A for Alpha- B for Bravo: Why Learning Phonetics is useful for everyone? - eNidhi India Travel Blog

A for Alpha- B for Bravo: Why Learning Phonetics is useful for everyone?

You might have seen in movies army personnel, pilots using some strange word to spell our an English letter. Instead of saying his flight number as EK-543, an Emirates Pilot would call out "Echo-Kilo 5 4 3". Army personnel would read out VT-9GC as Victor Tango Niner-Golf Charlie. A is called out as Alpha, B is called out as Bravo, C as Charlie and so on. Each of 26 letters has got a code word. 

These are called Phonetics. Not just military people, even common people like you and me should learn this and use it in relevant situations. In this post, I will explain the phonetics, their purpose and benefits you and me can have from using them in daily life.


It is important to understand why phonetics are used. Why not simply call out the actual letter? The reasons are as below:
  1. During radio communication there will be lots of disturbance. Lots of English letters sound alike- Like P, V, C all sound similar if voice is not crystal clear. Any miss communication/mis-interpretation during a war, aircraft navigation etc can be deadly. Phonetics are designed to avoid any confusion- code words for P (Papa), V (Victor) and C (Charlie) are totally different and no one can mistake one for other. 
  2. During communication between two individuals their accent, age can heavily influence how they pronounce a letter. How a Chinese pilot pronounces P could be different from how a German ATC staff or US ground staff pronounce P. Calling out Papa instead of P will avoid this confusion.
  3. It is important to confirm what other person has heard. I say P, you interpret it as V and call out V and I hear as if you have said P (because I am thinking of P)- Could lead to lots of problems. If I say Papa and you say Victor, it is instantly recognizable that we are not talking same thing.
  4. Many of use Phonetics in our daily life, just not in a structured manner. We do refer "D for Delhi", E as in Elephant" in our phone calls. This is same thing, just that we are not following internationally accepted codes for these letters and are using words we could think of and connect to.
Now, a quick reference to phonetic equivalent of all 26 English letters.

Phonetics

#

Letter

Phonetic word

#

Letter

Phonetic word

1

A

Alpha

14

N

November

2

B

Bravo

15

O

Oscar

3

C

Charlie

16

P

Papa

4

D

Delta

17

Q

Quebec

5

E

Echo

18

R

Romeo

6

F

Foxtrot

19

S

Sierra

Compiled by Shrinidhi Hande, www.enidhi.net

7

G

Golf

20

T

Tango

8

H

Hotel

21

U

Umbrella

9

I

India

22

V

Victor

10

J

Juliet

23

W

Whisky

11

K

Kilo

24

X

X-Ray

12

L

Lima

25

Y

Yankee

13

M

Mike

26

Z

Zulu


What are the daily usage of learning phonetics?
1. Most call centre staff know phonetics. You will have to call various helpline numbers to sort out your issues. When you speak to them, you may have to spell out lots of stuff- like your registration number or activation code or name and so on. So instead of saying DARS123, say Delta-Alpha-Romeo-Sierra 1 2 3. They will appreciate the clarity.  It is better to use these internationally accepted phonetics instead of making our own like D for Delhi, A for Apple, R for Russia etc.

2. When in a plane next time and crew asks for your seat number, say 10 Charlie instead of 10 C. You might be appreciated.

3. Better understanding of movies you watch

4. Have fun using it among friends. Also take full advantage of benefits it provides (like avoiding any confusion/mis-interpretation or misunderstanding- particularly when network is weak or there's lots of disturbance around you and you're not able to spell out clearly.

Phonetics are used in aviation industry, industrial complexes where radio communication is needed, in military, in call centers and several other places. They are simple to learn and hard to forget. Phonetics were originally developed by NATO if I am not mistaken. India is the only country whose name is used in Phonetics. Quebec and Lima are two popular cities.  Other codes are normal words selected for their distinct pronunciation that doesn't conflict with other codes.

What about numbers?
There is no codes for numbers. Numbers are called out individually. A 3 letter word like 789 is read as Seven-Eight-Nine, not Seven Hundred Eighty Nine. There are only 10 digits and their pronunciation is not that similar so confusion is less.

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