Basic Business French 6:
Informal Business Communication

© 2015, Greg Lessard

About this module

We will assume that based on your excellent CV and covering letter, you have now been hired. Congratulations! In this module and the next, we will focus on a crucial aspect of any job environment: written and oral communications. We will begin here with oral communications, specifically some aspects of business language on the telephone, and follow that up by an exploration of the language of text messaging and email. Throughout, you will see examples to explore and activities to test your knowledge. By the end of this module, you should feel comfortable with the following:

As you read these materials, try to imagine yourself in a business situation, how you would behave and what you would speak or write.

Basic principles of oral interactions in business

When people communicate with an organization, it is usually because they want something: information, the solution to a problem, the status of some process. The goal of the members of an organization is to provide this, as far as is reasonable, in a manner that is clear, friendly, precise and polite. We will begin by illustrating this with a short video. This shows a receptionist as work, but the concepts and language are common to all levels of an organization.

Spend some time watching and listening to the video. Pay attention not just to what the receptionist says, but also to what she does, and to her facial expressions and her tone of voice. If you don't understand something, look at the written French transcript below the video, and if you're still stuck, mouse over the transcript to see an English translation. Although the CC text is available for this video, it is of very bad quality, so do not use it.

Once you're comfortable with the video, we will look at some comprehension questions.

Source: ASBPublishing - Formation Vente et accueil téléphone B2B Service client : L'accueil client au tel (modèle)

Transcript

Le téléphone sonne

Bonjour, ASB à votre service. Je vous écoute.

La réceptionniste écoute...puis elle tape

Ah je suis désolée Monsieur. Votre interlocuteur est en réunion jusqu'à 11h.

Votre demande est-elle urgente?

La réceptionniste écoute...

Oui? Je peux peut-être vous aider ou vous orienter vers un autre responsable à ASB qui serait en mesure de vous répondre?

La réceptionniste écoute...

Très bien... je lui signale votre appel et il revient vers vous dès la fin de sa réunion.

La réceptionniste écoute...

Bonne journée Monsieur. Au revoir.

La réceptionniste tape une note...

Monsieur Aubain.

An analysis of the first video

It seems clear that this was an effective and friendly interaction. Let us consider some of the elements that led to that. Look at each of the following questions and try to determine the answer based on what you saw in the video. When you have thought about your answer, mouse over the Answer bar to see a suggested response.

An example of a less effective telephone conversation

As a point of comparison, let us now watch a second short video from the same source. As before, pay attention to the receptionist's words, facial expressions and actions.

As in the last case, a written French transcript is provided below, and you can mouse over the French to see the English translation. And as before, the CC text is available for this video, but it is of very bad quality, so do not use it.

Source: ASB Publishing, Service client au téléphone: Le film erreur

Transcript

Le téléphone sonne

Allô.

La réceptionniste écoute...

Ah oui... ah oui, oui, oui. C'est vous le mec de ce matin.

La réceptionniste écoute...

Bon j'ai rien compris, moi.

C'est très chargé pour nous en ce moment. Je peux pas avoir l'oeil sur tout.

Ah bah j'y peux rien moi.

Ah bah oui on vous fait tout plus cher mais c'est conseillé par la direction depuis qu'on a été acheté par des Anglais.

Ah bah oui mais le service ça se paie... ou bien vous faites vous-même et vous verrez bien.

La réceptionniste écoute...

Bon écoutez. Il est 17h et j'ai fini ma journée. Je vous rappelerai demain. Vous trouverez peut-être quelqu'un pour vous renseigner sur votre facture. Voilà. Au revoir.

An analysis of the second video

This interaction looks much less positive. To help you think about the reasons for that, look at each of the following questions and try to determine the answer based on what you saw in the video. When you have thought about your answer, mouse over the Answer bar to see a suggested response.

By comparing the two calls, we can see the importance of:

Good telephone manners also assume a certain specific vocabulary. We will look at some of that now.

Some telephone vocabulary

When speaking on the phone in French, especially in a business context, there are a certain number of words and expressions that everyone expects to hear. It is an advantage to use these, since using other expressions may be a source of confusion. Let us begin by looking at the following list. If you hover over the expressions in French, you will see their English equivalents, and if you click on them, you will hear the spoken French.

Expression in French Context or explanation
Service aux clients, Michelle Leblanc à l'appareil This is what you say to announce your company or department when someone calls the organization.
Ici Michelle Leblanc This is what you say when someone calls to speak to you directly.
Bonjour. C'est Michelle Leblanc qui parle. This is what you say when you call someone.
C'est moi. This is what you say when someone calls and asks to speak to you.
C'est à quel sujet ? This is what you say to find out what a call is about.
Qui dois-je annoncer ? This is what you say to find out who is calling in order to transfer a call.
En quoi puis-je vous aider ? This is what you say to find out how to help.
Ne quittez pas. / Restez en ligne s'il vous plaît. / Un instant, s'il vous plaît. This is what you say when you want to put someone on hold or want them to wait.
La conférence téléphonique commence. This is what you say to start a teleconference.
D'accord. / Entendu. This is what you say to indicate that you agree with something your interlocutor has said.
Pardon? Pourriez-vous répéter s'il vous plaît? This is what you say when you don't understand and need someone to repeat what they just said.
La ligne est occupée. This is what you say when a line is busy.
Je vous en prie. This is what you say when someone has thanked you.
Au revoir. This is what you say at the end of a call.

For a more complete list, see for example Protocole téléphonique - Le français en affaires which is based on previous work (CAJOLET-LAGANIÈRE, Hélène et Noëlle GUILLOTON. Le français au bureau, 5e édition, Québec, Les Publications du Québec, 2000, p 251 à 256.)

Text messaging

Along with telephone calls, a frequent means of keeping in touch, including in the business context, is text messaging. In French, a text message is called un texto. It is informal, but quick.

Just as in English, there exists a set of abbreviated forms often used to simplify text messages. Remember though that these are used with people one is familiar with. We will begin by looking at a number of these. Look at each of the following forms and try to understand how it was made. Two hints: vowels are usually taken away, sometimes things like numbers are spoken as numbers.

Abbreviated form Full form and meaning
bjr bonjour. Notice that vowels have disappeared.
bi1 Bien. Try saying bi and then pronounce the number. Do this quickly.
Kdo cadeau (gift). Notice that the capital letter is pronounced (ka). Say this quickly.
mm même. Here, the second letter is pronounced by itself..
mr6 merci. Here, the 6 is pronounced.
resto restaurant. Sometimes the end of a word is dropped off.
trankil tranquille. The sequence qu is often replaced by k.
A+ à plus tard. Here the expression has been shortened and the + stands for the last part.

Now that you have seen the 'grammar' of text message forms, let us explore some.

Exploring text messages

The following list contains a series of abbreviated text messages. Use the 'grammar' we have just seen to try to decipher each one. Once you have finished guessing in each case, mouse over each form to see its equivalent, and practice these until you are comfortable with them. If you don't underestand the 'grammar' of a particular example, go back and look at the previous presentation.

Try out some of these with your friends.

The structure of an email in French

More and more, email is replacing paper correspondence. But that doesn't mean that one just types what one has to say. Although email is often more formal than paper, there are still rules to follow when creating an email message.

Before we begin however, let us look at several important terms used in French for the different elements of an email:

Term Equivalent in English
un courriel an email. This is the term used in Québec.
un mail an email. This is the term used in France.
l'expéditeur/l'expéditrice the sender.
le destinataire/la destinataire the recipient.
une copie conforme, usually abbreviated cc in the case of email (c.c. in paper communication. a carbon copy, usually abbreviated cc.
une copie conforme invisible, usually abbreviated CCi sent so that the receiver is not aware that a copy has been sent to someone else. a blind carbon copy, usually abbreviated bcc.
l'objet the subject of the message.
la formule d'appel the salutation.
la salutation the closing phrase.
la signature the signature.
un fichier joint an attachment.
un avis de confidentialité to indicate that if the message goes to the wrong person it should be deleted. a confidentiality paragraph.

Exploring a formal email

Let us now look at a typical emails. We will begin with a relatively formal email, which shares many traits with formal paper communication. Mouse over the various parts to see their function and meaning.

Exp. : Jean-Pierre Chabot <chabotc@abc.com>
Dest. : service_finances@ddd.com
Objet : Avis de livraison de documents

Madame Sylvie Deschamps
Avocate
Tremblay, Tremblay et Tremblay

Madame,

Comme vous le savez, mon client, Monsieur Pierre Nadeau, est en négociations avec le vôtre, Monsieur Paul Nadeau, pour la division de la propriété qu'ils possèdent actuellement en commun.

À l'appui de cette demande de division, mon client fournit un plan de la propriété ainsi qu'une évaluation récente de sa valeur. Voir le fichier ci-joint.

Je vous prie d’agréer, Madame, l’expression de mes salutations distinguées.

Jean-Pierre Chabot
Avocat
Dubois, Dubois et Tremblay
C.P. 150, succursale B
Laval (Québec) F3G 4H5
Tel. : 543 123-7834, p. 34
chabotc@abc.com

Le présent courriel peut contenir des renseignements confidentiels. Si ce courriel vous est parvenu par mégarde, veuillez le supprimer et nous en aviser aussitôt. Merci.

As you can see from comparing this with the covering letter we saw earlier in the course, and as you will see in the next module, this more formal email shares many traits with paper correspondence, including tone, the use of a more formal salutation and closing, and inclusion of information on confidentiality.

Exploring a more informal email

Not all emails are as formal as the one we have just seen. The following example shows the sort of email that might be written to someone one knows well, perhaps even a friend.

Exp. : Micheline Drouin <mdrouin@xyz.com>
Dest. : Pierrette Turcotte@pqr.com
Objet : Rendez-vous

Bonjour Pierrette,

Tu te souviendras peut-être de notre réunion de la semaine dernière. À ce moment-là, il était question qu'on se revoie pour développer davantage nos idées d'un projet en commun.

Je serai de passage à Montréal vendredi vers la fin de la journée. Serais-tu disponible ce jour-là vers 18h? On pourrait prendre un verre ensemble et poursuivre nos discussions. Dis-moi si cela te conviendrait.

Amicalement,

Micheline

As you can see, this less formal email does not necessarily include detailed contact information, and the opening and closing use more familiar language.

Reading passages

In this module, we have looked at three sorts of business communication: spoken, text messages and email. To help you practice two of these, here are two documents to work on.

The first document is a short text message sent in a business context. Using what you learned earliery, try to decipher it and answer the comprehension questions. If necessary, check the translation.

msg reçu. mr6. 10 paquets komanD. livraison 2m1. A+.

Comprehension questions

  1. What was done in light of the message?
  2. Answer

    10 packages were ordered (10 paquets komanD)

  3. What is the arrival date?
  4. Answer

    Tomorrow (2m1) = demain)

Translation

message received. thanks. 10 packages ordered. delivery tomorrow. see you later.

The second practice document is a short email. Again, use what you have learned to decipher it and answer the comprehension questions. Check the translation if necessary.

Exp. : Micheline Tremblay <mtremblay@xxx.com>

Dest. : assiettesRus@yyy.com

Objet : Produit endommagé

Madame Laurette Roy

Responsable des livraisons

Madame,

Récemment, nous avons commandé 10 boîtes d'assiettes en papier. Mais à la livraison, nous avons constaté que deux boîtes étaient endommagées. Nous voudrions les faire remplacer aussitôt que possible. Pourriez-vous, s'il vous plaît, nous indiquer comment nous pouvons résoudre ce problème ? Nous avons besoin d'utiliser toutes les assiettes au début de la semaine prochaine (le 23 novembre).

Je vous remercie d’avance de l’attention que vous porterez à ma demande.

Meilleures salutations,

Micheline Tremblay
Gérante des ventes
Société ABC
C. P. 3000, succursale A
Trois-Rivières (Québec) A1B 2C3
Tél. : 123 456-7890, p. 34
mtremblay@xxx.com

Some comprehension questions

  1. Who is the email addressed to?
  2. Answer

    Laurette Roy, Responsable des livraisons (the person responsible for shipping orders).

  3. What is the problem?
  4. Answer

    10 boxes of paper plates were ordered, but two were damaged.

  5. Is this urgent?
  6. Answer

    Yes, because the paper plates are needed no later than November 23.

Translation

From. : Micheline Tremblay <mtremblay@xxx.com>

To. : assiettesRus@yyy.com

Subject : Damaged product

Madame Laurette Roy

Shipping coordinator

Madame,

We recently ordered 10 boxes of paper plates. But on delivery we noticed that two of the boxes were damaged. We would like to have them replaced as soon as possible. Could you please indicate how this problem can be solved. We need to use all of the plates at the beginning of next week (November 23).

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Micheline Tremblay
Sales manager
Société ABC
P.O. Box 3000, Station A
Trois-Rivières (Québec) A1B 2C3
Tel. : 123 456-7890, p. 34
mtremblay@xxx.com

Summing up

You should now feel comfortable with:

  1. what principles to follow to achieve effective business communication in French
  2. how to participate effectively in a telephone conversation in a French business context
  3. how to send and interpret a text message in French, including the most common abreviations
  4. how to send and interpret a business email in French.

In the next module, we will turn to some more formal communications in a business context, including the business letter and various memo types.