English learning advice from Aviation English Asia. Article written by Michae Egerton.
This article is about developing strategies to optimise the English learning process. As a pilot or ATC your time is valuable so you will want to learn English in the most efficient manner possible.
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. A lot of English schools will over-emphasise the benefits of a particular learning method, but this is usually just part of their sales technique.
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.
When choosing a language school you should also ensure that all teachers should have an externally assessed teaching qualification, such as CELTA or Trinity Cert TESOL and be aware of communicative language teaching methods. If you are learning English for ICAO compliance, you should also find out if the teachers have experience within an aviation environment or access to an SME (Subject Matter Expert).
Developing good learning strategies will make your language learning more effective. 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.
1. Remove limiting beliefs about learning 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.
2. Be realistic in your goals. The current standard of English proficiency for flight crew and controllers is ICAO Operational 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. 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. A reputable aviation English school can give you feedback on how long it will take to achieve your goal.
3. Accept that learning English takes time. Be wary of English courses that promise quick results. Reliable, proven systems like ICAO Aviation English Online is designed to take 12 weeks for each ICAO half level, eg (ICAO level 3 lower is 12 weeks, ICAO level 3 upper is also typically 12 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, hence the need for specialised aviation English training. 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 Online features an accurate placement test before starting a course and also tests and quizzes throughout each course unit 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.
4. 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 12 months to reach ICAO level 4 you should start to improve your English as soon as possible, rather than in 6 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 English classes more.
5. Choose an English course carefully There are many methods of learning a language, and no one has been proven to be the best. 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. When choosing an English course you should ask about the qualifications and experience of the English teachers. For teaching English for aviation, teachers should have a practical teaching qualification, specifically an externally assessed qualification such as CELTA or Trinity Cert TESOL as a bare minimum requirement. 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 teaching certificates are not the same. Also consider the qualifications of those teachers that oversee a course. Ideally this should be an MA in Applied Linguistics. Although you should not expect your English teacher to be an experienced commercial pilot, a school teaching aviation English should have access to a SME (Subject Matter Expert) to advise on technical matters. 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.
6. Focus on the skills you need. 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. Let us know your recommendations 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%. Your English teacher is just a guide, or a facilitator. 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.
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.
For more information about Aviation English Asia’s courses please visit http://aviationenglish.com If you haven’t already, please sign up to our newsletter using the course enquiry form on the right hand side. You can then receive updates and course information from Aviation English Asia as soon as they are available.