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Alpha, Anatole or Amsterdam, the phonetic alphabets will give you a headache

By Manon Variol






French and military phonetic alphabets

French and military phonetic alphabets

If you are French and calling a foreigner, you have probably already had to spell a word on the phone because your interlocutor does not understand what you are saying. A for Anatole, U for Ursule, X for Xavier... That is all very well but not everybody  knows the same naming convention. For an international call, it could be difficult to explain that your word begins by K for Kléber. And this could actually be quite hard for French people too! First of all, everybody is aware of who Jean-Baptiste Kléber is. And probably does not know how to write Quintal or Célestin, and would use a "K" or an "S" instead of "Q" and "C"...

According to the country where your interlocutor lives, the reference word will be different. For instance, Italian people use city names. Firstnames are also used in Finnish, but they are totally different from the ones we already know (Gideon, Paavo, Vihtori…). There is a European alphabet but it is quite difficult to remember, because not only does it use continents, countries and cities names, but also different languages. A would be Amérique, but E would be England. Last but not least, X and Z do not match with any famous place and would be spelled for Xylophon and Zebra. For its part, the international alphabet switches between names of countries and capital cities. This can be confusing! And this is without talking about Chinese and Japanese, in which ideograms are used instead of letters, knowing that syllables can be written with several different symbols.

The easiest solution would be to use the military alphabet, the one NATO and airline pilots use and we can hear in many action films : Alpha, Bravo, Charlie… It is known as universal because it uses the same words with spelling that does not change. Therefore, unless you plan to learn all phonetic alphabets, you should use the military one (on the right in the table).


And as we kept on singing Mort Shuman while writing this article, here is the video of “Allô Papa Tango Charlie” :


10/06/2016 - c,lee said :

I would like to print out the list and put it next to my phone. However, it is quite small. Would you have the original link/photo, which is better to print out?

27/03/2016 - Philchxprof said :

A prendre a la lettre !!

25/03/2016 - accueil said :

Quelle bonne idée de nous avoir publié ce récap !
Il est vrai qu'à part les 5 premières lettres, les autres ont été bien vite oubliées.... un petit pense bête qui peut être utile !


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