Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Good old Anki — that’s Alfa November Kilo Lima —and the NATO phonetic alphabet

leave a comment »

I just shipped a big box of Go boards to The Son for The Grandsons, and UPS notified me that there was an “exception,” so of course I called. I ended up having to give the tracking number — which actually includes both numbers and letters — to three operators. The letters turned out to be difficult.

When I called, I naturally got the Canadian UPS representative, who had had trouble in getting the tracking number right from my dictation. Once she got it right, she saw that the package is now in Seattle, so she transferred me to a US UPS representative. The US representative (once she got the tracking number right from my dictation) saw that the package was an international shipment, so she had me call an international UPS representative. The international representative had no trouble with the tracking number because by then I had learned how to dictate the tracking number correctly, and she informed me that the exception was already cleared and the package was continuing to wend its way (not her words) to the destination.

My takeaway from all that: I really must learn the NATO phonetic alphabet. That alphabet has been carefully developed so that the phonetic name for each letter sounds distinctly different from any of the other letter names so that you don’t run into the confusions that ensue when, say, “b” is heard for “v” or vice versa — Bravo (b’s name) does not sound at all like Victor (v’s name). Moreover, it is a standard a phonetic alphabet, so people are generally familiar with it if they do any work at all with spelling out words or tracking numbers.

All the NATO letter names are spelled as usual, with two exceptions:

“Alfa” and “Juliett” are intentionally spelled as such to avoid mispronunciations.

That quotation is from a Wikipedia article, which is interesting and worth reading.

So I decided to learn the NATO phonetic alphabet and to start today. From my Esperanto study, I know that Anki is perfect for this. As you can see at the link (and again the Wikipedia article is worth reading), Anki is a flashcard system that uses spaced repetition to ensure efficient and relatively easy learning — that is, things you are having difficulty with you see often, and things you know fairly well you see less often, and things you really know you see quite seldom (but still occasionally — and if you have difficulty when they pop up, then you will see them again sooner).

You can — and in most cases should — make your own deck of flashcards, but decks can be shared and if a deck is made to match the sequence of a particular textbook, for example, it makes sense to share. And the NATO phonetic alphabet is a natural for a shared deck. As the Wikipedia article says:

While Anki’s user manual encourages the creation of one’s own decks for most material, there is still a large and active database of shared decks that users can download and use.[13] Available decks range from foreign-language decks (often constructed with frequency tables) to geography, physics, biology, chemistry, and more. Various medical science decks, often made by multiple users in collaboration, are also available.

Anki has two websites: one is to download the app, and the other is used by the app for decks of flashcards. “Using” generally refers to the daily practice of going through the deck(s) you are learning, but it can also mean creating a flashcard (or a whole deck) — or searching through the shared decks and downloading any that are relevant.

So I downloaded one of the NATO phonetic alphabet decks, and I have already reviewed the first 10 cards. (Anki gives you only a few new cards each day, and since in this case there are only 26 cards, I’ll quickly get through them.)

Tomorrow I’ll use the app again, and it will present me with some new cards and also some of the cards from today — namely, those that gave me trouble. Within a few days I’ll know the NATO phonetic alphabetic cold.

I wrote a fairly detailed post on my own experience with Anki when I was studying Esperanto. If you’re interested in learning anything where spaced repetition and flashcards might be useful, take a look.

Update: Great way to practice

After I had learned the phonetic alphabet cold using Anki, I noticed a marked mental pause when I would try to use it in practice. It was as if I knew it, but to access it to use it, I had to go into a different mental room and take it off the shelf. In other words, it wasn’t at the tip of my tongue so I could just cite by reflex. The NATO name was indeed attached to its letter, but by a long tether, as it were.

What I needed was to routinely practice for a few minutes each for, say, a week, until the tether shortened and finally the NATO name was actually part of the letter itself. I found on the web a random letter generator — in fact, a random word generator, but it will also generate random letters.

So I set it to generate random uppercase letters, 10 at a time. I then recited aloud the NATO name for each letter as fast as I could. Each run-through took about 6 seconds, so in 30 seconds I could do 5 run-throughs, 50 letters in all.

I decided 5 run-throughs of 10 letters each was enough for a session. I did a morning run-through and an evening run-through, and in a week, the NATO name was embedded in the letter: no hesitation, no need to wait to adjust.

I figured once every week or two, I’ll refresh, but now I have it. A few days ago, I again had to recite a tracking number, and this time the NATO names just came automatically from my mouth — and the customer-service agent readily recognized them, because are the names that people are familiar with.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2022 at 5:32 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: