Training and Development

Why you should know the phonetic alphabet

The phonetic alphabet, also known as the military alphabet, is a strong and fairly well-known code language which many in the military use in order to strengthen the effectiveness of communication through increaclarity. 

Officially known as the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, the alphabet is made up of 26 code words correlated to letters of the known alphabet – “Alpha” for “A,” “Bravo” for “B,” “Charlie” for “C” etc. The codes are also combined in order to form expressions or words, and so to say “cat,” you would say “Charlie-Alpha-Tango.”

The reason why this language is so effective is that none of the code words sound similar and so communication is clear when this spelling is utilized. 

Where all the phonetic alphabet is used apart from the Armed Forces

Although most well-known for its use within the military, the alphabet was originally created by the International Civilian Aviation Organization (ICAO) in order to bridge communication between members of the international community. 


Using the phonetic alphabet, the names of passengers and flight coordinates can be communicated. In order to get essential information relating to weather and runway logistics, pilots use the Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS). 

Updates on the above vital information are linked to varying phonetic alphabet letters so that pilots are always aware of when the updates occurred. ATIS also makes use of military letters and numbers for the effective communication of required logistical data. 

When it comes to air traffic control, the phonetic alphabet is used in order to create new Squawk Codes, which are also officially called Aircraft Transponder Codes and they are used to differentiate between aircrafts and flights. 

Very similar to its use in the military, pilots use slang terms and prowords. These include Roger, Negative, Over, and Break and they are as essential to aircraft communication as it is to military radio communication. 

However, certain airlines use a different word to take the place of Delta (which is the code for “d”) in order to steer clear of confusion with Delta Airlines. 


The phonetic alphabet is used by banks in order to share security codes and to confirm client information. Banks, financial institutions, and traders also make use of the phonetic alphabet to trade and when they order big transactions. 

Use this to help you remember the phonetic alphabet 

Use it in your daily life 

When you spell words every day, think about how you’d do it using the phonetic alphabet. This way, you’ll become used to it and it won’t be unfamiliar to you. 

Make a recording of yourself and listen to it

Use your phone or computer to make an audio recording of yourself saying the phonetic alphabet, and then listen to it over and over again. 

Use flash cards

This age-old method remains one of the most effective methods of memorization. Write the letter on one side of the flashcard and the phonetic alphabet code on the other. You can also make cards to learn military slang and prowords. It doesn’t take too long to make and will prove really helpful. 

Go over the alphabet before you go to bed

Just before you go to sleep, read over the phonetic alphabet as this will help your brain to process the new information a lot better. Actors, musicians, and lawyers often use this method. 

Don’t keep the letters in order and focus on the ones you have trouble with

You want to know the Military Alphabet like the back of your hand – and not only in order. You want to be able to spell words that you don’t know without hesitation even when you’re under pressure. So remember not to focus only on common words and phrases, but also on unfamiliar ones. 

Write out the alphabet from memory 

Try to write out the phonetic alphabet without looking at your references. You should try to do this, at a minimum, once a day. Aim to get as many words right as you possibly can without having to look at a source. Soon, you’ll be able to do it easily and without needing a reference! 

Have a friend test you 

Not everyone does well with purely visual learning so if that’s you then it’s best to ask a friend to test what you know. Remember to note which letters you’re struggling with. 

Final Take

The everyday uses of the phonetic alphabet are numerous – as vast as the need for effective communication. Especially in a new global world where communication between those with different languages, accents, and experiences are everyday occurrences, clear oral communication is vital and a standardised language code is the easiest way of achieving this. 

Whether in aviation, finance, the military, or a call center, the phonetic alphabet has found a place for itself and there is no doubt that it will remain.