How to Use the NATO Phonetic Alphabet in Your Daily Life

22 July 2017

Have you ever heard characters in WWII films saying things like alpha company or people in Vietnam War movies referring to the Vietcong as Charlie? Then you’re already familiar with the NATO Phonetic Alphabet.


While you’ve probably heard this code being used in war movies,  on TV cop shows or even in video games like Call of Duty, did you know that civilians can use the NATO Phonetic Alphabet in their everyday lives?


The system arose in a military context, but there’s no reason it has to stay the hands of specialists exclusively.


Have a look at our previous article for a full background on the NATO Phonetic Alphabet, but now let’s take the code words into the world of civilians and examine the many ways we can use it on a daily basis.



Teaching children to read and write



While a military code may not seem like the most accessible way for children to learn how to read and write, the NATO Phonetic Alphabet can actually benefit your children in a few ways.


The code words are designed to be acrophonic, which means that the name of each letter also begins with that letter.


For example, the code word “Alpha” stands for the letter A, and it also starts with the letter A. The word “Bravo” then beings with the letter B and so on.


Some languages have acrophonic alphabets, such as Greek, which includes letter names like “alpha,” “beta,” “delta” and “gamma.”


Unfortunately, English doesn’t use this system, and many of the letter names sound extremely similar, just look for example at these ones: b, c, d, e, g, p, t, v, z. All of those letters have names which sound almost identical!


This can present a real challenge to children who are trying to master the English alphabet for the first time.


Children can also find it tricky to distinguish the letter name from the phoneme (sound).


If show them the letter A, for example, they may be unsure whether to call it “ay” or “a” as in “apple”.


So how can the NATO phonetic alphabet help?


Using acrophonic code words can b used for phoneme reinforcement and to strengthen the mental connection between a letter’s name and its sound.


Many teachers and parents already teach systems like “A is for apple, B is for ball” and so on, but using code words can really add some fun to reading and writing practice.


Children learn through play, and using games based on code words is sure to engage kids in phoneme identification.


Why not do dictation exercises where you read out NATO code words (or help the kids to invent their own version), in order for them to discover a hidden message.


Use a dictation such as “Romeo Echo Alpha Delta India November Gold, India Sierra, Foxtrot Uniform November” and have the children write down the letters to find your hidden meaning.


Children could then design their own messages to communicate with each other – all the while strengthening their reading ability without even realizing it!



Communicating internationally



The world is getting smaller and smaller, with globalization making it not only possible, but essential for many people to communicate across borders and even across languages.


Worldwide trade and telecommunications mean that people are doing business with partners in different countries and often need to communicate in a second language.


Call center staff may be required to conduct marketing or customer service to people hundreds of miles away.


English has filled the role of the dominant international language, but it’s easy for communications breakdowns to occur, especially with different regional accents involved and a lack of visual cues over the phone.


Using a standardized code such as the NATO Phonetic Alphabet can help people to avoid miscommunications when spelling out a message or trying o record somebody’s personal information, especially in a language foreign to you.



Clear communication over the phone



How often do you order a take-out dinner over the phone?


Most people have ordered a pizza to be delivered to their house before, but over the last few years home food deliveries have exploded with companies picking up your meal from your choice of restaurant.


But with all these deliveries, how often does a meal go missing because the staff misheard your address?


The Home Shopping Network is a massive business, with callers placing thousands of orders over the phone every hour.


Making any kind of delivery order over the phone can be a risk when you are trying to communicate personal information which can be easily misspelled, such as your address or even your name.


The days are gone when people would just take a stroll to the local stores to do their shopping; research shows that up to 79 percent of Americans now shop online.


The truth is that products bought online are no better than ones purchased in shops, but if you have a problem with an item, you can’t just wander down to the place you bought it and talk to the manager.


Actually, use of phonetic alphabets such as the NATO one is having a bit of resurgence nowadays, as online shoppers are spending more time on the phone with customer service staff.


Business ranging from banks to insurance providers are all operating less and less in person and increasingly online or over the phone.


You sure don’t want your name misspelled on an insurance policy bank statement!

Phonetic alphabets were first invented to make radio communication clearer and the principle applies equally to speaking over the telephone. 


Background noise, poor signals and the inability to actually see somebody’s mouth forming words, all make it easy for miscommunications to occur.


It’s always a good idea to spell out your personal information using the NATO Phonetic Alphabet, or a similar acrophonic alphabet to make sure your details are taken correctly.


 The NATO Phonetic Alphabet: clear communication everyday


Whether you’re teaching your children to read, doing business across the globe or just trying to order a pizza, the NATO Phonetic Alphabet has relevance to everyone’s daily lives.


But why stop there?


You can use NATO code words to make taxi booking over the phone, take telesales orders, leave clear voicemails, or even just show off your skills as a WWII movie buff. 


The possibilities are endless; any time there is a need for clear communication, the NATO Phonetic Alphabet is there to help.




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