Phone Calls in German: 20 Phrases to Successfully Make and Receive Calls

For some people, speaking on the telephone can be awkward.

When you’re still learning a language, it can be terrifying.

To help you avoid the pitfalls of dead silence or a sudden hang-up, here’s 20 simple and handy sentences that are sure to come up during any given telephone conversation in German.

Be sure to keep reading after that for German phone call etiquette and some resources you can use to practice your new sentences.

Contents


Making a Phone Call in German

1. Hallo, Anka, bist du es?  (Hello Anka, is that you?)

Literally, you’re saying, “Are you it?” This may sound something like disappointment to an English speaker, but it works fine in German.

While in the age of smartphones such ambiguity is less common, you never know when you’ll have to call a landline and figure out who’s on the other end.

Note that this is an informal construction, best used among friends and family.

2. Spreche ich mit Herrn Wagner?  (Am I speaking with Mr. Wagner?)

For situations that call for a more formal approach to determining who is on the other end, this sentence will help pave the way for the discourse to follow.

3. Ich möchte mit Herrn Karmann sprechen.  (I would like to speak with Mr. Karmann.)

If the person that picks up the phone isn’t who you were hoping for, there’s no need to hang up or panic. Simply state who it is you need to speak with.

4. Ist Hannah da?  (Is Hannah there?)

In situations where you can keep it informal, you can also keep it simple. This phrase isn’t too difficult to remember because it sounds pretty close to its English equivalent.

5. Kann ich eine Nachricht hinterlassen?  (Can I leave a message?)

Just in case the person you’re looking for is not available, here’s a way of asking to leave a message. You’re essentially saying, “Can I leave a message behind?”

6. Meine Nummer ist…  (My number is…)

If you need to leave your number for someone to return your call, use this phrase. Remember to use Meine and not Mein because Nummer (number) is feminine.

7. Hast du ihre Nummer?  (Do you have her number?)

And if you’re calling for a certain someone, but it turns out you have the wrong number, you can ask this question.

Note that this is the informal version. If you’re saying it to someone who’s your social superior, it would be: “Haben Sie ihre Nummer?”

When needed, you can also replace ihre (her) with seine (his).

8. Die Leitung ist besetzt.  (The line is busy.)

Typically, when you hear this sentence, it’s spoken by the automatic operator in a very woody tone. But at least now you know what she’s saying!

In these situations, however, it never hurts to make sure you’ve dialed the number correctly. For additional information on how to call Germany from abroad, check out this site.

9. Vielen Dank für Ihre Hilfe!  (Thanks a lot for your help!)

I’m sure your mama raised a polite and courteous child. So now you can express your gratitude to the person on the line—even if that’s just for their patience with your effort to speak German on the phone.

10. Auf Wiederhören.  (Speak to you soon.)

It’s always useful to have a short, simple way to end the conversation. Here are more ways to say goodbye in German.

Receiving a Phone Call in German

11. Ich bin’s.  (It’s me.)

If you pick up your ringing phone and someone asks you question number one above, this is your response. Literally you’re saying, “I am it.”

12. Hier ist Frau Beck am Apparat.  (This is Mrs. Beck on the telephone.)

Another way to let the caller know who they’re speaking with, the literal translation for this is: “Here is Mrs. Beck on the telephone.” It may seem a little grandiose or pompous to speak of oneself in the third person, but it’s okay to do so like this in German.

Note that if our Frau Beck was asked “Sprech ich mit Frau Beck?” (Am I speaking with Mrs. Beck?) she could simply answer, “Am Apparat” (On the telephone).

13. Einen Moment, bitte. Ich hole sie.  (Just a moment, please. I’ll get her.)

When you hear these words, you know that you’re close to reaching your intended target! It’s also not a bad sentence to have in your back pocket in case your roommate’s mother or the police call looking for her.

14. Kann ich etwas ausrichten?  (Can I take a message?)

What if the caller is looking for someone who’s not you, but that person isn’t around? If you feel confident, you can offer to take a message with this phrase, essentially saying “Can I do something?” or “Can I pass on something?”

15. Kann ich Sie zurückrufen?  (Can I call you back?)

Hey, sometimes you’re busy. Just let the caller know you’ll get back to them later.

16. Bitte rufen Sie später.  (Please call later.)

Every country has telemarketers, even Germany. This is a brief and polite way to dismiss them—and anyone else that you really don’t want to talk to.

17. Er ist nicht erreichbar.  (He is not available.)

If someone calls looking for your German beau but he’s not home, simply use this phrase.

Of course, this is also the sentence you’ll hear if a call you’re making is getting stopped in its tracks (or if you’re getting the cold shoulder).

18. Wir wurden unterbrochen.  (We were cut off.)

This sounds more dramatic than it really is, which is just another reason to appreciate German, in my opinion.

You may hear this if a call drops and the person calls you back immediately. It’s also good to let people know that you didn’t purposely hang up on them if the situation happens in reverse.

19. Können Sie das bitte wiederholen?  (Can you repeat that, please?)

In learning a new language, this is one of the most important (and most used) sentences you can have in your arsenal.

On the phone, it can be particularly hard to figure out what the other person is saying. There’s no shame in asking them to say it again.

20. Können Sie bitte etwas langsamer sprechen?  (Can you speak a little slower, please?)

Another great sentence to know as a language learner. Generally, a native speaker will be understanding towards a person making an effort to speak a new tongue and will be happy to oblige such a request.

You can pick up more conversational phrases like these and see how native speakers naturally talk to each other in different situations on FluentU.

Formalities for Telephone Conversations in German

In a country where formality reigns supreme, there’s a pre-existing social contract when it comes to picking up the telephone that it doesn’t hurt to be aware of.

First of all, Germans tend to introduce themselves on the phone by using their last name. No “Mr.” or “Dr.”—just their last name. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can skip adding the Herr (Mr.) or Frau (Mrs.) when constructing your greeting.

Also, even though throwing out their surname comes across as kind of chummy, the same old Sie and du rules apply—namely, unless you know the person well or are of the same age, you must use Sie (the formal construction of “you”). You wouldn’t want the phone call to be over before it began due to a simple faux pas.

Finally, it’s worth noting that when Germans give you their phone numbers, they usually do it in double digits. It’s probably an efficiency thing, but for language learners, it’s something to keep in mind to sound a little bit more native.

Here are some additional resources that can make your new phrases easier to learn and put to use:

  • Forvo: This website uses human recordings to give you accurate, native pronunciations of words. After you review the sentences here, you can find the phrase or word on Forvo to hear a native speaker say it.
  • GermanLanguageGuide: This website covers a variety of topics related to German grammar. While the phrases above will be helpful to memorize, you can use this resource to look up new grammar aspects you’re unsure of for full explanations.

 

Twenty sentences probably won’t be enough to complete every phone conversation in German, but these basics will help you partake in useful, insightful and challenging dialogue over the wire.

Having an idea of some of the social expectations and negotiating the formalities is half the battle of having a successful phone exchange in German, too.

So now it’s time to dial away and get practicing!

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