Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and the rest of the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet

Dear readers and followers,

Have you ever had to deal with spelling something in English and realised that you have no idea how that works in your foreign language? Every single time I have to deal with my bank or with TfL, that is a huge obstacle, especially when it comes to addresses. Well, now it is time to learn what A is for and so on!


To make this task easier, I have prepared this image that combines some of the charts you can find on the internet, with the flags, the letters, the Morse code, the telephony correspondence, and the phonic spelling for English speakers. This spelling alphabet is the most known and most widely used and it is known by several names, the most commons being NATO phonetic alphabet, although it is not really a phonetic alphabet. The proper name is International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet or ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) spelling alphabet.

Some curiosities:

  • in airports with a majority of Delta Airlines flights, the D is spelled as ‘David’ or ‘Dixie’ to avoid confusions;

  • during the Vietnam War, ‘Charlie’ was a code name for a Viet Cong, so the C was spelled differently, often as ‘Cain’;

  • for those languages with letters not included in the English alphabet, such as German, Swedish, Danish, and more, when these letters have a two-letter ASCII substitute, they are spelled like that. One example for all, the ASCII substitute for ä is ae in German and Swedish, and the NATO spelling is Alfa-Echo.

If you want to learn more, you have plenty of material on the internet:

Wikipedia, in its entry, includes a voice file with the pronunciation of the whole NATO alphabet, and some spelling alphabets in other languages in a chart in this other page;

You have a phonetic alphabet converter, for which I don’t see the utility, but why not;

You also have an app to learn the spelling alphabet by playing.

Until next and… keep being naughty, Knotty surely will!!!

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