England is now preferring to complete application forms over the telephone rather than wasting paper by posting documents to applicants. The problem with this system is that if your name is spelt wrong, or certain details are incorrect, then the whole process may start from scratch.

How can you avoid falling into this tedious and time consuming trap? The solution to this audible irritant is to use a spelling system in your phone calls.

Even in the twenty-first century, the quality of telephone calls can often be very poor. It is very easy for you to be misheard by the person answering the phone. If you have a name that is difficult to spell or a complicated address, it is easy for the other person to make a mistake. This could result in a document being sent to you with the name and address incorrect. You do not want to receive a legal or financial document which is invalid due to being stamped with the wrong name. The use of a spelling alphabet will prevent these problems from happening.

Many letters in the alphabet can be easily confused. The letters N and M are the most easily confused even during phone calls between English native speakers. For Japanese speakers of English the letters F and L are quite difficult to pronounce. London is widely pronounced “Rondon” in Japan and coffee is given a softer sound with the word “Koohii.” It is in situations such as these that a spelling alphabet is of most use.

The need for a system to make English words clearer in phone conversations is military in origin. People working in aviation such as pilots needed to be sure they were flying into the correct territory, and landing on the right map coordinates. With letters and words being easily confused over the radio, the military came up with an alphabet to resolve the confusion. Before World War II, a system of using city names to indicate letters of the alphabet was in common usage. As an example, the word “dog” would be spelt out as “Denmark,” “Oslo,” “Gallipoli.”

Over the years this system was revised and improved. It was soon realised that a global system was needed that could be used amongst other countries. The use of city names was later dropped, and words commonly used in foreign countries were put into use. During the latter part of 1951, an alphabet came into use which was for the sole purpose of civil aviation. In this new system, the word for “dog” would be spelt out as “Delta,” “Oscar,” “Golf.”

The use of a spelling alphabet has now spread to many other areas of life. It is essential for services such as the police or ambulance driver dispatches. British police officers spend a great deal of time learning what is known in England as the phonetic alphabet. This is because they need to use it very quickly. If a car flees the scene of an accident or a robbery, the police need to circulate the car’s licence plate as soon as possible.

For this article I will be using the British police’s phonetic alphabet. We will take a closer look at it, and demonstrate some examples where this spelling alphabet comes in very handy. The list below shows the current system used by police officers across the United Kingdom:



What’s your name?

If you suspect that the person answering your call is having trouble spelling your name, then be sure to spell your name. Some native English speakers may not have much experience with foreign names that are difficult to spell or even pronounce. Below is an example conversation using an African name that is tricky to understand over the phone.

Gina: Hello, AGI corporate finance. Gina speaking, how may I help?

Adewale: Hello. I would like to apply for one of your gold credit cards, please.

Gina: I can certainly help you with that. May I take the full name that will be placed on the card?

Adewale: Yes, of course. It will be in my name which is Adewale Azikiwe.

Gina: I see, was that Adrian Azeeki?

Adewale: No, not quite. May I spell it for you?

Gina: That would be great. Please do.

Adewale: My first name is Adewale. That is spelt A for Alpha, D for Delta, E for Echo, W for Whiskey, A for Alpha, L for Lima, and E for Echo.

Gina: Thank you. Can I take your surname as well please?

Adewale: Yes, it is spelt A for Alpha, Z for Zulu, I for India, K for Kilo, I for India, W for Whiskey, and E for Echo.

Gina: Thank you very much.

What’s your address?

If ordering packages or more paperwork in England, you will need to know your unique address postcode. As with the zip code in America, the postcode ensures your letter or package reaches you sooner and decreases the chance of it being delivered to the wrong address.

When asking for paperwork to be posted to you, make sure you spell out your postcode. The following postcode “WA3 2LH” is made up of two component parts. The “WA3” gives the district in England where you live, and the “2LH” part gives your location in the local area of the district.

So, to give your postcode over the telephone, you would advise the other person it is: W for Whiskey, A for Alpha, Three, Two, L for Lima, and H for Hotel.

You do not have to use the British phonetic alphabet, as there are many other systems widely available on the internet. Also feel free to use your own system. You could make your own spelling alphabet using fruits, drinks, or even your favourite movie characters. The person on the other end of the phone will still understand the letters you are spelling out. Practice using a system which will help you make yourself understood.

As an example, if you find yourself going home in a taxi at midnight, then being able to spell out your hotel name to the driver will make your journey far easier.

I began to use the British phonetic alphabet in customer services, and now I use it everywhere I go. When my mother is doing a crossword, it is easy and fun to spell out a word for her.

Unless it is the word “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, of course...


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