Aviation English Asia has a strong record in helping students succeed in aviation careers. In this article we will explain the level of English proficiency needed to pass the ICAO English test. So, when it comes to Aviation English most people will tell you ICAO Level 4, but what does that really mean? In layman's terms, at ICAO Level 4 you should be able to listen to, read and discuss the main ideas, technical vocabulary and details in most professional material. At this level, you are able to participate in a more sophisticated or professional conversation regarding your specialized area of expertise. You can generally handle predictable and unexpected topics of communication. You need to show competence in 6 skills of the ICAO Language Proficiency Rating scale.
Let's examine what is required for each of those skills at ICAO Level 4: Pronunciation
Pronunciation, stress, rhythm, and intonation are influenced by the first language or regional variation but only sometimes interfere with ease of understanding.
This means that you have to speak in a way which is intelligible to the aeronautical community - International English rather than British or American English. It is acceptable that your pronunciation and accent are affected by your first language, eg Chinese and you are not expected to be a perfect speaker of English. It is still expected that you will make some pronunciation errors, eg stressing the wrong part of the word or speaking in a broken rhythm but it's acceptable as long as it only sometimes interferes with understanding.
Basic grammatical structures and sentence patterns are used creatively and are usually well controlled. Errors may occur, particularly in unusual or unexpected circumstances, but rarely interfere with meaning.
Relevant grammatical structures are determined by language functions appropriate to the task. This means that you need to be proficient in grammatical structures that are used in flight operations. You should be able to express yourself with a variety of alternative structures and again, it is expected that you will make some grammatical errors. This descriptor highlights that such errors could occur in non-routine situations, but the meaning is generally understood.
Vocabulary range and accuracy are usually sufficient to communicate effectively on common, concrete, and work- related topics. Can often paraphrase successfully when lacking vocabulary in unusual or unexpected circumstances.
The key words here are common, concrete and work related topics. You will need to know both general and aviation related vocabulary which could include everything from basic things like parts of an aircraft and weather conditions to health and physiology. You should also have sufficient ability to paraphrase (eg explain using different words) in non-routine situations.
Produces stretches of language at an appropriate tempo. There may be occasional loss of fluency on transition from rehearsed or formulaic speech to spontaneous interaction, but this does not prevent effective communication. Can make limited use of discourse markers or connectors. Fillers are not distracting.
Fluency is your ability to express yourself clearly without pausing too much. You should also be able to use appropriate conjunctions. It is acceptable to pause when changing from routine speech eg phraseology to spontaneous (instinctive) speech in interactions. You shouldn't "um" and "ah" too much when thinking about what to say.
Comprehension is mostly accurate on common, concrete, and work- related topics when the accent or variety used is sufficiently intelligible for an international community of users. When the speaker is confronted with a linguistic or situational complication or an unexpected turn of events, comprehension may be slower or require clarification strategies.
Comprehension of different accents or variety of speech is a very important skill and needs to be "mostly accurate" on common, concrete and work-related topics. It is expected that your understanding will be slower in non-routine situations. Comprehension refers to listening comprehension rather than reading.
Responses are usually immediate, appropriate, and informative. Initiates and maintains exchanges even when dealing with an unexpected turn of events. Deals adequately with apparent misunderstandings by checking, confirming, or clarifying.
Another valuable skill is the ability to be able to ask questions to check that information is correct. The responses should be appropriate and give the relevant information. The speed of response should usually be immediate, even in non-routine situations.
How does an ICAO level relate to other tests like IELTS, TOEFL or TOEIC?
Good question. If you you have an A grade in an English exam you'd probably be surprised if you failed an ICAO English test. But that's exactly what happens to many applicants, who have all the skills 'on paper' but have great difficulty in communicating effectively in English - particularly in speaking and listening. Many school systems puts too much emphasis on performance in exams, and not enough on actual functional ability - so most English courses and language centres will not give you sufficient preparation for the ICAO English test. We've seen people with IELTS band 8 scores get ICAO level 3 scores in an ICAO assessment. It's very difficult to compare other tests to ICAO. Unlike other tests, ICAO scores are based on the lowest level that you achieve. You could get a score of 5 for Pronunciation, Structure, Vocabulary, Comprehension and Interactions but if you only score 3 for Fluency then ICAO Level 3 is your final grade.
The best way to pass an ICAO English test The courses offered by Aviation English Asia Ltd are different because they focus exactly on the skills that you need to perform well in an ICAO test. But you won't just train to pass the test, you'll be able to function in an aviation environment with greater safety and knowledge. As you improve your English, you can also learn about aviation and improve your technical knowledge. Each stage contains 10 units of between 60-90 minutes each that will give you intensive practice of the skills you need to pass an ICAO test.
What should I do now?