Advice about improving your English and passing an ICAO English test from Aviation English Asia.
Article written by Michael Egerton
People often look for advice about how to pass an ICAO English test, but don't very often think about how they could fail it. Strictly speaking you can't "fail" an ICAO test but you might not meet the required standard, which is for all intents and purposes ... not good. In this article I am going to point out some of the reasons you might under-perform in an ICAO English test. There are many different types of ICAO test and I'm not talking about any particular one but my advice applies to all of them.
Reason One: Not realising the importance of English in aviation
Although you might think that time spent in the aviation English classroom can't be as exciting as time in an aircraft - it's not necessarily true. Aviation English is a valid and essential part of flight training for many non native speakers, regardless of their age and experience. Your future career prospects could depend on your proficiency in English. You might scrape through an english test with ICAO level 4 but remember that is the bare minimum requirement. What level of English do you need to really advance in your career? What level of English do you need for truly safe flight operations? Many tragic air disasters have been attributed to communication difficulties. If you want to perform well in an ICAO English test a good first step is realising just how important quality Aviation English training is.
Reason Two: Not giving yourself sufficient time to prepare for an ICAO test
Learning English takes time and the more time you allow for yourself the more likely you are to perform well in the test. Cramming might work for preparing for an exam that tests knowledge but learning a language is different. You need time to internalise the language, pronunciation is a muscular skill that takes time to develop. There are some academic theories supporting intensive courses but in my experience intensive courses are only beneficial to those at a very early or very advanced stage. If you are at an intermediate level of English I recommend that you take your time over a course. You will probably enjoy learning English more if you don't have time pressure.
Reason Three: Doing the wrong type of English course
This is quite tragic as we have heard stories about people who have enrolled on 18 month courses (paid in advance) with brand name English schools who fail to improve at all. It's even more tragic as their English often gets worse because of the environment they learn in. If you are serious about an aviation career you need Aviation English. Other types of courses and coffee shop English tutors might be cheaper but they will ultimately waste your time and money because they do not effectively address your needs. General English has its place in Aviation English - it's an essential part but should be practiced within a meaningful context. This is true whether you are a commercial pilot or ab initio. And when you have the exciting world of aviation, where there are developments and dramas every day, why would you waste time on anything else?
Reason Four: Teachers using inappropriate learning materials
Creating authentic Aviation English learning materials takes a lot of time, specialist knowledge and skill from the Aviation English teacher. There are very few Aviation English learning materials available commercially so Aviation English teachers need to hand craft them to suit your needs. General English course books are designed to appeal to as many people as possible and then mass produced and shipped all over the world. They serve a purpose in that they make General English teachers' lives easier because they can recycle the lessons with many different students - putting the teacher's comfort ahead of your learning needs. Regardless of whether you are in ground school or an experienced pilot you should be using English that is relevant to your life and an experienced Aviation English teacher will be able to create interesting lessons that allow for sufficient practice of that type of language.
Reason Five: Starting an English course at the wrong level
As pilots you may feel pressure to keep up with your colleagues who might have had different experiences in learning English. The truth is that you won't lose face by starting at a lower level - just accept that you have had different experiences and have different strengths, English proficiency being one of them. So, if you take a Placement Test and find that you are at a lower level than your friends or colleagues don't feel any shame in starting a course at a lower level. Similarly if you have a higher ability than your colleagues you shouldn't hold yourself back - the result of starting a course at the wrong level is that you will find it too easy and get bored, or find it too difficult and get frustrated - then lose motivation. Also be aware that franchised schools often try to sell courses that are longer than you really need. Even worse is when a school gives you a ten minute computer placement test and then tells you your starting level without any assessment from a native English teacher. Instead a consultant who knows nothing about learning English (or how to speak it) tells you your starting level and then how to improve. It's the blind leading the blind. Usually the student finds a course difficult and struggles consistently and the teacher doesn't have the heart to tell them that they are at the wrong level, so the student quickly loses motivation.
Get it right: How to perform well in an ICAO Aviation English Test
Motivation is a very important factor in learning English. The genre of aviation is also incredibly motivating for most people so don't let your passion be affected by making one of the mistakes listed above. Aviation English Asia teachers are skilled in ensuring that learners are keen, motivated and developing good study habits. Take advantage of our enthusiasm and arrange a free consultation. We'll introduce you to an effective course and study plan that is right for you.
What to do next
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