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The Phonetic Alphabet

When talking on a radio or telephone often there is a need to spell out words or to give a reference or post code, this can produce problems.

With English many of the letters sound very similar, for example B, P, T, D, G, V, C, E, or F and S. Inevitably this can lead to confusion and some expensive errors.

Historically, radio communication with aircraft, ships and between the Military had the same problem, so the authorities got together and produced the International Phonetic Alphabet. This spoken alphabet has cleverly selected words that even spoken with a very strong accent or a poor phone connection they can be clearly understood. So the difficult letters B, P, T, D becomes as easy as Bravo, Papa, Tango, Delta.

Learning this is doubly useful, as not only do you know what to say but you can easily understand what is being said to you. So S is always Sierra, not Socks, Suzie, or Swindon.

To learn these you must listen to the sound of each word and practice. To start with it is not easy but it does come and will be useful for you for many years. A good way to test yourself is to 'translate' car number plates or any simple signs into the phonetic alphabet. So EXIT is Echo X-Ray India Tango.

A Alfa   NNovember
BBravo   OOscar
CCharlie   PPapa
DDelta   QQuebec
EEcho   RRomeo
FFoxtrot   SSierra
GGolf   TTango
HHotel   UUniform
IIndia   VVictor
J Juliett   WWhiskey
KKilo   X X-ray
LLima   YYankee
MMike   ZZulu



Speaking numbers to be clearly understood requires a slightly different pronunciation than in normal face-to-face conversation.

0 Zero ZEE-ROH
1 One WUN
2 Two TOO
3 Three TREE
4 Four FOW-ER
5 Five FIFE
6 Six SIX
7 Seven SEV-EN
8 Eight AIT
9 Nine NIN-ER
10 One Zero  
100 One Zero Zero  


Note the way that 3, 4, 5 and 9 are pronounced. They sound very odd, but we promise they do work.

Repeat large numbers both ways, e.g. "I have sent three hundred and forty items, that is three, four, zero items".

For absolute clarity when passing information remember that 'Yes' and 'No' are both very small words and are easily mis-heard on a difficult phone connection. Use 'Affirm' for Yes and 'Negative' for No.

Having passed information get the recipient to read back what they have understood.

This spoken alphabet is used to pass and receive accurate information, so speed is NOT important, being clear IS. Remember the idiom “More haste less speed".