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How to speak geek like a pro

Communication is key, but sometimes we get lost in translation. You might be on the phone to a tech support person trying to relay your email, or in the middle of a siege with your fellow gamers, but the message is just not getting through.

Alpha, Bravo, Charlie to the rescue. No, these aren’t superheroes who specialise in communication, they are none other than the first three letters of the phonetic alphabet.

The phonetic alphabet, otherwise known as the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, is known around the world as a way to understand and identify letters over radio or phone.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) adopted the system in the 1950s to eliminate any inconsistencies and make communication crystal clear - never again would 'n'and 'm' be confused. There is an official version of the alphabet where two of the words are spelt differently, Alfa and Juliett. This ensures those aren’t aware ‘ph’ should be pronounced ‘f’ and a lone ‘t’ isn’t always silent can still use the alphabet.

Each of the words were chosen after thousands of comprehension tests with 31 nationalities. Understanding of words in relation to others was tested, so while football may work better on its own, foxtrot is unrivalled when it comes to longer communication. Many guides come with a pronunciation section alongside the word to account for accents and make the alphabet accessible for everyone, no matter their nationality.

Part of the older International Code of Signals (INTERCO), the alphabet has been used alongside flags or flashing lights, as well as whistles, sirens, fog horns and bells in a whole array of circumstances.

It has been adopted by organisations around the world, particularly in Europe and North America, for telecommunications. With the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) consistently using the alphabet, it could very well be saving lives and could be saving you from the embarrassment of having to repeat your email address for the 15th time or run into oncoming fire without your gamer teammates covering you.

Learn the phonetic alphabet by downloading our handy guide below: