Talking on the phone is an art.
Hear me out.
Although one could argue that the 21st century has brought about a texting revolution, being able to talk on the phone in French is nonetheless a useful skill to have.
So we’re going to help you remain cool, calm and collected while talking on the phone in French—even if technical difficulties arise.
Think of a phone conversations like script. It’s all about getting into character and learning your lines. No need for stage fright, though!
What’s the 411 on French Phone Conversations?
French phone conversations (as with most other languages) follow a general script with a beginning, middle and end. For French learners who may be uncomfortable talking on the phone with native speakers, keeping this in mind can take the pressure off.
Phone calls don’t have to be anxiety-inducing; just learn your lines and your French will immediately sound smoother and more fluent. Learning the appropriate vocabulary and memorizing the turns of phrases used in French phone conversations will allow you to concentrate on what you need to say (which is to say, your reason for calling).
First things first: the lingo! Let’s take a look at some nouns and verbs.
French Phone-related Nouns
- Un annuaire — phonebook (This maybe seem a bit 1997, but an annuaire can exist in digital form as well!)
- Un numéro — telephone number
- Une sonnerie (de téléphone) — a ringtone
- Un répondeur — answering machine
- Un répertoire — directory (In 2016-speak this is your cell phone’s “contacts” section.)
- Une tonalité — dial tone
French Phone-related Verbs
- Appeler — to call
- Composer un numéro — to dial a number
- Décrocher — to pick up
- Laisser un message — to leave a message
- Patienter — to wait
- Raccrocher — to hang up
- Rappeler — to call back
- Sonner — to ring
Now let’s take a look at some casual and formal turns of phrases that you can use to get through your French phone conversations.
While you can slang it up and pepper your conversations with casual French expressions among friends and family, you have to keep things more prim and proper in formal conversations with the lady from the bank who won’t stop calling you. Got it? Great! On y va ! (Let’s go!)
How to Have Flawless Phone Conversations in French
Phone Call Greetings
Allô ? (Hello?)
Easy peasy and almost exactly like the English, with a cute little hat on the “o.”
[Name of office/company], bonjour. ([Name of office/company], hello.)
In more formal environments like the business world, for example, answering the phone requires taking it up a notch. If you call the bank or Internet service provider, you’re likely to hear something like “Société Générale, bonjour” (Société Général, hello) or “Bouygues Telecom, bonjour” (Bouygues Telecom, hello).
Getting Connected to the Right Person
In an ideal world, we’d reach the person we’d like to speak to immediately. More often, though, you have to pass through an intermediary. In casual conversations, this may mean talking to a parent, sibling or partner. In more formal contexts, you’ll often have to go through a secretary.
Bonjour, c’est [Y], [X] est là/disponible? (Hello, it’s [Y], is [X] there/available?)
Puis-je parler à [X]? (May I please speak to [X]?)
Je voudrais parler à [X]. (I would like to speak to [X].)
Est-ce le bureau de [X]? (Is this [X]’s office?)
Asking Who Is on the Line
Asking who is on the line in the age of caller ID may seem like a thing of the past, but you know how it goes. People forget to save numbers, phones get lost, phones break and numbers change. C’est la vie (That’s life).
Regardless of how well you may or may not know a person, if their identity is temporarily unknown, it’s best to be polite (dare I say formal) rather than grunting a (very) casual “C’est qui ?” (Who is it?). Here are two alternatives:
Qui est à l’appareil ? (Who is on the phone?)
Un appareil is French for a device, and in the contexts of phone conversations, it refers to the phone.
C’est de la part de qui ? (Who is calling/speaking, please?)
More broadly speaking, the expression “de la part de” means “on behalf of.”
Playing the Waiting Game During a Phone Call
They say that patience is a virtue. I believe this to be especially true when you’re forced to listen to hold music (which I’ve been led to believe is the same all over the world, thanks to extensive personal research).
Ne quitte pas. (Please hold.)
Je te le/la passe. (I’ll put you through (to him or her).)
Merci de vouloir patienter quelques instants. (Wait a moment, please.)
Veuillez patienter, s’il vous plaît. (Be so kind as to wait please.)
Note that veuillez is the second person plural imperative form of vouloir (to want).
Ne quittez pas (la ligne). (Please hold.)
Je vous le/la passe. (I’ll put you through (to him or her).)
La ligne est occupée. (The line is busy.)
Can you hear me now? Unfortunately, dropped calls and spotty reception are things cell phone users know all too well. Let’s take a look at how to handle such inconveniences in French.
Je ne capte pas très bien. (My reception isn’t very good.)
Capter is a verb with several meanings. In addition to “to receive a signal,” as in the case of a phone’s reception, it can also mean “to attract attention,” “to tap” a resource such as water, or in more informal contexts capter can also mean “to understand” or “to grasp.”
Ça coupe. (You’re breaking up.)
Ça, a contraction of cela, meaning “this” or “that,” is an indefinite demonstrative pronoun. Here, ça refers to “this connection.”
Je ne t’entends pas. (I don’t hear you.)
La connexion est de mauvaise qualité. (The connection is bad.)
Nous avons été coupés. (We were disconnected.)
Pouvez-vous répéter cela? (Can you repeat that?)
Use the above line instead of screaming “Quoi ?” (What?) at your interlocutor.
Ending a Phone Conversation
In French, salut can also work as the casual greeting of “hi” or “hey” instead of bonjour (hello, good morning).
Allez, ciao/bises. (Alrighty, ciao/kisses.)
In French, allez is often used as an expression of finality, which makes it a bit difficult to translate into English but it roughly translates to “alright” or “alrighty” in the above instance.
À tout (à l’heure). (See you (later).)
Au revoir. (Goodbye.)
Bonne journée, au revoir. (Have a nice day, goodbye.)
Sample Phone Conversations in French
Did you know that in French, phones don’t go ring ring but rather dring dring ? Anyway! Now that you’ve learned some lines, let’s look at some examples, shall we?
Dring dring !
M. Durand: Allô ? (Hello?)
Paul: Allô, c’est Paul, Michel est là ? (Hello, it’s Paul; is Michel there?)
M. Durand: Ah, Pau l! Tu vas bien ? Oui, Michel est dans le salon. Je te le passe. (Ah, Paul! How are you doing? Yes, Michel is in the living room. I’ll put you through.)
Paul: Merci (Thank you)
Michel: Salut mec, ça va ? (Hey, dude, how’s it going?)
Paul: Ça va et toi ? (Everything’s good and you?)
Michel: Ça roule. (Everything’s good.)
Paul: Écoute, je pense avoir oublié mes crampons chez toi. Tu peux regarder dans ta chambre ? (Listen, I think I forgot my soccer cleats at your house. Can you look in your room?)
Michel: Pas de souci. Attends une seconde. (No worries. Hold on a second.)
—2 minutes plus tard (Two minutes later)—
Michel: Ouais, ils sont là. Je te les ramène demain. (Yeah, they’re here. I’ll bring them to you tomorrow).
Paul: Cool, merci. À demain, alors. (Cool, thanks. See you tomorrow then.)
Michel: À demain, salut. (See you tomorrow, bye).
Now let’s take a look at a conversation where things go a little less smoothly.
Dring dring !
Elise: Allô ? (Hello)
Sarah: Allô, Elise ? C’est Sarah. Ça va ? (Hello, Elise. It’s Sarah. How it’s going?)
Elise: Oui et toi ? (Good and you?)
Sarah: Oui je suis à la campagne chez ma tante. Je capte très mal ici. (Yes, I am in the countryside at my aunt’s house. My reception is really bad here.)
Elise: Allô ? Allô ? Sarah, tu es toujours là ? (Hello? Hello? Are you still there, Sarah?)
Sarah: Oui mais ça coupe. (Yes, but you’re breaking up.)
Sarah: Je te rappellerai plus tard. Ça marche ? (I will call you later. Does that work?)
Elise: Oui, ça marche. (Yes, that works.)
Sarah: D’accord. Bises, à toute ! (Ok. Kisses! Until later!)
Dring dring !
Secrétaire: Cabinet medical de Belleville, bonjour. (Belleville Doctor’s office, hello).
Mme Martin: Bonjour, je vous appelle pour prendre rendez-vous avec le docteur Boisaubert. (Hello, I am calling to schedule an appointment with Doctor Boisaubert.)
Secrétaire: D’accord. Ne quittez pas. (Ok. Please hold.)
Quelques instants plus tard (A few moments later)
Secretaire: Merci d’avoir patienté. Le docteur Boisaubert est disponible demain à 14h et jeudi à 9h30. Quel créneau horaire vous conviendrait ? (Thank you for waiting. Doctor Boisaubert is available tomorrow at 2 p.m. and Thursday at 9:30 a.m. Which time slot works for you?)
Mme Martin: Demain à 14h me convient. (Tomorrow at 2 p.m. works for me.)
Secrétaire: Votre nom, madame ? (Your last name, ma’am?)
Mme Martin: Martin. Et le prénom c’est Elisabeth. (Martin. And the first name is Elisabeth.)
Secrétaire: D’accord Madame Martin. Je confirme votre rendez-vous avec le docteur Boisaubert pour demain à 14h. (Ok Mrs. Martin. I have booked your meeting with Doctor Boisaubert for tomorrow at 2 p.m.)
Mme Martin: Merci beaucoup. (Thank you very much.)
Secrétaire: Je vous en prie. Bonne journée, au revoir. (You are welcome. Have a nice day, goodbye.)
Mme Martin: De même, au revoir. (You too, goodbye.)
And to think that some people say scheduling appointments is a hassle! Now, let’s take a look at a formal phone conversation in which the person of interest is unavailable.
Secrétaire: Relations publiques, bonjour. (Public relations, hello.)
M. Portier: Bonjour, Jean Giraud à l’appareil. Puis-je parler à Jean-Bernard Watteau ? (Hello, Jean Giraud speaking. May I please speak to Jean-Bernard Watteau?)
Secrétaire: Veuillez patienter, s’il vous plait. (Be so kind as to wait, please.)
—Quelques instants plus tard (A few moments later)—
Secrétaire: Monsieur Giraud ? Je suis désolé(e). Monsieur Watteau est en réunion. Voulez-vous laisser un message ?(Mr. Giraud? I’m sorry, Mr. Watteau is in a meeting. Do you want to leave a message?)
M. Portier: Je vais le rappeler à un autre moment. Merci beaucoup. (I will call him back at another time. Thank you very much.)
Sécretaire: Je vous en prie. Bonne journée, au revoir. (You are welcome. Have a nice day, goodbye.)
M. Portier: Bonne journée à vous aussi, au revoir. (Have a nice day as well, goodbye.)
Well, there you have it! Wherever your adventures in French phone conversations may take you—dropped calls, missed calls and more—you’re bound to be a smooth operator.
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