Have you seen Google Assistant’s new phone call video demonstration using their new Duplex technology? We were blown away!
In this day and age, most of us prefer to text than to make a phone call. Texting is easier, faster, and allows us to multitask a little more efficiently than if we were speaking on the phone. But, there are some specific and important situations where a verbal conversation is necessary!
Technology has advanced to incredible levels in the past few years. Although computers are getting better and better at mimicking humans, we can’t forget to use those skills ourselves. Even though technology allows us to communicate (and can even replicate our speech in a realistic way), we shouldn’t forget how to have a conversation without the intervention of technology.
“Hi!” The simplest greeting in the English language. It’s important to pay attention to the intonation in order to understand the greeter’s mood. A flat intonation would probably mean that the person speaking is not in a good mood, or they need to finish the conversation quickly. 😏 Instead, if the intonation goes up and down, the person’s mood is friendly and open. 😃
INTONATION & STRESS
Let’s pretend you need to call a hair salon to book a reservation. The salon receptionist pick up the phone, and you say: “I’m calling to book a women’s haircut for a client.” At the end, you should have your tone go up, as though you’re asking for permission. This is called upspeak, and it’s a very common occurrence in North American English, where we make statements that almost sound like questions (but they’re not). Your intonation is what will indicate that you have an open question that you’re inquiring about, even if it is not actually a question, and invites the other speaker to answer.
Because certain words are stressed — like calling, haircut, and client in the example above — other words are therefore not stressed, and they become mushed together or blended. Stressed words are pronounced in a longer, louder way, because they are the more important words. They contain the most important information! In technology, this is what is referred to as nuance, and it is the key to making artificial intelligence sound like a human, and sound like a native speaker.
PAUSES & FILLERS
“Um…” ⏸ This sound is also known as a filler, and is usually something traditional teachers will dissuade you from saying. It might not sound academic, it might not mean anything, but fillers like these are very common ways to break up natural conversations in real life. “Um” is a marker of natural English speech.
When you’re waiting and want to show the other speaker that you’re still listening, you can also use “mm-hmm”. This is another natural pause or filler that distinguishes human speech. “Uh” is another commonly used filler, and it is used most when you need a minute to understand what the other person is saying or if you’re not sure about something.
WHAT ELSE WILL MAKE YOU SOUND MORE NATURAL ON THE PHONE?
It’s so important to listen to other conversations and learn to mimic the intonation, the stress, the pauses, and the filler words. Then, you need to practice. A great way to practice is to record yourself and share your recordings with other English speakers. Listen to yourself, compare to the speech you’re imitating, and continue to improve recreating what you hear. You can make easy practice phone calls in the real world by calling a restaurant to make a reservation, calling a store to ask what their business hours are, or even calling a pizza place to order delivery. There are so many ways you can practice your English without feeling like a mistake will ruin the conversation!
Try out all these tips for more natural-sounding English and for a boost in confidence in your phone conversations. Check out our video lesson below!