Royal Navy
US Army

Spelling Alphabets

You never know when you may find the need to spell something complex to someone. For instance, if you have to spell your car's VIN number to your insurance company over the phone, knowing how to spell alphabets can come really handy.

Fortunately there is the ICAO alphabet spelling system or the NATO phonetic alphabet system. This system is also popularly known as international radiotelephony spelling alphabet. There is a popular misconception that phonetic alphabets and spelling alphabets are the same thing. In fact, phonetic alphabets is the way each alphabet sounds, where as spelling alphabet is a way to make someone understand the alphabet you are using. The two have absolutely no connection between them.

ICAO stands for International Civil Aviation Organization. It is the ICAO that has assigned code words to each alphabet. This association is acrophonic, for instance Alfa for A, Kilo for K, Bravo for B and so on. The combination was first made in order to transmit and receive voice messages clearly through radio and telephone. Critical combinations of letters and alphabets can be understood clearly using the spelling alphabets.

Since the alphabets are international, they are primarily used during radio conversations between two persons who are of different nationalities. Native English speakers, or people who are communicating domestically, may use other codes for alphabets the phonetics of which are more domestic.

Though mostly used in military transmissions to get across messages quickly and swiftly, the civilian industry also used the ICAO system from time to time. The specific need of spelling alphabets is felt when a part of the message contains letters or specific numbers. When you are dictating your address to someone who is sending you a package, or spelling out your name to someone who is not able to understand what you are saying, the ICAO alphabet can help. When you specifically spell alphabets, it can be easier for the person on the other end to better understand what you are saying. Take for instance, if your name is Mila Kururova, you can explain the spellings of your name by spelling alphabet. This alphabet system can also be used to relay passenger name records in airlines industry of credit and serial numbers to discussing stock codes and shipment details.

The system itself has changed several times. The first system of alphabets was created to aid soldiers and help them relay confidential messages in the time of World War I. However, an internationally accepted alphabet system was first instated in 1927 by the International Telephonic Union, after which it was changed in 1932. This version incorporated changes recommended by those who had practised using the language. This new version was adopted by the International Commission for Air Navigation as well. At this time, the militaries of different countries were still using local phonetic language and alphabets to relay their messages. The spelling alphabet therefore came to being for the first time and in 1956, military organizations all over the world adopted the ICAO spelling alphabet.