you must be to make or receive calls in English.
How to overcome phone-call phobia
(A phobia is a fear that makes you want to avoid something)
1. Understand that some fear or nervousness is normal
Realize that some fear or nervousness is normal when making phone calls to people you don’t know (I told you, it happens to me). You should even expect it when English is not your native language, and you have to make a phone call in English.
2. Understand exactly what scares you
Figure out (learn) exactly what you're afraid of when making phone calls. It could be any or all of these things:
- The beginning of the call when the person on the other side answers.
- The end of the call when you have to say goodbye; you’re not sure how to end it or who should end it.
- The middle of the call when you have to request information, such as making a hotel, restaurant or rental car reservation; or making a doctor, dental or haircut appointment.
- Not being able to be understood.
- Not understanding the other person on the phone.
- Getting the spelling of names wrong -- yours or an English name.
3. Plan Ahead
Work with your italki teacher or an English-speaking friend on those areas which frighten you. Here are some of the things you can do:
- Find examples of ESL phone conversations for different situations like reservations or doctor appointments. There are many online, and you can Google them. Look at the list of resources at the end of this article.
- Learn how to spell names so that the person on the other end of the phone can understand you better. Or, ask the other person to spell a name for you. For example, I often have to spell my first name “Ilene” to people on the phone. So I say, “I as in ice cream, L as in letter, E as in egg, N as in no, another E as in egg.” This usually works.
- Send a message first. For example, if you need to make a business call, try emailing the person first so you can tell the other person what the call is about. You could even tell the individual that you’re studying English and might need to ask him or her to speak slower at times.
- Don’t ever put yourself down (say bad things about yourself) by saying your English is bad; that only undermines (destroys) your confidence in general.
- Suggest using SKYPE or a similar program for your phone conversation so that you can send SMSs through SKYPE if you don’t understand each other. You can easily do this without the video. In fact, this is probably one way you already communicate with your italki teacher.
- Learn the what to say when you don’t understand the other person on the phone: “Please speak louder”, “Please speak slower”, “Please repeat that.”
- It’s ok to try again later. Think about the worst thing that can happen if the phone call gets really confusing: you say you’re sorry and you need to call back. Then hang up (I’ve done it) and plan to do it later or ask someone to help you this time.
4. Practice, practice, practice.
There’s no better way to get over your fear of making phone calls in English than through a role play (you are the caller and your friend or teacher is the person you call). You can do this over and over again until you feel comfortable.
5. Learn the Emergency Numbers
Learn the emergency number or numbers for where you are living or visiting and write down the information you would need to give in an emergency: the type of emergency, your name, address and phone number. That way, you already have this information if you ever need it.
6. Put your mobile to good use
and finally make that call you’ve been afraid of making!
Ilene Springer is an italki teacher from the US and has made many embarrassing mistakes during phone calls.
Different telephone situations to practice with a partner:
ESL Party Land Telephone Skills
Spelling difficult names and words in English over the phone:
Useful English - Spelling Names on the Phone
Image by nimble photography (CC BY 2.0)