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Learn the Phonetic Alphabet

Learn the Phonetic Alphabet

Have you ever noticed, when you’re on the phone, that you often need to spell things out? Your name, for example, or maybe the name of the street you live on. Letter names, over the phone can be unclear and hard to distinguish, and not just for non-native speakers. So, there is a specific set of words corresponding to each letter of the alphabet to make spelling over the phone much easier. Today, we’ll learn this set of words. Smith is the most common last name in the United States. It’s my last name. But even though it’s so common, often, over the phone, people don’t understand me. Why? I think it’s because unvoiced sounds like SS and TH don’t carry well over the phone. And we have so many letter names that rhyme: B, C, D, E, G, P, T, V, Z or A, J, K, or I, W also that sound similar: M, N, or F, S, X So many misunderstandings can happen when spelling. A system was developed in the 1950s by the International Civil Aviation Organization to put a word with each letter. Apparently the letters were chosen for understandability based on hundreds of thousands of comprehension tests involving 31 nationalities. So no matter what your accent is, you’ll probably be understood using this alphabet system. Let’s get started. For the letter A, you can use the word ‘alpha’. Alpha. B as in Bravo. Bravo C as in Charlie. Charlie D as in Delta. Delta E as in Echo Echo F as in Foxtrot Foxtrot G as in Golf Golf H as in Hotel Hotel I as in India India J as in Juliet Juliet K as in Kilo Kilo L as in Lima Lima M as in Mike Mike N as in November November O as in Oscar Oscar P as in Papa Papa Q as in Quebec Quebec This can also be pronounced this way: Quebec. Quebec R as in Romeo Romeo S as in Sierra Sierra T as in Tango Tango U as in Uniform Uniform V as in Victor Victor W as in Whiskey Whiskey X as in X-ray X-ray Y as in Yankee Yankee Z as in Zulu Zulu So if someone asks you to spell your name, you can say: R as in Romeo, A as in Alpha, C as in Charlie, H as in Hotel, E as in Echo, L as in Lima. Or you can just say the word: Romeo, Alpha, Charlie, Hotel, Echo, Lima. Just the other day, I found myself needing to give a confirmation number over the phone. I was in the process of making this video, but I hadn’t yet memorized all of the right letter names. Sure. W as in West. I as in Innocent. I messed up the target words. Couldn’t remember them all. I’ll have to study my video. Luckily, by the time I had to give another confirmation number, I had looked them up. Sure. It’s Y as in Yankee, U as in Uniform, L as in Lima, P as in Papa, C as in Charlie, X as in X-ray. Using these specific words for letters will help increase your understandability on the phone. If you’re new to my channel, welcome. I make a new video every week to help non-native English speakers communicate better in English. Subscribe to my YouTube channel and sign up for my mailing list, both free, to keep up on the weekly lessons. If you’re ready to start doing some real work on your spoken English and listening comprehension, check out my book at or my online school and courses at That’s it and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English!

Reader Comments

  1. names, places, etc. are not predictable based on conversation. if im talking about soccer and you catch the end of a word that rhymes with hole and you dont think goal without question your either unfamiliar with sport or not paying attention. requesting to spell it is simply a good habit to avoid error. if i need to differentiate m from n or b from p i just think of a word that doesnt rhyme with a word that starts with the other letter. for example if i said m for moron they are gonna hear me.. they might still say what out of surprise, not misunderstanding. dont bother learning this, its not that difficult to manage without unless your a cop

  2. Victor India November Charlie Echo November Tango Mike India Golf Uniform Echo Lima Delta Sierra Alpha Papa Oscar November

  3. Why was this not taught in public school when I was a kid? Why did I have to learn that abc song? This would have been so much more useful.

  4. Also since my name is Mike…I suppose I do not really have to spell it out. “My name is….Mike as in Mike”. Am I getting it?

  5. Don't you think that if I want to learn the phonetic alphabet that I might already Know what it is and I therefore don't need an explanation of what it is. You should just jump into teaching the alphabet instead of giving me a long winded boring explanation that lasts a good 2 minutes before you actually get to the part that I'm here for. You might get more views that way.

  6. alphabravocharliedeltaechofoxtrotgolfhotelindiajulietkilolimamikenovemberoscarpapaquequromeosierratangouniformvictorwhiskeyxrayyankeezulu 😀

  7. Hi, Rachel… I loved this ALPHA BRAVO CHARLIE lesson. It is a tremendous help to me because of these 2 points: 1 some peculiar sounds are difficult to pronounce and listen to. 2 Even IPA sounds are both almost impossible for no natives speak or hear in a clear way. 3 ALPHA BRAVO CHARLIE is a clear chance to know what that sound we are talking about. 4 ALPHA BRAVO TECHNIQUE is absolutely clear and simple. 5 I like hear ATC Charlies Airports to improve your perfect lessons, Beloved Rachel Teacher! WhatssApp : 55 021 987 229777.
    I live in Rio – Brasil – South America. Thank you!!!!!!

  8. Nice vid 🙂 But you might as well have thrown in the numbers 0-9 as well.
    0 – Zee Row
    1 – Wun
    2 – Two
    3 – Tree
    4 – Fow Er
    5 – Fife
    6 – Six
    7 – Sev Vin
    8 – Ate
    9 – Nine Er

  9. Papa Hotel Oscar November Echo Tango India Charlie, Alpha Lima Papa Hotel Alpha Bravo Echo Tango,  November Alpha Tango Oscar

  10. For those wondering how did it all start and how?

    It was made as a standard way for aircrews to understand and recognize themselves around the globe. Every flight is given letters along with numbers but if you see M and N, D and B can sound very similar so they use code words to define clearly. M will be Mike, N will be November, D will Delta and B will be Beta. (Latest Radio-telephony Alphabet).

    It all started during the First World War, where British infantrymen were using their version of Ack, Beer and Charlie whereas the Royal Navy were using Apples, Butter and Charlie. When the US air force joined the war they adopted Able, Baker alphabet among all allied forces, which later on also was adopted by Civil aviation but confusion still continued around the globe.

    ICAO wanted to create alphabet which will be recognized and understood in other countries easily even when it is made of English words. So, no matter where was pilot from they would find it easy to understand. A Professor of Linguistics from the University of Montreal Dr. Jean Paul Vinay was charged to create a new alphabet list which was completed by 1951.

    This new alphabet list shocked the world, though, many pilots disliked it and used old alphabets which they had previously. Later on after testing among 31 ICAO member countries, the alphabet was officially introduced on the 1 March 1956, with only 5 simple changed to Professor Jean Paul Vinay’s earlier work and the words were C, M, N, U and X.

  11. Alpha bravo charlie delta echo foxtrot golf hotel india juilet kilo mike november oskar papa quebec romeo sierro tango uniform victor whiskey x- ray yankee zulu

  12. India. Hotel Alfa Victor Echo. Tango Oscar. Romeo Echo Mike Echo Mike Bravo Echo Romeo. Tango Hotel Echo. Foxtrot Lima Alfa Golf. Papa Oscar Romeo Tango India Oscar November. Foxtrot Oscar Romeo. Tango Hotel Echo. November Alfa Victor Yankee.

  13. I would invite your comment Rachel: Me and my wife use Nato Phonetic in our business. However, we don't like the word "Sierra" that is presently used for the letter "S". We feel that when the word "Sierra" is annunciated, people tend to direct their minds to the letter "C". Rather, we use the mans name "Sam", or womens name "Sally". What are your thoughts?

  14. Alpha

  15. Thank you so much for the video! But I just spoke with a banker over the phone, and that person seemed to use completely different words… Are there more than one conventions or some people just use whatever they like..?

  16. I thought that the military is just saying random names of their previous ex and somehow understand their teammates very well during combat..

  17. I use for to say spell something like a for alpha. But your teaching to say a as in alpha. can someone tell me which is correct?

  18. R as in Radiant 🌅
    A as in Amazing 😻
    C as in Cool 🆒
    H as in Honey 🍯
    E as in Excellent 🏅
    L as in Lovely 💖

  19. There is no video anywhere on youtube about how to spell names on the phone, I know they group 3 and 4 letters and the accent is on the last letter in the group (such as cooK, wiL-soN), but I need more practice, for instance rachel is spelled racH-eL?! how do you spell long names such as patterson?! pattE-rsoN?

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