English learning advice from Aviation English Asia. Article written by Michael Egerton.
This article is about developing strategies to optimise the English learning process. As a pilot or ATCO your time is valuable so you will want to learn English in the most efficient manner possible. In the last article I described some techniques that will help you improve your English learning. Now I'll provide some advice specific to pilots and air traffic controllers.
There are hundreds of language schools offering English courses, and the market is very competitive. It is important to realise that there are no "magic pills" or secret learning methods that will help you climb an ICAO level overnight. Learning a language is a complex process and there is a lot about language learning that humans don't yet fully understand. If a language school does claim miraculous progress due to their learning method you should be suspicious. However, most linguistic experts will agree on some principles.
1. Choose Aviation English Asia Ltd - the best Aviation English training provider
Your first choice of language school should be Aviation English Asia Ltd, because all teachers are suitably qualified and experienced. If you are not able to attend a course with Aviation English Asia Ltd in Hong Kong, you should visit www.aviationenglish.org and find a partner organisation in your country. The Aviation English Organisation ensures that all teachers should have an externally assessed teaching qualification, specifically CELTA or Trinity Cert TESOL (other qualifications are not suitable equivalents) and experience within an aviation environment or access to an SME (Subject Matter Expert). These are only the minimum standards, and Aviation English teachers in a curriculum or test design role should have an MA in Applied Linguistics. Some teachers may hold higher English teaching qualifications such as DELTA and Trinity Dip TESOL, which are usually obtained after 2-3 years teaching experience.
These qualifications are well regarded and involve the teacher being assessed whilst teaching in a classroom, and also completing a significant amount of coursework about teaching practice. Be cautious of schools employing teachers that have online TEFL or TESL certificates which can be completed alone in hours, rather than the 4-6 weeks of observed practice required for a CELTA or TESOL. All courses should conform to the Aviation English Rating Organisation, Syllabus and Teacher Assessment (AEROSTA) Framework which is your guarantee of quality.
2. Remove limiting beliefs about learning Aviation English
Attitude and motivation are very important to learning a language, as is an open mind. Particularly consider limiting beliefs about age affecting ability to learn a language. There are a number of views regarding this, though factors such as time, effort and opportunity are likely to be more significant than age. Research show that adults actually have better language learning strategies than children - the advantage that children and adolescents have is that they have a lot more opportunities and time to learn a language. There is some evidence to support the belief that our ability to acquire a native accent declines after adolescence but our ability to learn a language does not. As a pilot or controller you don't currently need to achieve native proficiency so don't give your self unnecessary pressure.
3. Be realistic in your goal to pass an ICAO English test
The current standard of English proficiency for flight crew and controllers is ICAO Level 4. At ICAO level 4, the requirements do not require you to be a speaker of perfect English. Your goal should be to communicate safely and effectively during radiotelephony and crew-crew communications. You don't need to be able to communicate like a native speaker, although there are obvious advantages for achieving proficiency at higher levels. Most people learn English better when they are free from external stress and pressure, almost anyone can learn a language - it's just a matter of time and effort. Aviation English Asia Ltd can give you feedback on how long it will take to achieve your goal.
4. Accept that learning Aviation English takes time.
Be wary of English courses that promise quick results. Reliable, proven systems like ICAO Aviation English for Commercial Pilots is designed to take 100 hours over 6-12 weeks for each ICAO half level, eg (ICAO level 3 lower is 6 weeks, ICAO level 3 upper is also typically 6 weeks in duration). Developing a strong foundation in English always involves a commitment of time and effort. Improving your ability in English involves more than memorising phrases and questions - you need to be able to comprehend and respond appropriately. You will also need to be able to explain non-routine situations that could potentially occur during flight operations in addition to handle routine scenarios. There are many factors influence the speed with which a language can be acquired so it is very difficult to say exactly how long it will take to reach ICAO level 4. ICAO Aviation English for Commercial Pilots features an accurate placement test before starting a course so you can be sure that you start a course at the right level, and also ensure that you are really making progress. Always be aware of "magic pill" solutions - learning a language will take time and it's more likely to be several months between ICAO levels rather than weeks.
5. Start to improve your English as soon as possible.
When planning on taking a course it's critical that you take a placement test before you start. This will give you an accurate idea of how long it will take, and also ensure that the course is neither too easy nor too difficult. If you have been given 3 months to reach ICAO level 4 you should start to improve your English as soon as possible, rather than in 2 months time. Find out your ICAO Aviation English level now. The more time you give yourself then the less pressure you will feel, and you are likely to enjoy your Aviation English classes more.
6. Focus on the skills you need.
An English course shouldn't be just memorising words and vocabulary, and neither is focusing on grammar. An English course should be communicative and give you the opportunity to practice the language that you have learned in a realistic context. English for ICAO compliance requires effective speaking and listening and class time should focus on communicative activities that require interaction between people. Although reading and writing are important, these activities are best used outside the classroom as homework activities. Every second of classroom time is a valuable opportunity for you to practice speaking and listening - don't waste time on the skills that can be developed outside class. A good example of an out of classroom activity is reading books and magazines graded at an appropriate level. Reading is an excellent way to improve your vocabulary and you will also pick up a lot of grammatical structures naturally. There are a wide range of aviation themed books and magazines available. Interact with us on our Facebook page. There are also a lot of aviation websites, videos and forums online that offer text and rich multimedia that can help you develop your language skills.
7. Choose an aviation specific English course.
An aviation focused English course is likely to be more interesting for you than a general English course. The course materials will be more relevant and can even reinforce knowledge that you will need for your career. Furthermore an aviation English course will be a better use of your valuable time because it is specifically concentrated on helping you develop the language skills that your needs for ICAO compliance. Your teachers will be very interested in aviation and keen to hear about your experiences too.
8. Be responsible for your own learning.
No matter how good they are, you shouldn't rely on your teacher 100%. You need to be active in your learning and take every opportunity that you can to practice English. Ask questions and be interested in people. Speak and think in English at every opportunity. Use the language that you learn in each lesson rather than letting your notes gather dust.
Aviation English Learning Strategies
9. Don't be afraid to make mistakes
Many English learners are perfectionists that try to get everything correct first time - the result - they lose their fluency. It's ok to make mistakes, your English teacher can't correct every mistake you make anyway. If they did then the class would be painful for the teacher. You will learn English faster when you are relaxed and less concerned with making mistakes. The same is true for pronunciation - it's strange that one of the best ways to improve your pronunciation and fluency is often... not to think about pronunciation and fluency.
10. Talk to your friends and colleagues in English
Talking in English isn't just limited to the classroom or during radio communications. Take every opportunity to practice and interact in English with friends and colleagues. Invite them to study with Aviation English Asia and you can make learning English more enjoyable, and the skies safer.
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