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Telephoning in English: Dutch interference and key phrases

Making and taking telephone calls in your second language can be a daunting task, especially when a call catches you by surprise. We’ve all been there; stammering, searching for words, awkward silences, and even opting to write an email just to avoid all of the above.

Preparation and practice are key to effectively – and confidently – handling a telephone call every time.

Answering the phone

In the Netherlands, it is quite common to pick up the telephone with “Met Pim de Vries”. This would literally translate to “With Pim de Vries” in English. Using this phrase would be your first Dunglish mistake. Instead, try “This is Pim de Vries speaking” or simply “Pim speaking”. If you recognize the caller’s name and number, you might also choose to greet them by name: “Hello Donna. How are you?”

Dutch speakers are often curious about this question and doubtful about the giving the right response. It is quite common in English to greet one another with this very question to set the tone. Consider it a prerequisite for a pleasant conversation, an integral part of small talk. Answering with “Fine, thanks. How are you?” or “I’m well, how about you?” would suffice. In case the caller fails to introduce him or herself, you could ask “May I ask who’s calling, please?” or “Who am I speaking to?”

Calling someone at work

When calling an office number to speak to someone specific, the Dutch commonly begin with “Is Pim in de buurt?” which roughly translates to “Is Pim around?” This might suffice for an informal call however a more professional question would be “May I speak to Pim de Vries, please?” or “Could you please connect me to Pim de Vries?”

If Pim is available, the receiver might respond with “Yes, just one moment please. I’ll put you through” or if he is not, “I’m afraid Pim is unavailable at the moment. Would you like to leave a message?” Take note of the formality embedded within these sentences; the English are very fond of the use of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. They also prefer to introduce bad news with phrases such as “I’m afraid…” or “Unfortunately” simply because it’s polite and indirect.

Spelling over the phone

When asked to provide your contact details over the phone in English, Dutch speakers often get caught up in the similarities – and differences – of the Dutch alphabet. Vowels are especially tricky and often incorrectly articulated (e.g. The letter ‘a’ in English is pronounced as the letter ‘e’ in Dutch). Consider keeping a PDF copy on your desktop or print a copy of the NATO phonetic alphabet to assist you with spelling. For example, if you are not certain about spelling the name Elena, you might choose to spell it using the NATO alphabet: Echo – Lima – Echo – November – Alpha. This simple technique ensures that you will spell the information correctly every time.

Some basic phrases you can use in a telephone call:

Introductions

• Hello, this is (name) speaking.
• Good afternoon. This is (name) speaking. How may I help you?
• May I ask who’s calling?
• Who am I speaking with, please?

Connecting calls

• I would like to speak to (name). Is he/she available?
• Yes, just a moment please. I’ll put you through.
• I’m afraid Mr/Ms (name) is not available at the moment.
• Would you like to leave a message?

Clarifying information

• I’m afraid I didn’t quite catch that.
• Sorry, it’s quite noisy here. Can you hear me well?
• Could you please repeat that?
• Could you please speak a bit slower/louder?

Ending the call

• Was there anything else I could do for you?
• Thank you for your call.
• I look forward to hearing from you again.
• Take care. Goodbye.

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Alma Bonger
Alma Bonger
Alma is an English language trainer and writer from Canada. She is passionate about education, exploring new cultures, and creative collaboration.

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