Speaking a foreign language face to face with another person is a big challenge. Having a conversation on the phone is often far more difficult than talking in person, so it can be helpful for students to get some practice in the classroom. There are some key words and phrases that should be taught so that students know how to handle themselves when making or receiving calls in a Spanish speaking context.
Of course, nothing really compares with a live phone conversation where you have to deal with the static on the line and background noise. However, you can simulate a few basic phone conversations in Spanish class with this simple lesson activity for beginner level students. This activity will help students get comfortable making and receiving phone calls, and it will also improve their conversational skills.
Before starting the actual activity, you will want to explain a few key words and phrases that relate to common phone conversations and courtesy. Use a chalk board or an overhead projector so the whole class can see the vocabulary as you go over it. The next section contains a list of explanations for the key words and phrases to be given to the class.
Let’s start with an important verb… “decir” (to say, to tell). So this verb means “to say, or to tell”. For example: “Mi hermano dice que está en la casa”. (My brother says he’s at home). Now in the context of today’s lesson, we’re looking at the verb “decir” in a slightly different light. Imagine you’re in a hotel in Spain and the phone in your room rings. You have to answer it, but HOW do you answer? You just say “¿Diga?”. And if you were wondering, no, you’re not actually saying ‘You, talk to me now!" in the imperative. This is just the standard way of saying hello on the phone.
Another way to greet someone on the phone is to say "¿álo?". This is pronounced almost the same as in English when we say “hello?”, but note the accent on the “a” sound.
The person making the phone call will need to make themselves known. You can say “Hola, soy -name-" (Hello, it’s -name-). Then you will need to ask for the person you want to speak to. The phrase for this is "¿Se encuentra -name-?" (Is -name- available?). From here, the conversation can go in any direction.
Now our next word is the feminine noun “novedad” (novelty). When you greet some you know on the phone, it’s customary to ask what’s new. One good way to do this is with the word “novedad”. Here, the word is used in the plural, "¿qué novedades hay?", literally, “what novelties are there”; but in reality, this means “what’s new?”
Once you have spoken with the person on the other end of the line, you will have to wrap the conversation up. There are a few phrases that you can use to end a phone conversation.
First, you can say “Bueno, me tengo que ir” (Well, I have to go). This lets the other person know it is time to finish talking.
The response to this could be "¡OK, hablamos!" … (OK, let’s talk soon!). This phrase is more suitable for informal conversations, as it assumes a certain degree of intimacy. If you are ending a more formal conversation then you could say “Muy bien, estaremos en contacto, adiós” (Very well, we will be in touch, goodbye).
After explaining these terms, it is time for students to practice a mock phone conversation. Have the class get into pairs. Each pair should turn their chairs or desks around so that they are sitting with their backs to each other. This way there will be no visual contact, making for a more effective simulation of a phone conversation. Instruct students to take turns as the caller and the recipient of the call while using the phrases that you have just introduced. Aside from the initial part of the call and the final parting phrases, students should try to use whatever Spanish they know to converse about a topic of their choosing. For example, they could be calling to talk to a friend about music, sports, or movies. They could also be pretending to call their mother to tell them about their day at school or anything else that the students decide to chat about.
To start the conversations, the teacher will need to bring a little bell or something to make a ringing noise so that students know the “phone call” is coming through. As soon as students being to speak, the teacher should time the conversations. Let the conversations go for 30 seconds to 1 minute depending on the students’ ability to maintain a short conversation. When time is up, ring the bell again. Students should use one of the phrases mentioned before to say goodbye and “hang up”.
Have students switch partners and repeat the exercise. The students should attempt to use different combinations of the vocabulary phrases and talk about new topics each time they switch pairs. Depending on the size of your class, there may or may not be time for all students to interact with the rest of the class. Conduct a review of the key phrases at the end of the class if you feel that it is necessary.