Learning advice from Aviation English Asia. Article written by Michael Egerton
Why did you fail to score ICAO level 4 in comprehension?
There are a number of factors affecting listening comprehension, and in this article I'm going to explain exactly what you should do to improve your proficiency to achieve at least an ICAO level 4 (most AEA students are trained to achieve level 5). But first of all, some good news - even though you failed it's not necessarily your fault. You might have been given bad advice by someone that doesn't really understand the process of communication, the test used might be inappropriate, or your assessor might just be plain wrong.
In a previous article, http://aviationenglish.com/learning-advice/improve-your-listening-comprehension-of-pilot-atc-dialogues I explained that difficulties with listening comprehension in ICAO English tests tend to fall into one of these categories:
- Lack of familiarity with radiotelephony / standard phraseology
- Lack of aviation-related vocabulary - aileron, backtrack, laminar flow
- Lack of proficiency in identifying non-technical vocabulary - which significantly changes the meaning of a sentence
- Lack of proficiency in identify the grammatical structure of a sentence - which significantly changes the meaning of a sentence
- Lack of proficiency in identifying sounds - leading to confusion of "similar" sounding words
How to achieve ICAO level 4 or higher in comprehension
In order to achieve ICAO level 4 or higher, the first thing you should do is attend a course with Aviation English Asia Ltd. Founded in 2009, Aviation English Asia Ltd is the only genuine provider of Aviation English in Hong Kong. 100% percent of our teaching staff are suitably qualified and experienced with externally validated teaching qualifications. Please be cautious with other training providers and make sure that they are members of the Aviation English Organisation and conform to the standards of the AEROSTA Framework.
Every learner starts at a different level of English proficiency and with a different level of exposure to aviation, so it is important to have a consultation with Aviation English Asia Ltd before you attend a course. If you have a CPL/ATPL we will probably recommend 30-100 units of the ICAO Aviation English for Commercial Pilots course. If you are ab initio, or have from 0-250 flying hours we will probably recommend the ICAO Aviation English for Cadet Entry Pilots course, and optionally Radiotelephony 101 if you need to become more familiar with radiotelephony / standard phraseology. These courses will address lack of familiarity with radiotelephony and aviation-related vocabulary but most importantly help you identify sounds and the grammatical structure of a sentence.
Misbeliefs about listening comprehension
Now that you know how to enrol on a proper Aviation English course, it's time to address some misbeliefs that you might have about listening.
1. Listening can't be taught in a classroom, it is best for self-study - this is not true. In fact there are many things that AEA teachers do to help learners listen more effectively. A suitably qualified Aviation English teacher can expose you to appropriate listening material which will be followed by practice activities which give further opportunity to listen successfully and build confidence by taking risks in your listening. AEA teachers can teach strategies which can guide you to effective listening comprehension. And the truth is, the vast majority of that audio from liveatc.net is either meaningless or unintelligible. If you are a regular listener to our student radio station - Aviation English Radio you will know that all of the audio and listening activities are properly graded as suitable for ICAO level 4-5.
2. Listening is a passive skill - listening is not at all passive. During classes AEA students do a lot of listening activities which involve guessing, predicting, inferring meaning, criticising, building situational awareness and communicating critical information. It is far more accurate to say that listening is a receptive skill rather than a passive skill. Attend a class with AEA and you will see how misguided your previous preparation was.
3. Understanding non-native speakers of English is easier than understanding native speakers - there are many factors such as tempo of speech and the amount of exposure to the target language. Other factors include how vowel sounds are pronounced and other idiosyncrasies of non-native speakers, and the way that grammatical structures are pronounced with reduced sounds. We will teach you this in AEA classes.
4. Listening to L1 and L2 involves the same skills - it's more a matter of how those skills are applied. It's a well known fact that many candidates who are non-native speakers perform better in an ICAO English test than native speakers. This is probably due to listening without fully concentrating on the message, as we do it without being conscious of listening. AEA will teach you how to apply these skills properly and at the right time.
5. Learners should understand every word while listening - this is a very complex matter - a lot of speech consists of words which are not important. Spoken language includes a lot of filler and signpost words which while they can be eliminated do make listening easier because these structures allow us to focus on the important words. But it is really important to understand that it is critical that learners have a strong command of basic structures (these are listed in the AEROSTA Framework), before they can decide which words are significant and which can be ignored.
6. Learners should read the transcripts of recordings - when learners watch videos on youtube (often of very loose phraseology from FAA based towers), they often spend more time focusing on the written words than the oral form. These learners think they are improving their listening, but actually they are practicing pronunciation. There are some advantages to seeing the difference between written and spoken forms of English, and seeing which sounds are swallowed, but this should be done at the final stage after you have listened to the audio at least twice. Join a class with AEA and you can practice a more effective method of listening comprehension.
7. The best way to practice listening is to practice listening - it might seem unusual, but the best way to improve your listening comprehension is not to practice listening. It's often a matter of improving your pronunciation and basic grammar. The AEROSTA Framework clearly defines what these elements of pronunciation and basic structures are, so if you improve those then you are likely to improve your listening at the same time.
Misbeliefs can happen for many other reasons too, and a lot of them can be spread culturally and socially, but as I said at the start of this article - it's not necessarily your fault. Even though you failed an ICAO test, it's not the end of the world and this target level is easily achievable. Many students who come to Aviation English Asia Ltd after failing an ICAO English test think that it is the best thing that ever happened to them.
This article is copyright protected and many not be modified or reproduced without express permission of Aviation English Asia Ltd.