How often do you need to spell things? Your name? Your email address? A booking reference?

The letters of the alphabet usually have different names in each language and this can make telling someone how something is spelled very confusing. And even if you know the names of the letters in English, the person you’re speaking to might not.

You can, of course, always find a way. “That’s ‘M’ for Megadeath…” might work most of the time, but maybe not everyone will get the heavy metal reference. And perhaps it doesn’t sound very businesslike!

The NATO phonetic alphabet was developed to make it a little easier. In aviation, shipping and the military, a system was needed that would be understood by everyone, all over the world. Can you imagine trying to communicate MN7-3JG to someone who doesn’t speak your language?

Words for the letters were chosen that would be easy to hear over the radio and clear for all languages. A person with a radio would just need a piece of paper in front of them to be able to spell anything they needed – That’s ‘M’ for Mike, ‘N’ for November…

Many German-speakers learn the German version (‘A’ wie Anton…) but you might decide to learn the NATO version if you think it will be useful for you when speaking English. I had to learn it when I got a job selling car insurance on the phone – the company wanted us to sound professional and make sure we had all the correct details of the customer on the official documents. I often use it today.

If you’d like to learn it, feel free to use my quiz as a learning tool. Even if you know nothing at the start, you can do it as many times as you like until you know them!

What are your spelling tips?

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