Learning Advice

Learning advice from Aviation English Asia.  Article written by Michael Egerton

Why did you fail to score ICAO level 4 in comprehension?

There are a number of factors affecting listening comprehension, and in this article I'm going to explain exactly what you should do to improve your proficiency to achieve at least an ICAO level 4 (most AEA students are trained to achieve level 5).  But first of all, some good news - even though you failed it's not necessarily your fault.  You might have been given bad advice by someone that doesn't really understand the process of communication, the test used might be inappropriate, or your assessor might just be plain wrong. 

radiotelephony panel

In a previous article, http://aviationenglish.com/learning-advice/improve-your-listening-comprehension-of-pilot-atc-dialogues I explained that difficulties with listening comprehension in ICAO English tests 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

How to achieve ICAO level 4 or higher in comprehension

In order to achieve ICAO level 4 or higher, the first thing you should do is attend a course with Aviation English Asia Ltd.  Founded in 2009, Aviation English Asia Ltd is the only genuine provider of Aviation English in Hong Kong.  100% percent of our teaching staff are suitably qualified and experienced with externally validated teaching qualifications.  Please be cautious with other training providers and make sure that they are members of the Aviation English Organisation and conform to the standards of the AEROSTA Framework.  

Every learner starts at a different level of English proficiency and with a different level of exposure to aviation, so it is important to have a consultation with Aviation English Asia Ltd before you attend a course.  If you have a CPL/ATPL we will probably recommend 30-100 units of the ICAO Aviation English for Commercial Pilots course.  If you are ab initio, or have from 0-250 flying hours we will probably recommend the ICAO Aviation English for Cadet Entry Pilots course, and optionally Radiotelephony 101 if you need to become more familiar with radiotelephony / standard phraseology.  These courses will address lack of familiarity with radiotelephony and aviation-related vocabulary but most importantly help you identify sounds and the grammatical structure of a sentence.

Misbeliefs about listening comprehension

Now that you know how to enrol on a proper Aviation English course, it's time to address some misbeliefs that you might have about listening.

1. Listening can't be taught in a classroom, it is best for self-study - this is not true.  In fact there are many things that AEA teachers do to help learners listen more effectively.  A suitably qualified Aviation English teacher can expose you to appropriate listening material which will be followed by practice activities which give further opportunity to listen successfully and build confidence by taking risks in your listening.  AEA teachers can teach strategies which can guide you to effective listening comprehension.  And the truth is, the vast majority of that audio from liveatc.net is either meaningless or unintelligible.  If you are a regular listener to our student radio station - Aviation English Radio you will know that all of the audio and listening activities are properly graded as suitable for ICAO level 4-5.

2. Listening is a passive skill - listening is not at all passive.  During classes AEA students do a lot of listening activities which involve guessing, predicting, inferring meaning, criticising, building situational awareness and communicating critical information.  It is far more accurate to say that listening is a receptive skill rather than a passive skill.  Attend a class with AEA and you will see how misguided your previous preparation was.

3. Understanding non-native speakers of English is easier than understanding native speakers - there are many factors such as tempo of speech and the amount of exposure to the target language.  Other factors include how vowel sounds are pronounced and other idiosyncrasies of non-native speakers, and the way that grammatical structures are pronounced with reduced sounds.  We will teach you this in AEA classes.

4. Listening to L1 and L2 involves the same skills - it's more a matter of how those skills are applied.  It's a well known fact that many candidates who are non-native speakers perform better in an ICAO English test than native speakers.  This is probably due to listening without fully concentrating on the message, as we do it without being conscious of listening.  AEA will teach you how to apply these skills properly and at the right time.

5. Learners should understand every word while listening - this is a very complex matter - a lot of speech consists of words which are not important.  Spoken language includes a lot of filler and signpost words which while they can be eliminated do make listening easier because these structures allow us to focus on the important words.  But it is really important to understand that it is critical that learners have a strong command of basic structures (these are listed in the AEROSTA Framework), before they can decide which words are significant and which can be ignored.

6. Learners should read the transcripts of recordings - when learners watch videos on youtube (often of very loose phraseology from FAA based towers), they often spend more time focusing on the written words than the oral form.  These learners think they are improving their listening, but actually they are practicing pronunciation.  There are some advantages to seeing the difference between written and spoken forms of English, and seeing which sounds are swallowed, but this should be done at the final stage after you have listened to the audio at least twice.  Join a class with AEA and you can practice a more effective method of listening comprehension.

7. The best way to practice listening is to practice listening - it might seem unusual, but the best way to improve your listening comprehension is not to practice listening.  It's often a matter of improving your pronunciation and basic grammar.  The AEROSTA Framework clearly defines what these elements of pronunciation and basic structures are, so if you improve those then you are likely to improve your listening at the same time.

Misbeliefs can happen for many other reasons too, and a lot of them can be spread culturally and socially, but as I said at the start of this article - it's not necessarily your fault.  Even though you failed an ICAO test, it's not the end of the world and this target level is easily achievable.  Many students who come to Aviation English Asia Ltd after failing an ICAO English test think that it is the best thing that ever happened to them.

You can arrange your consultation by calling +852 81799295 or emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  

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

One thing that we have learned since we began teaching Aviation English in 2009 is that every learner is different.  

Before starting a course we always recommend that learners come in for a consultation.  This isn't one of those level tests followed by aggressive sales conducted at some language schools - a consultation is to find out exactly how long it will take you to achieve your target level in the time available, considering your current proficiency in structure, pronunciation, listening comprehension, in addition to your range of vocabulary and technical knowledge.

You might be looking for short-term practice for an interview, or last minute practice for an ICAO English test, or you might have more long term goals of improving your Aviation English proficiency.  If you failed an ICAO test recently, you might have been told that you need to improve your comprehension, but actually there are many factors which can cause you to lack comprehension.  After we have assessed these exact skills, and noted your patterns of behaviour we can then advise you of the best and most cost effective means to reach your goal.

Recommended learning practices for pilots

One of the most important factors in language acquisition is the frequency at which you attend classes, and we have 9 years of data to support our results. So it's highly likely that if you are an airline pilot and failed an ICAO test that we will will recommend you attend at least 100 hours over 5-6 weeks.  If you are applying for a cadetship and have a full-time job in daytime, we would probably recommend that you focus on some very specific skills in addition to the ICAO Aviation English for Cadet Entry Pilots course.  We have also noted massive difference in ability, and attitude to learning when comparing learners who attend more than once per week.  

The right English language practice, at the right time

Our Aviation English courses are designed so that learners can benefit from practice of the most relevant content for them, at the right time.  This will save you both time and money.  Whatever you think your needs are, our assessment will be more accurate than any feedback that you have had in an ICAO test.  Our feedback and assessment is highly regarded by all major airlines in Hong Kong.  Call us to arrange your consultation today, on +852 81799295.

 

One of the frequent reasons why candidates for cadet programmes fail is that they

1) apply too early
2) apply because their friends applied at the same time
3) apply before their English is good enough because they think they can improve it in the 2-4 week period between their aptitude test and their HR interview.

The reason is very much due to patterns of social behaviour which have developed from exposure to a highly commercialised and test focused learning environment. My advice is don't wait until you have attended an aptitude test before starting an Aviation English course with Aviation English Asia Ltd.  Similarly, don't think of technical knowledge, eg aviation theory as being separate from English proficiency.  And don't get bogged down in technical knowledge that won't be relevant for the foreseeable future if you can't even use present simple correctly.

Aviation English Asia Ltd courses can guide you through every stage of an application process, and you will improve your English as you improve your knowledge.  Even candidates who have relatively strong English can improve their English, and even candidates who are relatively strong with their knowledge of aviation theory can improve their technical knowledge.  We can help you regardless of the stage in your application procedure, because AEA teachers are the best of both disciplines.  We are well aware of the profile of successful candidates, so trust our judgement. Aviation English Asia Ltd provide the right thing at the right time.

 

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.

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.

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.

Taiwan

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

Cambodia

Aviation English Asia has been offering part time and full time courses in Cambodia since July 2018

All courses are available in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Check the schedule for details.

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