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Spelling-Out English Words For Japanese People

At yesterday's office drinking party, some Japanese coworkers told me they were amused as they overheard me on the phone struggling to spell-out my email address to an older Japanese woman.  My mind flashed back to earlier that day: Wiping beads of sweat from my brow, it felt like 30 minutes passed as I grudgingly navigated shaky communication waters.  In the end I was successful, but I vowed to drastically improve my workflow.

Indeed--I often grapple with spelling-out English words or names for Japanese people.  The most common example is when I have to provide my email address or the romaji spelling of my name to a Japanese person over the phone.  My long foreign name combined with my company's longer foreign name make this an (unwelcome) Japanese communication challenge.  I wondered how Japanese people deal with this situation, and I discovered that they rely upon place names to clarify the letter they're spelling.  For example, they'll say something like 「アメリカのA」.

Unfortunately since we Americans use uncommon words like "bravo" and "foxtrot," or person names like "Alex" or "Mike," the American approach doesn't function well in Japan.  Therefore, working with some native Japanese speakers, I developed the following phonetic alphabet for spelling-out English words.  This list is now posted next to my office phone, and I eagerly await the next time I have to spell-out my email address.  がんばります!

I welcome feedback and suggestions.  Enjoy!

A - America
B - Brazil / Boston
C - Canada
D - Denmark
E - England
F - France
G - Germany
H - Hong Kong
I - Indo (India)
J - Japan
K - Kankoku (Korea)
L - London
M - Mexico
N - Nihon
O - Okinawa
P - Pari (Paris)
Q - Queen / Q & A
R - Russia
S - Spain
T - Tokyo
U - USA
V - Victory / V-Sign
W - Washington
X - X-Men / X-Ray
Y - Yamaguchi
Z - Zero

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  • Guest - JJ

    Ah! this is really interesting and definitely something that's really not so straightforward, especially over the phone! I think your list here is great, but I do have some suggestions for a few of the letters! The first one is 'G' for Germany. In Japanese, Germany is 'Doitsu', coming from 'Deutschland' and I've met a few people who didn't know 'Germany'. And since the G in Germany is a soft G, it might be easily mistaken for 'J'. I suggest maybe 'G' for 'ganbatte' or 'gorilla' or 'gohan'.
    Another tricky one is 'L' for London. The whole 'L' and 'R' confusion makes this particularly complicated! I can't really think of a better example for 'L' but I think the best way to handle it is, when giving the example, to say 'L' with the Japanese pronunciation- 'eru'. I think the Japanese pronunciation of the letters is also quite important, like 'she' for 'C'. Hope this helps! :)

    from Kumamoto, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan