Calling from Germany is pretty much the same as any other country. Almost all foreign countries can be direct-dialed. For exceptions to this you have to ring the exchange at 0010 and ask to be connected.
[Ring, ring, ring. Click.] Marathon Sprachen. Langenegger am Apparat, guten Tag.
Ah, ah, ah, … English?…
Oh, yes, English is ok.
The above telephone conversation occurs on a regular basis even with people who have a B1 or higher level of German, but it doesn’t have to.
The telephone is probably one of the most dominant and used pieces of technology. And yet, though most of us carry a phone around with us wherever we go, many of us have a fear of speaking to others on the phone, especially in a foreign language.
In this post, I want to give you some important tips and tricks for speaking on the phone in German. The first goes back to my previous post and what I wrote above. Language is about communication and it takes two to make that happen, so you always have the right to ask someone to slow down or repeat what they’ve said.
When making a phone call, don’t expect a happy “Guten morgen” from the other end of the line. Germans usually say their last name when picking up the phone. When calling, they identify themselves first before asking to be connected, so unless you want to appear pushy or rude, you should do likewise.
There are some rules like this about making a phone call in German that we will mention in another post.
Imagine you know all the rules, it’s time to pick up that telephone.
Without further delay, here’s 10 simple sentences to get you started on being a master of the phone lines.
1. Hallo, Seni, bist du es? (Hello Seni, is that you?)
Literally, you’re saying, “Are you it?” This may sound like an expression of 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 Zimmer? (Am I speaking with Mr. Zimmer?)
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. Hier ist Frau Beck am Apparat. (This is Mrs. Beck on the telephone.)
The literal translation goes like this: “Here is Mrs. Beck on the telephone.” It may seem a little grandiose or pompous to speak of oneself in the third person, but you can give yourself permission to do so 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).
4. Ich möchte mit Herrn Zimmerman sprechen. (I would like to speak with Mr. Zimmerman.)
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.
5. 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.
6. Kann ich eine Nachricht hinterlassen? (Can I leave a message?)
Just to make sure you’re prepared for all scenarios, here’s another way of asking to leave a message. This time you’re actually saying “Can I leave a message behind?”
7. Kann ich Sie zurückrufen? (Can I call you back?)
Hey, sometimes you’re busy.
8. 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.
9. Können Sie bitte etwas langsamer sprechen? (Can you speak a little slower, please?)
Generally, a native speaker will be understanding towards a person making an effort to speak a new tongue, and will be happy to oblige.
10. Auf Wiederhören. (Speak to you soon.)
It’s always useful to have a short, simple way to end the conversation.
Will 10 sentences be enough to complete every phone conversation in German? Not likely. But at least now you have the basics from which you can form a useful, insightful and challenging dialogue over the wire.