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Hearing the secret of the military alphabet for clearer conversations

The secret of the military alphabet for clearer conversations

Published 16-07-2019
Last Updated 18-07-2019

Want to make yourself better understood when you communicate? Adopting the military alphabet can a-i-d ("Alpha, India, Delta") your conversations moving forward.

Conversational Advantages

The military alphabet, also known as the NATO phonetic alphabet, is the secret to clearer conversations. It can be used when one is having a hard time deciphering a specific letter or word.

Individuals with hearing loss often have a more difficult time clearly distinguishing consonants. In speech, vowel sounds (A, E, I, O, U) are low in pitch; louder and easier to understand. Whereas consonant sounds (S, F, Th, Sh, V, K, P) are higher in pitch, and correspondingly, harder to hear. Without being able to hear subtle differences, words like "gutter", "butter", "putter" may all sound the same to someone that is hard of hearing. For this reason, it may be helpful to repeat back the corresponding phonetic word for each letter to the speaker.

In the military, proper communication is key. A tiny mistake can mean the difference between victory and defeat. If the person on the other side of the radio is given the wrong information, it can lead to an entire operation being compromised. Many of our military personnel are also affected by hearing loss so, naturally, phone calls can be especially difficult. This is part of the reason that specific, easily understood, words are used to represent each letter of the alphabet. This maintains a more effective line of communication for both parties.

Learning the Lingo

Letter Code Word
A Alfa
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

Training Your Ears

If I wanted to spell the word "read" while talking to someone on the phone I would say "Read: R as in Romeo, E as in Echo, A as in Alpha, D as in Delta." 

In situations where you're trying to record specific information like a name, address or e-mail, a single misspelling can lead to an error later down the line. Mistakenly, many people make up their own words to represent each letter.  

Military Origins of the Phonetic Alphabet

With lives on the line, communication must be clear. Historically, many battles were won because the victor had better internal communication. In medieval times, armies would use flags to signal to one another. During WWI and WWII, two-way radios were used. The main problem with radios during that time was that over the airwaves, it was difficult to tell the difference in consonants. For example, the letters "B", "D", "G", "P", and "V" all sound very similar.

The confusion led to the creation of the modern military alphabet we know today. By having one word represent each letter of the alphabet, it reduced the room for error, giving you only 26 possibilities. What's more, each word is carefully chosen so it doesn't sound like another word. Thus, if you heard only a part of the word, you still could still intelligently guess which letter it had to be. 

Other Professions that Use the Military Alphabet

You will find the International Phonetic Alphabet used by maritime workers, firefighters, dispatch controllers, contact center support members, forest rangers, and military personnel. 

Through multiple iterations, this alphabet evolved to become one of the most efficient methods of verbal communication. It has been called many things including the ICAO Phonetic Alphabet, the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, and the NATO Spelling Alphabet. It remains one of the most used forms of voice communications across the globe, especially in agencies where clear and concise radio and telephone communication is a must! 

Adopt it in your daily speech and you will be clear for takeoff!

Veterans Support

The Dept. of Veteran Affairs (VA) buys about 20% of all the hearing aids sold in the United States. Anyone who is drawing a VA disability check for any reason automatically qualifies for hearing assistance -if they can show that the hearing loss happened when they served. Even if you're not drawing a VA check, we recommend getting into the VA healthcare system. If you have served in the armed forces, you may be entitled to hearing aids at reduced costs, as well as hearing care services through the VA. Learn about hearing care benefits available through the VA or see if you're eligible.