Advice for improving your English and passing an airline's English test from Aviation English Asia. Article written by Michael Egerton
Prepare for an airline interview or prepare for your career?
Whether you are applying for a job as a pilot, member of ground staff or a member of cabin crew one of the assessments in which you are required to perform well in is the airline's English assessment test. For prospective airline pilots this is likely to be one of various types of ICAO English test taken at a particular stage of the selection process. For cabin crew and ground staff the airline is likely to have it's own in-house English assessment, which could be either a specific test which you need to pass in order to proceed which your application, or alternatively your English language proficiency could be assessed during your HR interviews.
In this article I'm going to point out three common mistakes made by many prospective pilots and flight attendants when faced with an airline English proficiency test, and show you how you can avoid making that mistake. But first of all let's look at why airlines have English tests in the first place.
Why do airlines have English proficiency tests as part of their selection process?
Airline careers are highly desirable for many young people. Airlines are large organisations that offer great benefits like housing allowance, health insurance and frequent travel to their employees. Some airlines are national flag carriers so it's not surprising that airline jobs attract thousands of candidates each year. In each recruitment drive, the airline has to select the most appropriate candidates for employment, as they will make a significant investment in that candidate's training and development. Airline English tests are a suitable way to filter out unsuitable (or not yet suitable) candidates. English is a world language, and a high standard of English will also highlight a candidate's manners and social behaviour, ie is this candidate a person polite enough to deal with our customers, is this a person we would like to sit next to on the flight deck. In addition to the aptitude and ability to perform the basic duties of the position, the airline will want to ensure that you have:
- sufficient language proficiency to meet the requirements of the job.
- sufficient potential to successfully be trained for the things that you don't yet know how to do.
So, in plain English, the airline wants to know that you can speak English well enough to do the job properly, and you can understand enough English to be able to learn how to do the things that you can't. Depending upon your experience and the position you are applying for the airline will probably not expect you to know everything about handling a big jet, or the procedures needed to carry out an evacuation but they do expect you to have a reasonable level of English. Airlines are after all, judged on the conduct and performance of their front-line employees. If you have failed an airline's English test it's probably because you haven't prepared sufficiently for the test, or you have prepared for the test in the wrong way.
The biggest mistakes made by candidates in preparing for airline English tests
Mistake number one - focusing only on the test
It's a common mistake, and an understandable one. You have an English test coming up as part of your interview and you might want to get some practice by having a mock test, perhaps by asking a friend to ask you the questions that they were asked last time. Perhaps if you could remember the answers it will be easier... If (like us) you live in Hong Kong you will have been bombarded by advertisements for "star tutors" that offer courses focused on passing English tests, eg IELTS, HKCEE etc. You might be able to pass a written exam by following their methods but if you think that you can pass an airline English test, which will almost certainly be oral you are wildly mistaken. Speaking English doesn't work like that. It takes time to develop a full command of the language, and consistent practice in developing the strength needed to pronounce certain words. Listening to and understanding different accents is a skill that takes time to develop. Furthermore, it's easy to see if someone is trying to remember an answer. When assessing language it's not just a matter of what information you give, but how you give it. Of course, it's natural to want to practice things like mock interviews with friends or perhaps a tutor, but to be honest it's not enough. What you need is a thorough and wide range of proficiency in English and particularly English as it is used within an aviation context - and that is our goal.
Mistake number two - doing the wrong type of course
ICAO recommend that pilots and controllers take aviation-specific English courses. Some people try to cut corners and settle for a general English course. The result is often that they get bored or find that it doesn't suit their needs. This is also often the case with people who tried studying at large franchised language centres, particularly those that have "secret study methods". These courses are designed to appeal to as many people as possible, with the lowest skill level of teacher possible (the "secret" is that they withhold any actual teaching, you have to figure it out for yourself) so don't be surprised that learners who settle for this type of course make very slow progress. That type of language school doesn't have the capability or resources to give aviation students the kind of language training they need. When you learn English it is important that you focus on practicing the right skills, and as most language schools try to cater to as many people as possible it's often difficult to practice the skills that you really need. For a pilot, ATC or member of cabin crew the most important skills are speaking and listening. Many people unfortunately focus only on academic performance in English and neglect to build their English comprehension skills. Aviation English Asia courses give you sufficient practice of the skills that you need, as recommended in ICAO Document 9835.
Mistake number three - not starting a course early enough
If we could give one piece of advice to potential airline employees it would be to take a placement test to assess your current level of English and then see how much you need to improve. We can then give you an estimation of how long you should expect before you reach that level, and how often you should practice. These tests are done independently by a third party so you can be sure that you won't be buying courses that you don't need. The placement tests offered by Aviation English Asia are consistent with the results of assessors within major airlines. Trust me - I've trained a lot of prospective and current airline employees. I strongly recommend that you take a placement test and expect to practice English consistently for at least 3 months per level.
The BEST WAY to prepare for an airline English test
In this article you have learned that you should avoid crash courses, avoid only focusing on the test, and avoid unsuitable courses and tutors. Now I will show you what you should do to pass an airline's English assessment.
Learn and practice English as it is used in the context of aviation
Aviation English Asia is the only genuine provider of Aviation English in Hong Kong. Our Native English Teachers are aviation professionals with experience as senior captains, air traffic controllers and aircraft maintenance engineers. Our Native English Teachers are also qualified English teachers - not just "English speaking pilots doing a part time job". The course is designed and supervised by teachers with MA Applied Linguistics. Some of our teachers have worked as and trained assessors.
AEA courses feature all of the grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, comprehension and fluency practice of general English courses, with the added advantage of being directly related to your career. You will be more motivated and enjoy learning English more when you have a clear objective. If you think you know everything about aviation and are familiar with aviation terminology, you should still learn how to express it clearly in English - so Aviation English Asia courses are equally suitable for experienced commercial pilots. It's exactly the same for cabin crew, whether your are a prospective employee or experienced crew members - practice English as it relates to your everyday life. One of the biggest advantages of an Aviation English course is that you will develop a wide vocabulary and become confident in dealing with unexpected situations. You will still get thorough practice of all the language skills needed to pass an airline's English test, and personal focus on the skills that you most need to develop. Of course, you can supplement this with additional General English if you want extra practice but it is no substitute for a core Aviation English course.
What to do next
For feedback and more information about Aviation English Asia’s courses please visit http://aviationenglish.com. We can help you improve your English whether you are an experienced pilot, a cadet entry pilot, a controller, aerospace engineer or flight attendant, with custom courses designed specifically for your needs.
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