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Article written by Michael Egerton for Aviation English Asia Ltd

When starting an Aviation English course, a lot of candidates initially find listening comprehension of pilot / controller dialogues difficult. Some students ask what they can do in their own time to prepare. If you want to develop genuine proficiency in comprehension of pilot / controller dialogues, the answer is a little bit more complex than the throwaway advice that is sometimes given by General English teachers.  But before we give you our advice on how to develop your English listening skills in an aviation context, let's look at the reasons why.

Listening comprehension in General English tests

In General English tests like IELTS, TOEIC and TOEFL, listening comprehension is assessed in a relatively simple way, and there is an emphasis on whether a candidate can understand the overall gist of a recording, before assessing whether a candidate can understand smaller details. For this reason candidates are often told to improve their English overall, immerse yourself in an English speaking environment, and do things that native speakers do such as listen to English songs or BBC news reports.  In some tests there is positive marking so if you get a question correct, then your overall score will be higher regardless of whether you understand the situation overall. Perhaps most critically this type of General English test doesn't assess accuracy in matters which are critical to pilots and controllers such as flight levels, speeds and headings.  

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Time-wasting or throwaway advice?

How effective is this type of advice? Well, there is a lot of information in news stories that native speakers will miss, or at least not focus on. And in everyday life native English speakers are not going to correct every mistake or misunderstanding you make in conversation.  But the main difficulty is that just listening to news stories doesn't give learners any feedback on whether their comprehension is accurate or not.  Furthermore, most recordings are not pitched at a particular level, so this type of audio might not be suitable for self study.  Surely learners can look for a transcript and check against that? Possibly, but sometimes the transcript doesn't reveal implied meanings and intentions.

Overall that type of self-study isn't a particularly productive use of time. Self-study definitely has it's place, but we have seen students who have been told to practice listening and like good hardworking students they have followed that advice and listened to youtube videos featuring ATC but not actually made any improvement.

You have probably heard the idiom "practice makes perfect". Well it's not true.  Repeating the same mistake over and over again is the definition of insanity!

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"PERFECT PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT"

Listening comprehension in Aviation English tests

Aviation English is more complex in that the audio used in ICAO assessments generally falls into one of four main categories.

  1. Pilot / controller dialogues - this is an extended communication between a pilot and controller using a mixture of phraseology and plain English.
  2. Instructions from a controller - typically a maximum of three instructions is given in one clearance
  3. Dialogue between flight crew - captain to first officer, or flightcrew to cabincrew
  4. Monologues - typically a summary or a report of an incident

You might find that you have more difficulty with one type of audio than others.  Every learner is different and you would be surprised in the difficulties that even experienced pilots have.

In order to improve your listening comprehension, the first thing you should do is identify your problem and why you have it.  The best way to identify a problem is to call Aviation English Asia Ltd on +852 81799295 and arrange a consultation ($250 HKD).  If you don't know the source of your problem, and you still keep practicing the same way you could waste a lot of time.  

Classifying difficulties with listening comprehension in ICAO English tests

AEA teachers are language experts and can diagnose a problem and identify the source of the problem. Then you can focus on developing the skills you need so you can progress faster.   For example, difficulties with listening comprehension in ICAO English test tend to fall into one of these categories:

  1. Lack of familiarity with radiotelephony / standard phraseology
  2. Lack of aviation-related vocabulary - aileron, backtrack, laminar flow
  3. Lack of proficiency in identifying non-technical vocabulary - which significantly changes the meaning of a sentence
  4. Lack of proficiency in identify the grammatical structure of a sentence - which significantly changes the meaning of a sentence
  5. Lack of proficiency in identifying sounds - leading to confusion of "similar" sounding words

Typically there will be a correlation between core language skills and listening comprehension.  Once we have identified your problem we can identify the best type of self-study for you.

This article is copyright protected and many not be modified or reproduced without express permission of Aviation English Asia Ltd.

Get professional help preparing for your theory exams/interviews with AEA Native English Teachers, who are also experienced aviation professionals such as Senior Captains (CX), Second Officers (CX) and Air Traffic Controllers (Australia).

Each week theory workshops cover a range of topics at PPL/CPL level. There is no need to commit to a complete course, but AEA students enrolled on Aviation English courses can attend at a discounted rate. External students are welcome to attend at the standard price.

Visit http://aviationenglish.com for more details and to join our mailing list. Telephone +852 8179 9295 to talk to us before attending.

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.

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.

  • Pronunciation
  • Structure
  • Comprehension
  • Vocabulary
  • Fluency
  • Interaction

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.

Structure

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

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.

Fluency

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

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.

Interactions

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 course 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 the ICAO test. 

What should I do now?

Just call +852 81799295 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and ask to arrange a consultation.  

 Aviation English

 

 

Call us for a free consultation

+852 8179 9295

 

  

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Hong Kong

Aviation English Asia has been offering part time and full time courses in Hong Kong since 2009.

All courses are available in Hong Kong. Check the schedule above for details.

Taiwan

ICAO Aviation English, English for Aircraft Maintenance Engineers, Technicians and Mechanics, and English for Flight Attendants are available in Taipei, Tainan and Kaosiung.

Vietnam

Aviation English Asia has been offering part time courses in Vietnam since 2014.

All courses are available in Vietnam - typically every 8 weeks, or by special arrangement.

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