Clear Communication: How to Use the International Alphabet
Have you ever been on the phone and were asked to spell out your name for another person? Has the other person still spelled your name wrong, even though you’ve said each letter slowly and clearly (well, you thought so anyway)? You can increase your chances of success using the International Alphabet.
What is the International Alphabet?
The International Alphabet is an alphabet that uses standardized words to represent letters. The alphabet has various names, depending on the organization. For instance, it can be referred to as the NATO phonetic alphabet. The alphabet’s origins are in the military and navy—two areas requiring accurate information to be transmitted over many people. The alphabet itself has seen variations over the decades; however, the current alphabet used by the travel industry, as well as by many other professions, is the one below:
A = Alpha
B = Bravo
C = Charlie
D = Delta
E = Echo
F = Foxtrot
G = Golf
H = Hotel
I = India
J = Juliet
K = Kilo
L = Lima
M = Mike
N = November
O = Oscar
P = Papa
Q = Quebec
R = Romeo
S = Sierra
T = Tango
U = Uniform
V = Victor
W = Whiskey
X = X-Ray
Y = Yankee
Z = Zulu
How Does It Work?
Let’s say your name is Jane Doe. If you need to spell out your name (e.g., when booking a trip), you would spell out your first name as “Juliet Alpha November Echo” and your last name as “Delta Oscar Echo.”
Why Can’t I Just Invent My Own Alphabet?
Question: My last name is Smith. Can’t I just say S as in Sweet, M as in Moon, I as in Ice, T as in Taco, H as in Hot sauce?
Sure you could! But, there is no guarantee that the person on the other line will understand you correctly. With the increase in outsourcing to other countries, the operator may not be a native English speaker and may not be familiar with all of the words. For example, K as in Knowledge might make the other person think the letter you want is “N” and not “K.” Or, some words may sound similar to even a native English speaker and the other person mishears the word you said—especially if you were to use common rhyming words, such as “bell,” “sell,” etc. The person may only hear the last part of the word and assume what they heard was what you intended.
The International Alphabet helps people communicate clearly by keeping the alphabet used constant. The more you familiarize yourself with this alphabet, the easier it will be to use it. Think about Morse code. If you are unfamiliar with Morse Code, you will just hear random beeps. However, those well-versed in this code can make meaning of the sounds. The International Alphabet is similar. Once you are aware that certain words mean letters, you won’t think you hear a twisted version of Romeo and Juliet who Tango in Uniform in November at a Hotel. Rather you may just be receiving an acronym—or a secret code!
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