PHONE Etiquette

Expressions to use while speaking over the phone (or in everyday situations)/Help for fluency in speaking

In a previous article, I discussed some tips to help us when we make phone calls. In this article, we pay attention to how the use of certain expressions helps us during phone calls and during our speaking interactions with others in general settings.

Because our listening skills are heavily relied upon when we speak – given that there is the absence of paralinguistic/non-verbal cues, our tone of voice is extremely important. The first few seconds of your call are thus crucial.

We remember to always introduce ourselves when we place a call, especially when the person we are calling does not have our contact information. When someone calls you and you want to keep it formal, you could respond and introduce yourself with a measure of confidence – ‘Hello, Ruth speaking’. If you are calling to request information, you could say a thing like, ‘Hi my name is Ruth.

I’m calling about the order I made this morning’, or ‘Hello. My name is Ruth. I’m returning your call’ – where you missed someone’s call and needed to return the call but did not know the caller. You could also have this variant – ‘Hi there. I’m a customer of yours. I’m calling to find out when my delivery will arrive.’

When you place a call, show consideration by taking a moment to check if the person has a few minutes to talk. Do not call someone and continue on a 30 minutes chat without confirming that they are really free to engage with you; otherwise, they may not like to pick up your calls the next time you call. How about if it’s not a good time for you to take a call because you’re busy? You could say something like, ‘Hi. I’m in a meeting right now, can I call you back afterwards?’

Rather than feel frustrated when on a call and you are not getting the information you seek, try asking questions that could lead to your finding the right answers. For example, you may ask: ‘Is there someone else I can talk to about this?’ or ‘Can you direct me to someone who can help me?’

It is critical to do some concept checking when having conversations with others to be sure you are understood or that you understand the other party. You may ask, ‘Did you say ….?’ Complete the sentence with what you thought you heard. It might be a bit confrontational to say, ‘I don’t understand what you said’. Rather, you may say: ‘I’m sorry’ I didn’t catch that.’ Or ‘Sorry. It cut out’. Or ‘The connection is bad’. Or ‘Do you mind slowing down?’ Or ‘Is that S for sand or z for zoo?’ – Use letters to spell out a word to get which exact letters were used.

Expressions to help you improve your everyday conversations

During everyday conversations when people ask you about your activities and you tell them, endeavour to ask them ‘what about you?’ or ‘how about you?’ This helps you avoid an awkward silence because of running out of what to say to keep the conversation going.

Note that someone who likes to go out is called a ‘social butterfly’, and one who likes to be in their personal space is known as a ‘homebody’. So know the right way to address others and yourself. A homebody likes to ‘stay in’, probably to ‘binge-watch’ movies – meaning to watch a lot of movies at a go, for several hours in a day. You may also want to ‘catch-up on some chores’ – whatever housework you have to attend to because you haven’t always been around.

And you can ask people ‘what are you up to this weekend’ after telling them about your itinerary. Or you could ask them ‘what have you got going on this weekend?’ ‘You doing anything fun this weekend?’ – thismakes the question appear casual.

To be fluent in English language speaking (or any other language) you need to keep the following in mind:

1. Relax – this helps you not to panic but to put your ideas together in a much coherent way.

2. Be confident – even though you may not be proficient and competent in the language use, you are not unintelligent! That you make an effort to speak a language that is not your mother tongue – even if it is but you did not have exposure to it from birth – is enough to be applauded. Put in the required effort and you are good to go.

3. First build your vocabulary so it helps you with basic communication. Learn words to express the major things you need to talk about, and you can focus on the grammar afterwards so that your English becomes better.

4. Don’t try to be perfect. A kind native speaker of a language would be happy to see you make an effort to speak their language. Some people may not be nice and may not be patient towards you, so focus on your reason for using the language and do not be discouraged.

5. Mistakes are good for you. As you make mistakes, try to learn from them. A sense of humour will help you to laugh at yourself and waive off your mistake. 

It also helps you not to focus too much on yourself and feel offended when people laugh at you.

6. Most important of all, practice for about 10 to 15 minutes every day (and increase the time as your yearning increases). You can use Duolingo (a language learning app), watch the news and movies, and listen to music (in that language you seek to learn). If you have access to the transcripts of video recordings, you can try practicing to speak like those you watched. If you record your speaking, it helps you to see how much progress you are making. And keep interacting with others and asking for feedback.

 2. Writing Tips: Three Things to Do to Write an Effective Paragraph/92 Most Commonly Spelt Words in Writing/Errors in Syntax

 In most formal settings, sending emails, writing proposals, memos, technical and non-technical reports are the norm. If you always have to do this, you may want to learn the best ways to carefully construct your paragraphs so that they stand out.

Three things that are required in your paragraph to make it effective are

1. a topic sentence

2. coherence

3. adequate development

Applying these to your paragraphs makes your writing have unity.

Let’s examine what it means to have a topic sentence. A topic sentence is that one sentence that contains the central idea of your paragraph. Do not confuse this with the thesis statement, which refers to one sentence in your introductory paragraph (mostly in an essay) that captures the essence of and sets the tone for the entire essay. Despite having a thesis statement in the opening paragraph, the body paragraphs should each contain a topic sentence, which should give a hint on the thrust of that paragraph.

The topic sentence is useful because it helps you to keep only one idea to a paragraph. Every other sentence you write in a paragraph is a supporting sentence, which should lend more credence to your topic sentence. If your supporting sentences begin to include fresh ideas, then they no longer belong to that paragraph. You can simply move them to a new paragraph and create a topic sentence that captures the key idea.

Doing this helps you to ensure that your writing is effective. Please keep in mind that not all topic sentences are explicitly captured in the paragraphs; sometimes, great writers can leave them implied, but all through the paragraph you can tell what the central idea is. If you are a beginning writer, you may want to start with writing out your topic sentence so that it guides the rest of your supporting sentences.

Coherence gives linking to your sentences. A paragraph devoid of coherence cannot be understood by your reader, so aim for making your sentences beautifully connect and tie in with the previous and following sentences. To achieve coherence in your writing, use transition words that help to link preceding sentences to the following ones. All transition markers serve different purposes; some show time (before, after, now, then, when); addition (in addition, additionally, furthermore, another, also); reason/purpose (because, in order to, as a result of, for); and contrast (notwithstanding, but, in spite of, however).

This is not an exhaustive list; in fact, I have only scratched the surface. Using transition markers appropriately and modestly helps your writing stand out and gives coherence to your work because one thought would clearly lead to the other. Yet another thing that gives coherence to your paragraph is the use of synonyms and repeating of key words.

To adequately develop your paragraph, supply details to prove your topic sentence. One way to do this is to give examples of what you mean in your topic sentence. You could also explain, cite illustrations, or give statistics.Doing this will help you to ensure that you have fully given the required details for your paragraph. Except in some email situations, a one-sentence paragraph will not make your writing effective – it will leave your reader looking for more information.

Consider this paragraph example and see if you can identify the three key ingredients that make it an effective paragraph:

The cost of living in Lagos is getting increasingly higher. Prices of food items are hitting the roof.Consequently, many people no longer cook at home but decide to eat out because the cost of gas and other food supplies are unbearably expensive. Even so, they cannot afford to eat quality meals and because of this people do not gun for three square meals – they settle for less, based on what they can afford. Also, because salaries are not being reviewed, people have to still make do with what they have always had even as they contend with soaring prices. Thus, living in Lagos is now a big deal.

Apply these principles and make your paragraphs effective.

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.