Hâllo? Using French on the Phone Posted by Elizabeth Schmermund on Jun 2, 2015 in Vocabulary
One of my biggest fears when living in France was speaking on the phone. I was worried about getting phone calls at the office where I worked, scared to call my landlord if anything wasn’t working properly, and even petrified of receiving a call from someone who had dialed the wrong number. For some reason, speaking in a foreign language over the phone just seems so much trickier; the person on the other end of the line can be difficult to hear and you can’t rely on facial expressions or hand gestures to interpret. It feels like speaking in a total vacuum.
I’ll never forget one of the most embarrassing conversations I’ve had: While at work, someone called and asked to speak to my boss. Looking at my phone, I could see that she was already speaking on a different line. I told the caller: “Madame D. est en ligne, mais elle vous rappellera” (Madame D. is on the other line, but she will call you back). But the caller couldn’t understand my American accent. “Quoi?” he responded. “Madame D. est à Nîmes?” No, I tried to explain. But, no matter how hard I tried to explain, the caller couldn’t understand me and both of us hung up frustrated. The next day, my boss came by my office. “J’ai parlé avec X,” she said. “Pourquoi avez-vous dit que j’étais à Nîmes?” (I spoke with X. Why did you tell say that I was in Nîmes?)
Most people who have spent time abroad and tried to speak a different language have had experiences like this. And, while it seemed like the worst thing that could have happened to me at the time, I now tell the story for levity.
At the time, I wished that I had a standard phrase that I could have used to alleviate the misunderstanding. I could have tried to say, for example, “Madame D. est dans son bureau, mais elle est occupée en ce moment. Elle vous rappellera.” (Madame D. is in her office, but she is busy right now. She will call you back.) But, as I panicked, I couldn’t think of anything else to say but the phrase that had gotten me in trouble in the first place.
Here are some useful phrases to make your experience talking in French on the phone easier. I suggest memorizing them and practicing saying them aloud so that, when the phone rings, you’ll be prepared to speak like a pro.
Je dois passer un coup de fil. I have to call someone.
Je fais le numéro. I’m dialing the number.
Est-ce que je peux parler à Madame/Monsieur X, s’il vous plaît? Could I speak to Madame/Monsieur X, please?
J’essaie de joindre Madame/Monsieur X. I’m trying to reach Madame/Monsieur X.
C’est Elizabeth à l’appareil. Est-ce que Madame/Monsieur X est là, s’il vous plaît? This is Elizabeth. Is Madame/Monsieur X there, please?
Merci, je rappellerai plus tard. Thank you, I’ll call back later.
Est-ce que je pourrais laisser un message? Could I leave a message?
Âllo oui? J’écoute. Hello? I’m listening.
C’est de la part de qui? Who is speaking?
Je vous la/le passe. I’ll put you through to her/him.
Un moment, s’il vous plaît. Ne quittez pas. One moment, please. Don’t hang up.
Voulez-vous laisser un message? Would you like to leave a message?
And, in the case of error, which I dreaded while living in France, you might find the following phrases useful:
Vous vous êtes trompé de numéro. You have the wrong number.
J’ai dû faire un mauvais numéro. I must have dialed the wrong number.
La ligne est mauvaise. The line/connection is bad.
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Tromper = to cheat or deceive
Se tromper = to be mistaken or make an error
Se tromper in the passe simple uses être as the auxiliary verb.
Therefore, your sentence, “Vous avez trompé de numéro. You have the wrong number” is not totally correct.
It should read “vous vous êtes trompé de numéro”.
Excellent article, merci.
I noticed one mistake though
Vous avez trompé de numéro. You have the wrong number.
vous vous êtes trompés de numéro
Votre sujet est très intéressant et les expressions françaises sont correctes à l’exception de “Vous avez trompé de numéro”. Il faut écrire : “vous vous êtes trompé de numéro”.
Merci encore pour tous vos sujets abordés et pour votre travaille !
oops… j’ai fait une faute, il faut écrire “travail” et non pas “travaille”.
Ah oui, the telephone! Certainly that was something I feared the year I lived in France, for all the reasons you mention. But I also remember one time when I rang the bus company to check on the timetable. I asked, in hesitant French, if there was someone there who spoke English. Yes, she replied, but you try speaking French. And I did, and she understood me, and I understood her! It was a breakthrough moment really. It certainly helps when people are kind. 🙂
@Alison Merci France, Benjamin, and Dec for being good readers and for catching my mistake!
Alison — Thank you for sharing your story. Yes, many times people are patient with language learners if given the chance! 🙂